September 06, 1999 12:00 PM

Osteoporosis may have softened her bones, but Liz Taylor’s iron will is another story. “Her spirits are legendary,” says Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night), a good friend. “I’m always amazed at her insistence that things will be better. This is a person who is blessed with a belief that life is good, and nothing is gonna shake it.”

Taylor, though, has never been able to shake the back problems that began in 1944 when she tumbled from a horse while filming National Velvet. After a fall at home on Aug. 19, she was hospitalized with a compression fracture, in which a vertebra is squashed and “kind of pancakes down,” explains her Beverly Hills neurosurgeon Patrick Rhoten. The painful problem—which Taylor, 67, has faced before and is a special risk for those afflicted with osteoporosis—means in her case six to eight weeks in a corset-like back brace but no surgery. The star plans to rest at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with Sugar, her little white Maltese, by her side “until we can get her pain under control,” says Rhoten. “She’s much more comfortable now. Her spirits are improving on a daily basis.”

Taylor’s medical file could already stock a decade of ER plots. Having endured colitis, an ulcer, repeated pneumonia, an emergency tracheotomy, a lacerated esophagus, an irregular heartbeat, emergency eye surgery, three hip surgeries, alcohol and prescription-drug abuse and a benign brain tumor, she is unfortunately accustomed to dealing with pain. “She’ll be back on her feet,” marvels Steiger. “I don’t know how she does it. She just carries on.”

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