Elizabeth Taylor's First Authorized Biography: 'She Said Her Entire Life Was a Fight'

Author Kate Andersen Brower had access to 7,358 personal letters, and conducted over 250 interviews, for Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon

Elizabeth Taylor book
Photo: HarperCollins Publishing

The first time author Kate Andersen Brower encountered Elizabeth Taylor, it wasn't in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Cleopatra. It was in the supermarket.

The New York Times bestselling author remembers going to the store with her mother growing up in the '80s, and seeing Taylor's face on tabloids — with ex-husband Larry Fortensky, with Michael Jackson, and often critiqued for her weight. That's how Brower was introduced to the Academy Award winner. And as she reveals in the authorized biography Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon (out Dec. 6 via HarperCollins), she was much more than just those fragments of her life. She was human.

"I had this kind of image of her — the punchline, someone who was out of control," Brower tells PEOPLE of her childhood memories of Taylor, who died in March 2011 at the age of 79.

"Getting to go through her life, to see her inner thoughts and how she was working through things psychologically all the time. And also how empathetic she was to other people, how she struggled being a working mother of four kids, struggled to find true love… I just think there was so much more to her than we could see."

elizabeth taylor
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty

For the biography, which is three years in the making and marks the first-ever authorized story of the icon's life, Brower dives into the "more."

With the go-ahead to explore the family and estate's archives (including 7,358 letters and personal notes) and interviews with 250 of Taylor's closest loved ones and other acquaintances, the author took on the "tremendous responsibility" to document Taylor's life, in her own words, and in the words of those who knew her best.

Brower spoke to notable names like Demi Moore, Carol Burnett, and Colin Farrell for the book, the actress' four children, and even some of Liz's former loves — including George Hamilton, Robert Wagner, and her last surviving husband Senator John Warner, who initially gave Bower the green light to write the book before he died in 2021.

With their help, and the help of Taylor's archives, she was able to tell the story of not just a woman who was an iconic actress, who was struggling with addiction, who was a victim of abuse, or who was a champion for those with AIDS in the '80s — but as someone who considered herself a "full-fledged human being, as she liked to say."

"She said her entire life was a fight," Brower shares. "The resilience is the refusing to be a victim. Her father did beat her up. And he beat her because he felt intimidated that his 12-year-old was making more money [as a child star] than he was. And they had a reconciliation when she was in her 20s. But I mean, the fact that she wouldn't let herself be victimized even though she was on paper, a victim. I think that's terrible that he did that. But she got up again, like she almost died in her 20s when she had pneumonia, and she kept going and going. It was the never giving up."

Elizabeth Taylor
NY Daily News Archive/Getty

Addiction is a heavy topic in The Grit & Glamour of an Icon, as Taylor opened up in personal letters about the struggles she faced being addicted to drugs.

At one point, her son Chris told Brower about a specific incident that took place in the '70s, which prompted him to move away. Chris, in the book, recalled how his mother asked him to give her an injection of Demerol in her knee sometime when she put her skirt around her hips and handed him a needle to do it himself.

He couldn't bring himself to do it, Brower says.

"And he walked out of the room and left Washington, DC because she was just so unhappy there," she says. "He said she had this dead behind-the-eyes look on her face handing him the syringe. It's just like 'God, you think she has everything.' But really, there was always a void as she was trying to fill."

In the book, the author makes note of instances of abuse that Taylor suffered at the hands of her loved ones. The actress was married eight times to seven husbands throughout her life, and Brower writes of one moment where Eddie Fisher, Taylor's fourth husband, held a gun to her head in 60s and said "Don't worry, you're too beautiful to kill."

RELATED VIDEO: Kathy Ireland Says Elizabeth Taylor Friendship 'Forever Changed My Life': She 'Became Family'

"She said being married to him was a slow suicide," Brower explains. "So she needed to leave. So she got out of these situations that she was in that were abusive. But I think that the thing about her too, is that she always thought that she was her best when she was married. But if you just look at it, the period of time when she was the most impactful and was when she was single."

Some of the letters Taylor wrote were never even sent, including ones she penned to Richard Burton and close friend Michael Jackson after they died.

As for those who knew Taylor well and are still remembering her legacy today, Brower says the family was happy with the book, after finally being "ready" to tell Taylor's story for the first time.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

"I got a call from her son, Chris, who had read it and said that it was hard for him to read sometimes, but that it brought back all of these memories about his mom," she says.

"But that there were things that he learned in reading it because her life was so big, no one person was there for all of it. She was always surrounded by an entourage of people. But in the long run, the family is happy with it, because they were ready."

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Related Articles