Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, 79, died in Los Angeles overnight.

According to reports, she died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre after a six-week hospital stay for congestive heart failure.

Seen as one of the last actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Oscar-winning actress was thrust into the spotlight in her childhood, rising to fame with her role as Velvet Brown in Grand National, aged 12.

As well as Taylor’s long career in films including Little Women, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cleopatra, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof and Giant, one of her greatest legacies will be her work for HIV/AIDS.

Taylor was a strong supporter of HIV/AIDS charities in the US. She helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research following the death of friend Rock Hudson. Her one-time daughter-in-law, Aileen Getty, was also diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s.

The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation estimates she’s raised $US270 million over her many years of work.

In 1986, Taylor testified before the US Congress on behalf of the Ryan White bill to plead for a funding increase for emergency AIDS care in areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

It is believed she once personally telephoned president Ronald Reagan to demand he attend a public function for HIV/AIDS research, which is thought to have ended his heavily criticised public silence on the subject.

Her 1989 visit to South East Asia’s first AIDS benefit in Thailand and coverage of her visit to AIDS patients at Chulalongkorn University Hospital in Bangkok was also considered a major step in battling the stigma of the disease.

For more information on Elizabeth Taylor’s foundation, visit: www.elizabethtayloraidsfoundation.org

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