In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, model and AIDS activist Kathy Ireland said that Elizabeth Taylor ran an underground network to provide experimental HIV medication to patients. Ireland told the show:
“Talk about fearless in her home in Bel-Air. It was a safe house. A lot of the work that she did, it was illegal, but she was saving lives. It was in a time when it was not something to do. Business associates pleaded with her, ‘Leave this thing alone.’ She received death threats. Friends hung up on her when she asked for help, but something that I love about Elizabeth is her courage.”
Drug rings geared toward procuring experimental HIV/AIDS drugs in 1980s America weren’t exactly unusual—the film The Dallas Buyer’s Club immortalized Ron Woodroof, one of the most written about organizers—but they were still illegal. HIV and AIDS were still deeply misunderstood and lack of federal oversight (and near denial of the existence of the diseases) stymied medical and drug research, making a diagnosis a practical death sentence. The buying rings often brought in drugs from foreign countries like Mexico, Switzerland, and Sweden that were still labeled experimental by the FDA (the FDA wouldn’t approve early HIV treatments like AZT until 1987 and after approval there was often a long waiting list to obtain the incredibly expensive drug).
While Ireland didn’t elaborate on the work that Taylor did, it’s still an incredible story that speaks to Taylor’s commitment to HIV and AIDS awareness; particularly at a time when that kind of activism was deeply unpopular. She began raising money for research in 1985 and, in 1986, Taylor testified before Congress on behalf of Ryan White. She founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 and, according to ET, the organization has since raised millions of dollars for research and awareness.
Elizabeth Taylor testifying before Congress via AP.