I was saddened to hear about the passing of the great Elizabeth Taylor. She was the last of a generation of movie stars, and a stalwart supporter in the fight against AIDS, even when it wasn't popular. But I most remember her from an encounter I had with her almost 20 years ago.
It was October 11, 1991. I was a student at San Francisco State University, and I had heard Elizabeth Taylor was coming to Macy's in San Francisco's Union Square to promote her new fragrance, White Diamonds. Wild horses couldn't keep me away from this event.
She was appearing at 1:00pm, and I had to skip a class to be there (how often does one get the opportunity to see one of the grand dames of the screen, after all?). Making it an even bigger event was the fact that she had just gotten married with great fanfare. Remember the widely televised celebrity-studded wedding to Larry Fortensky at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch? That was just five days before this.
The store was packed, and even though I got there 1.5 hours early, I was still at least 100 feet away. But I was still electrified the moment she walked into the room. She spoke about White Diamonds for a while, and afterward she answered questions from the audience.
My favorite moment was when someone asked her what she and her new husband did on their wedding night. Liz responded not with any words, but instead with one of the biggest, loudest laughs ever. Seriously, this cackle would put Hillary Clinton to shame.
I too asked her a question (albeit a much less memorable one). I asked her which stars of today she liked the most. Her answer: Michelle Phillips (strangely) and Julia Roberts, who had just dazzled everyone in Pretty Woman the year prior.
After her much-too-short appearance, she left, and so did the crowds. I, on the other hand, beelined to the stage, where I took pictures of her chair and the table she was standing next to during her appearance. That's when I noticed that she had left her drinking straw in her glass of water.
Needless to say I swiped the straw as a souvenir. (Who wouldn't have?!) It even had her lipstick marks on it. In fact, the story of this lucky souvenir hunter made it into the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, in the column of legendary San Francisco newsman Herb Caen, no less.
I kept the straw for many years until I eventually donated it to my friend Tom, who I believe still has it somewhere. Makes me kind of wish I kept it. Oh well. I'll always have the memories. So here's to you Liz, your amazing career, your life well lived, and your drinking straw.