September 11, 1995 12:00 PM

AS AMERICANS WHO HAVE FOLLOWED the life and many loves of Elizabeth Taylor know all too well, her karma often has the glitter of diamonds—big, BIG diamonds—but her aura can just as often go blooey. In recent weeks, the 63-year-old actress, whose health can be precarious, had her second hip replacement in 15 months (she’d injured it doing aquatic exercises at her home in Bel Air). Then, the multimillion-dollar launch of her latest designer perfume, Black Pearls, was abruptly canceled after a business dispute with the manufacturer, Elizabeth Arden, caused pricier department stores to refuse to carry it. And then, unhappily, another shoe dropped—a pretty, white-lace wedding slipper that never seems to last long on the foot of the petite star whose lifetime stats number eight marriages and seven husbands.

Mixing sadness and her usual earthy humor, Taylor gave the scoop to syndicated columnist Liz Smith last Wednesday night and announced that she and her latest husband, burly, curly construction worker Larry Fortensky, 43, had decided on a trial separation after nearly four years of marriage. “Larry and I both need our own space right now,” she said. Taylor didn’t elaborate on what the problems might be in their relationship. “I sincerely hope this will work out,” said Taylor, whose previous husbands were hotel magnate Nicky Hilton, actor Michael Wilding, producer Mike Todd, singer-actor Eddie Fisher, Sen. John Warner and actor Richard Burton (twice).

On the face of it, Fortensky, a 10th-grade dropout, was a departure from that glamorous company—but in truth Liz has always liked rough edges on her men. He deferred to her in public and kept out of sight elsewhere. Indeed, they made a charmingly offbeat sight at arrivals, when this Queen of Hollywood would turn up in a Harley-Davidson jacket, her rough-hewn husband on her arm.

But what brought them together were personal woes, not class distinctions. They fell in love at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in 1988, when both were battling drug dependencies. She married Fortensky, himself twice divorced and the father of a daughter, on Oct. 6, 1991, in a memorable extravaganza at Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch in Santa Ynez Valley, Calif. Jackson was best man, and New Age spiritual guru Marianne Williamson conducted the ceremony, during which a party-crashing sky diver landed 20 feet from the altar. At the reception, celeb guests—including then Fox chief Barry Diller and his date, designer Diane von Furstenberg—took turns bouncing on Jackson’s trampoline.

Now, apparently, the marriage is a bit bouncy. Speaking with Smith last week, Taylor went on to concede, then pooh-pooh, her other difficulties. “People have been making up stories,” she said. Yes, the hip surgery had been “difficult for all concerned,” but “I’m fine,” she said. Taylor scoffed at the idea that the Black Pearls fiasco had anything to do with the breakup, and she assured Smith the snafus were being worked out and that the fragrance would come out next year. “She was calm and unemotional and quiet,” Smith said afterward. “She hopes they will get back together, and she sounded better than she has in years.”

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