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Dolly Parton arrives at the premiere of her latest film, Joyful Noise, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

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Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, arguably the last great female star of
the Hollywood studio system, has died at the age of 79.

The Oscar-winning star died in the early hours of the morning at Cedars-Sinai medical centre in Los Angeles, from congestive heart failure, according to her spokeswoman Sally Morrison. She said Taylor’s children were at her side.

Dame Elizabeth, who had been in ill health for a number of years, was taken to the hospital with heart failure six weeks ago. A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “She passed away at 1.28 [0828 GMT].”

Taylor’s luminous screen presence, allied to a colourful private life, made her a mainstay of US popular culture for more than 50 years. She won her first best actress Oscar for playing the self-styled “slut of the world” in Butterfield 8 (1960). Her second came courtesy of an electrifying turn opposite then-husband Richard Burton in the 1966 drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Born in Hampstead, north London, Taylor relocated to the US in 1939 and made her screen debut as a nine-year-old in the 1942 Universal comedy There’s One Born Every Minute. She found fame as the perky child star of Lassie Come Home and National Velvet before graduating to adult roles with the 1950 comedy Father of the Bride.

The following year she rustled up one of her most vibrant and vital performances in A Place in the Sun. George Stevens’s melodrama cast her as a spoiled debutante who bewitches Montgomery Clift’s ambitious social climber. According to the critic Andrew Sarris, the film’s young actors were “the most beautiful couple in the history of cinema. Those gigantic close-ups of them kissing were unnerving – like gorging on chocolate sundaes.”

Other notable roles were in Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer and Reflections in a Golden Eye. Yet Taylor’s on-screen prowess was often upstaged by the ongoing soap-opera of her personal life. She was married eight times to seven husbands and sparked a scandal when she began an affair with the British actor Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra.

The couple wed in 1964 and divorced a decade later. They remarried in 1975 and then split again the following year. Throughout this period they were embraced as the hydra-headed emblem of Hollywood glamour, their lives a whirl of ritzy premieres, champagne receptions and indulgent movie collaborations. “It was probably the most chaotic time of my life,” Taylor would later recall. “It was fun and it was dark – oceans of tears – but there were some good times too.”

Throughout her life, Taylor seemed drawn to fragile souls and those in need. She reportedly saved the life of the notoriously self-destructive Montgomery Clift following a car crash in 1956. Spurred on by the 1985 death of her friend Rock Hudson, she helped found the American Federation for Aids Research and went on to raise an estimated $50m to fight the disease. More recently, she rode to the defence of Michael Jackson after the singer was arraigned on charges of child abuse.

Away from the cameras, her own life was punctuated by health problems. She survived a brain tumour, suffered from a heart condition and reportedly broke her back on five separate occasions. In later life, she was largely confined to a wheelchair as a result of osteoporosis. Yet there was something resilient about Elizabeth Taylor – a fighting spirit belied by her famous good looks. “I’ve been through it all, baby,” she once boasted. “I’m Mother Courage.”

R.I.P. Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, actor, born 27 February 1932; died 23 March 2011

New York Times obituary
Elizabeth Taylor, Guinea Pig for Modern Celebrity

(Source: Guardian)

How did a groundbreaking production of Tristan und Isolde make it to the stage? With help from kneepads, booze, painkillers and video artist Bill Viola, reveals company manager Henrietta Bredin in her tour diary:

Back in 2004, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, director Peter Sellars and artist Bill Viola created the all-enveloping, sensurround Tristan Project. Their hugely ambitious version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde mixed Viola’s video art with Sellars’ choreography and direction against a semi-staging of the immense opera. The piece played in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, and Salonen began planning to bring it to London. Six years later, reimagined and retitled, Tristan und Isolde has been performed in Switzerland and Germany and is about to go to Birmingham, before finishing up in London’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday. This new take brings the musicians out of the orchestra pit and on to the stage. Over their heads is a vast screen – 11m x 6.6m – on which Viola’s images, of fire and water, faces and reflections, moonlight and waves, are projected. The screen is in a horizontal position for the first two acts and then pivots on its own axis to a vertical position. The entire thing weighs 1,740kg, as much as a car, and has to be transported to and erected in each venue. At various points during the performance, singers and solo instrumentalists perform from different places within the concert hall, which produces an extraordinary three-dimensional effect, immersing the audience in Wagner’s music. I was brought in as company manager by the London-based Philharmonia, where Salonen is principal conductor, to put together a mini opera production team of technical director and stage managers, and then to look after the singers and keep things on track while the show went on the road. We started with rehearsals in London …

Rihanna, Katy Perry and an annoying little cunt

At the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, USA, sexy songstresses Rihanna and Katy Perry were disappointed when they rubbed their tits on annoying little cunt Justin Bieber and he didn’t get an erection.

“I was like … whatever! You annoying little cunt, ain’t you got no prick or what?” said Rihanna.

“My nipples were erect and that was about all,” said Katy.

Talent-free shemale chanteuse and vertical bacon sandwich Lady Gaga has defended the “meat dress” she wore at the MTV Video Music Awards saying it was not disrespectful towards “vegans and vegetarians”.

The singer told US chatshow host Ellen DeGeneres that the outfit was a protest against the way the army in America treats gay soldiers. Lesbian, bisexual and gay people can serve in the US military as long as they don’t reveal their sexual orientation.

“This is a woman in control of her own image and turning the tables on society,” says Laurie Penny, a feminist writer and blogger. “As Lady Gaga herself said at the awards: ‘If we don’t stand up for our rights soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones. And I am not a piece of meat.’ It’s a clever play on women being viewed as chunks of flesh, as pieces of meat, as things to be consumed,” says Ms Penny. “It’s a sly wink at that aspect of society and the joke is on us. Just take her quip about asking Cher to hold her meat purse. She is the one laughing.”

It’s a bold statement, but definitely not a silly stunt, says Ms Penny. The dress has been very carefully made and is not just slabs of meat thrown together – it is like a “beautiful couture dress”. This attention to detail shows it is something Gaga has thought through.

“People will say it’s mad or crazy and, of course, there is a shock factor to it. But it is all very cleverly done and very calculated. This is a woman in control of herself and her image. I think it’s brilliant.”

I think it’s fucking stupid and Lady Gaga is fucking stupid and MTV is fucking stupid and Cher is fucking stupid and vegans are fucking stupid and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are fucking stupid and US soldiers are fucking stupid …

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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