Liz Taylor’s passing from congestive heart failure last Wednesday, at the age of 79, is a sad loss for the entertainment world, and the world in general, as we’ve not only lost an icon, but a good soul. While she may not have starred in the films on our generation’s list of favorites, losing her is akin to losing Michael Jackson, her good friend, from the perspective of the cultural influences and legacies they both left behind .

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor meant so much to the world of American film and entertainment, gracing the screen in films like “Cleopatra,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” that it’s not quite possible to quantify her effect on the American art of show business. At age 12 she was headlining films like MGM’s “National Velvet” and carving out a place in ’40s and ’50s cinema as a child star. Unlike most child stars, however, she transitioned seamlessly from the teen icon she was into the world-renowned cultural force she was to become.

Despite standing 5’2”, she commanded the focus of people in every room she walked into and was the woman you’d teach your child to point at and say “movie star.” She had the kind of beautiful face that could go in the dictionary next to the words “innocence” or “grace,” and no one would disagree. She was the kind of celebrity that other celebrities had a crush on, the kind to dominate headlines — with eight marriages to seven different men — as much as the box office. She won two Academy Awards and was the first actress to earn $1 million for a film role. She handled every high and low of her life with enough aplomb to keep people smiling and hopeful.

Liz Taylor had a famous heart too. Despite her success, she remained the same witty, intelligent and caring woman her whole life. She helped raise more than $100 million for AIDS research and was a voice for the causes of civil and gay rights before either cause was “cool” or profitable. It’s as difficult to sum up what she meant to the world as a philanthropist and caring soul as it is to describe how powerful and famous she really was.

While Taylor had issues and weathered the storms of celebrity, she did so with a sense of humor, and an uncommon amount of appreciation for her own fame, knowing that she had a responsibility and an example to set as someone in the public eye. She never thought she was more famous than she actually was. She was never afraid to make fun of herself. She knew what she bargained for, in becoming famous worldwide because fame itself was never her goal. For her, fame almost came by accident, a residual affect of her undeniable talent and effortless beauty. What she did with that fame, however, was always something she considered more important than simply acquiring more of it.

Taylor always knew where the camera was, an unteachable characteristic of true celebrities that does not arise out of vanity like most people think, but out of a genuine awareness of one’s self — one’s true, silent confidence — and a respect for the humbling responsibility of fame. Beauty fades, and dollars and tabloids last only as long as it takes to print new ones. But her legacy of grace, combined with humility under the American spotlight, still remain after her death as reminders that even though a lot of people have become famous in America, few will ever be as deserving of fame as Liz.

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