They say you don’t get to choose love. It chooses you. And apparently, one doesn’t have much choice on where it strikes either. I guess rehab is as good a place as anywhere else. I bet if you were able to ask Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky they’d agree.
Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky met at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1988 – she was there for an addiction to prescription drugs, and he was “there for beer,” according to the one interview he gave not long after her death. Rehab strips one down to the basics, and Liz was cleaning floors and making her own bed. Something she’d never done before. She approached Larry one day while at the clinic. Larry, a construction worker from small town California, who had not finished high school and had already been married two times, was a significant change of pace for Liz. And she loved it.
She called him “Larry the Lion” and her “stallion”. The press called him Mr. Liz Taylor. And while she was linked romantically to others immediately after rehab – actor Anthony Geary, lawyer Victor Luna and Malcom Forbes (she was his companion at his 70th birthday party and was notoriously late (four hours) to the event), she would end up marrying Larry, her seventh husband and eighth marriage, in October 1991.
And what a wedding it was. It was held at Elizabeth’s friend, Michael Jackson’s, Neverland ranch and was estimated to cost between $1.5 and $2 million. Liza Minelli, Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Nancy Reagan and Quincy Jones were in attendance. Taylor’s friend, singer Carole Bayer Sager, was maid of honor and her hairdresser, Jose Eber, was Larry’s best man. Helicopters flew overhead in such numbers that Larry couldn’t even hear their vows. One photographer was so brazen as to parachute down into the ranch, but security reached him before he could reach the couple. Instead, they sold the photos from the wedding to People Magazine for $1 million, which Liz used as seed money to start her AIDS foundation. There doesn’t seem to have been an engagement ring but then, Liz had already had plenty of those. She wore a diamond eternity band on her left hand for the duration of their marriage.
Larry, the oldest of seven children, had always been a hard worker and that reportedly didn’t end once he married Liz. He was quoted as saying he liked to work and continued to work his construction job after the wedding. “I am a proud man and I like to work. I didn’t want her money. I’d get up at 6am to go to the construction site. Elizabeth would get up, put on a kaftan and we’d have breakfast.” Did she make it? “Don’t be crazy. Elizabeth never cooked. She’d go back to bed after I left.”
She enjoyed his simpler views on life. He enjoyed her sometimes childlike innocence. In showing the reporter who conducted the interview he gave after her death (to “clear things up once and for all”), he brought out some photos that he still kept by his bed. “That was on a trip to Switzerland the year after we married. We were in bed and she sat up and said, ‘I want to make a snow angel.’ She grabbed a fur coat and put it over her nightdress. I chased her outside and she fell in the snow and started waving her arms around giggling like a little girl. That is my favourite picture. I keep it by my bed. That’s how I remember Elizabeth. She had a childishness about her. She was 20 years older than me but I never felt she was old.”
However, eventually, under pressure from Liz, Larry quit his construction job so they could travel the world together. At some point, her health issues began and after she’d had both hips replaced, he moved into another bedroom and it was the beginning of the end. The limelight had always been his least favorite thing about being married to Elizabeth Taylor. While she was used to the constant attention and paparazzi, he was not. Everywhere they went, there were cameras.
Perhaps that was ultimately the undoing of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky. It was Elizabeth who came to him and said she was unhappy and she knew he was unhappy and she didn’t want them to end up hating each other. Their divorce was final on Halloween 1996. When they split up, Larry immediately returned to his old life. They did, however, speak on the phone a couple of times a month and remained friends until her death. He had just spoken to her the day before she went into the hospital for the last time. It was from the TV that he found out she had died.
Larry only lived a few years longer, himself. Already in bad health, having suffered a brain injury due to a drunken fall down his home’s stairs in 1999, he hadn’t been able to work and had a hard time with his short-term memory. At the end of his life, his finances also having fallen apart, he was living with one of his sisters in a two-bedroom ranch in Menifee, California. He’d been offered thousands of dollars for his tell-all story over the years, but he refused, even shutting out members of his own family who sold their versions, until at the very end. And then he only shared his memories of his time with her to shush the rumor mill that had spun up once again in the wake of her death. Larry Fortensky died on July 7, 2016 after suffering complications from skin cancer surgery.
Who’s to say what is or isn’t true love? Were the real loves of Elizabeth Taylor’s life Mike Todd and Richard Burton? Or were they just the easiest targets? We’d have to ask Liz to know for sure. But one thing we can know, is that she was pretty good at planning a wedding.