Photographer: Terry O’Neill

Fashion & Lifestyle April 2022

Guts and Guile: Elizabeth’s Road to Recovery

I’ve been through it all, baby, I’m mother courage.
Elizabeth Taylor

Beneath Elizabeth Taylor’s unparalleled beauty, legendary liaisons, and brilliant baubles stood a woman who was fantastically and undeniably human. Elizabeth’s well known dismissal of public opinion in regard to her personal life came to her aid on more than one occasion. Such inattention to celebrity social norms would serve her well when she was forced to come to terms with an addiction to sleeping pills and alcohol. In 1983, Elizabeth’s close friends and family planned an intervention that would drastically change her life.

“I became a drunk and a junkie with great determination, and with the same great resolve that got me to that point, I could turn it to work for me,” Elizabeth would eventually recall. “You have to come to that decision by yourself. That night, I went to the center."

With the opinions of those who mattered most close at hand, Elizabeth Taylor admitted herself to the Betty Ford Center on December 5, 1983 at the age of fifty one. The choice was hers, and hers alone. She received treatment for seven weeks and would later return for a second visit. Attending rehab twice is telling of how relapse is a part of recovery and that the only way to fail is to not try.

This decision made Elizabeth Taylor the first celebrity to attend the center, and being the miracle leveler that rehab is, she quickly recognized that everyone at Betty Ford shared a common bond. With the knowledge that her fans would eventually find out about her time there, Elizabeth chose to take control of her narrative and go public with the news. After all, she had nothing to hide. Because she refused to be shamed, not only did she make celebrity rehab acceptable, with stars like Johnny Cash and Mary Tyler Moore following in her footsteps, but she also became a champion for those suffering in silence. Whether she was aware of it or not, facing her demons in front of a global audience had a profound effect on how the Hollywood elite and everyday people approached recovery.

Undaunted by decades spent under the spotlight, the most photographed woman in the world employed humility, grace, and resolve on her journey to overcome addiction in the most simple way possible: one day at a time. Her willingness to remain open and honest, while under intense scrutiny, brought millions of people out of the darkness of shame and into the brilliance of healing.

For the alcoholic or addict still suffering, may you be granted the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, access resources here:

Featured Image by Terry O'Neill