Elizabeth Taylor was no stranger to the spotlight. With her violet-blue eyes and a life that was just as dramatic off the screen as it was in her films, her persona endures as one of the most iconic Hollywood stars of all time. But what about the woman behind that persona? The lighthearted, fun-loving, and down-to-earth spirit her friends knew when she stepped out of the limelight? Thanks to a new book by photographer Firooz Zahedi, we’re getting a firsthand look at the personal life of the friend known to him as My Elizabeth. As veteran gossip columnists Liz Smith says in the book’s preface, “Firooz captures the private woman whom I glimpsed from time to time, when she wasn’t playing the movie queen.”
When Zahedi first met Elizabeth Taylor at the age of 27—she was 44 and already one of the most recognizable women in the world at the time—he did not know that she would become one of his biggest professional supporters and closest friends. The two were introduced by Zahedi’s cousin, an Iranian diplomat with whom Taylor had been romantically set up by Henry Kissinger. “I was asked by my cousin to look after Elizabeth and show her the sights in Washington, D.C.” Zahedi told us. “She took a liking to me, and before I knew it, we were good friends.”
The relationship quickly blossomed as Taylor recognized Zahedi’s burgeoning talent for photography and asked him to become her personal photographer. Zahedi’s work had already appeared in Interview magazine thanks to another friend—ahem, Andy Warhol—but it was his travels with Taylor that set him on his path of celebrity portraiture, through which he’s become renowned for lensing the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Barbra Streisand, and Diane Keaton. Many of his travels with Taylor are documented in the book, including their visit to Zahedi’s homeland and his favorite of their destinations, Iran.
My Elizabeth contains more travels photos, along with more domestic glimpses of Taylor’s personal life, and many of the images in the book have never before been published. “They were personal photos meant just for ourselves,” Zahedi said. But he knew the time was right to share them now—with Taylor’s prior permission, of course—because he wanted to benefit a cause that was always close to his friend’s heart: fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Taylor was always a passionate advocate for those suffering with the disease, appearing in national campaigns to raise awareness and even creating the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. “She was a strong and great leader in the battle to raise awareness and find a cure for AIDS,” Zahedi told us, mentioning that he’s actually donating his personal proceeds from the book to Taylor’s foundation. “How could I not support such a dear friend who stuck her neck out when everyone else was running in the other direction? It was the least I could do for her.”
So what’s next for a photographer who’s become known for making the stars of Hollywood shine their brightest? “I’m more focused on my fine art photography now,” Zahedi told us. “Making people look pretty was getting too easy. Using my intellect to produce an image is more challenging and rewarding.” And from a man who says he draws inspiration from the words, “Anything is beautiful if you say it is,” we can only imagine that his fine art images will be just as glamorous as his Elizabeth.