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Liz Taylor spent a life in and out of hospitals

The Associated Press, Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 7:49am (PDT)

From the day 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor fell off a horse and hurt her back, medical problems hounded her like paparazzi, sending her to hospitals for more than 20 major operations and countless treatments.

Taylor's health woes, including her near-fatal bouts with pneumonia in 1961 and 1990, became as much a part of Hollywood lore as her Oscar-winning performances and marriages. Another respiratory infection forced her to cancel all engagements for several weeks in late 1992, and she had both hip joints replaced in 1994 and 1995. She was hospitalized about six weeks ago at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at age 79.

Even her pregnancies caused trouble. In 1957, it took nine doctors to deliver her premature third child. She underwent a hysterectomy a decade later.

Her health problems began when she injured her back in the horse fall during the production of "National Velvet." She was hospitalized at least once after that for back pain before she suffered an even more serious back injury. Just before her 1957 marriage to producer Mike Todd, Taylor landed on her tail bone when her boat lurched. Surgeons removed three discs and replaced them with bone from her hip, pelvis and a bone bank.

The accidents saddled her with back pain for life, putting her in the hospital for massages and other treatment scores of times. In 1985, during the filming of the television miniseries "North and South," she donned a period skirt weighing 50 pounds and her back problems flared again.

But her health issues were not restricted to back ailments. In 1957, Taylor underwent an appendectomy in Hollywood after she suffered several appendicitis attacks on a trip abroad with Todd.

Three years later, the world press focused on a mystery ailment that sent Taylor into the hospital, weeping and clutching her head in pain. Doctors eventually diagnosed the problem as meningism, a comparatively minor illness marked by irritation of the membranes covering the brain. An abscessed tooth that had contributed to the condition was removed.

Taylor's first death scare came in 1961 when she came down with pneumonia. She was twice pronounced at the point of death. She underwent a tracheotomy, in which an incision was cut into her windpipe to help her breathe. She appeared at the 1961 Academy Awards with a bandage over her scar and accepted an Oscar for "Butterfield 8." Honored with a standing ovation, she hobbled to the stage to accept her award in one of the most dramatic moments in Academy Award history.

In 1968, she underwent the hysterectomy in London. A year later she was near death again. She entered a hospital for tests and X-rays for back pain. Rumors circulated she was suffering cancer of the spine, to which she responded "absolute rubbish." No cancer was found.

In 1970, Taylor was treated for what was described as corrective surgery to stop slight internal bleeding, two weeks after she had undergone a gynecological operation in Los Angeles. Taylor underwent surgery again in 1973 to remove an ovarian cyst and to clear up a stomach infection.

In 1976, the year that she and Richard Burton decided to marry a second time, the actress got a third death scare when an X-ray revealed black dots on her lung. The dots turned out to be remnants of tuberculosis that she never knew she had.

Her health problems became a political issue in 1978 when she hit the campaign trail with then-husband John Warner. While he was campaigning to become a U.S. senator from Virginia, she choked on a chicken bone. A doctor was able to dislodge the bone.

During a 1983 trip to the Middle East, Miss Taylor was treated for scrapes suffered in a car wreck on an Israeli highway. That year, she checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage for six weeks of treatment of drug and alcohol abuse. Many of her problems, she said, stemmed from taking so much prescription medication in her life.

She had another bout with pneumonia in April 1990 and for several days was hooked up to a ventilator to aid her breathing.

Plagued by increasing pain and difficulty while walking, Taylor underwent hip replacement surgery in 1994. Her doctor said osteoarthritis had worn out the cartilage in her left hip, causing painful bone-on-bone contact.

She had the other hip joint replaced in 1995 then underwent still another operation a couple of months later because her legs were not the same length as a result of the procedures.

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