For the first time, Taylor's family shares intimate memories and of the screen legend

Updated November 25, 2013 05:30 PM
Roddy McDowall

From the set of Cleopatra to the Cannes International Film Festival to Mexico to Switzerland, Elizabeth Taylor‘s children saw plenty of the world.

Growing up the son of a screen legend “was great, kind of circus-like,” says Christopher Wilding. “The big tent folds and moves to the next city.”

And wherever they called home, the 58-year-old adds, Taylor “took great pains to create a stable family life” for the four children she adored.

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Taylor’s family shares intimate memories and rare pictures of their mother for the first time in honor of her AIDS activism, leading up to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. Never-before-seen photographs taken by her close friend (and Lassie Come Home costar) Roddy McDowall show Taylor as you ve never seen her, at ease and unposed. “He was the only one who could get really genuinely relaxed pictures of my mother,” says Christopher.

An ultra-private family, three generations of Taylors share warm, often surprising memories of the matriarch they loved.

While she was not a disciplinarian, Christopher says, “she wouldn’t hesitate to call you out if you were being close-minded or intolerant or judgmental.”

Her family remembers her as both a fierce activist, who co-founded amfAR in 1985 and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1991, and the mom who loved to laugh, cuddle and play in her jewelry closet. “She was very intimate and real and open,” says her granddaughter, Laela Wilding.

Taylor’s great-grandson Finn McMurray remembers cuddling in her big bed, watching everything from her movies, Cleopatra and National Velvet to CSI and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “We’d watch bad TV and eat popcorn,” recalls Finn, 15. “She was so much fun.” And as he’s grown older, he says, “I’ve come to realize what amazing things she has done. She has really inspired me.”

Same with her grandson Quinn Tivey, a photographer who has been taking portraits of HIV-positive people who’ve been helped by ETAF. “Grandma didn’t care what anyone thought of her as long as she was doing what she considered to be right,” the 27-year-old says. And while he treasures many memories of his unique “grandma,” he remains inspired, he says, “by her chutzpah and her fearlessness.”

For much more of her family’s memories and more exclusive photos pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE. And come back to on Wednesday for a free preview of PEOPLE Premium, with more photos, video and an interactive guide to Taylor’s family legacy.