top of page
  • Joseph Panetta


Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Key Takeaways:

I was 25 years old, travelling the world with a global icon. Strangely, I was never ‘star-struck’ – I focused on doing my work (leading Jose Eber to give me one of the best compliments I ever received.

What I learned in those years shaped how I do what I do. Elizabeth was more than her movies, marriages and the mayhem around her –

she deeply cared about the cause of AIDS

In 2021, I mentioned to a 32-year-old colleague that I once worked for Elizabeth Taylor.

“Who is she?” he replied. December 1 marks the 33rd Worlds AIDS Day – a day of

recognition that may never have come to be were it not for Elizabeth Taylor. It is said

that she put a face to AIDS – THE face.

It’s easy to Google the list of her AIDS ‘firsts’

  • Founding National Chairperson of AmFAR: the American Foundation for AIDS Research

  • Raising more than $300 million BY HERSELF over the course of her crusade.

  • Commanding, forcing and persuading high-ranking politicians, Hollywood elite, media and fans around the world to pay attention to a growing epidemic of, as she called it, ignorance.

During my time working with her, I found her to be complex but not complicated. Her

legacy is multifaceted: child star of Hollywood’s “studio system” who grew into a 2-time

Oscar Winner; famously married eight times; and full of quotable quotes. My favorite

Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in a documentary by Viacom CBS UK about

her life (see snippet here). As I mentioned at the

beginning, I shared this experience with a younger colleague and he said: “who is she?”

After gathering myself, I replied with the quote above – THE face of AIDS. Never mind

the other stuff – THAT was what she wanted her legacy to be.

That moment: that question propelled me to accept Viacom’s offer and I set my mind to

share something she forbade us to discuss.

By the mid 90’s Elizabeth (btw – never ‘Liz’. She hated that) grew tired of waiting for

“research” to deliver progress and she turned her attention to care. To this end, she

founded ETAF: The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, whose sole focus was on care of

those infected.

Her commitment to these people shined most when she was on the road. Her fragrance

tours were epic. To prepare, we’d visit and hold a store briefing in advance. Routinely

store executives from places like Houston would say, “Oh we had Calvin Klein here last

year – we got this.” We’d smile, nod and proceed to share that having Elizabeth was

more akin to a rock concert than a midday visit by a fashion designer. “Expect

thousands of fans to start lining up a day in advance; keep the air conditioning on

overnight to ensure it’s cool enough when 4,000 people pile in. Oh, and have an EMS

vehicle outside ready – someone always faints….”

“Wait, you want to have this in the fragrance department? No! People will stand on the

vitrines, break the glass, sue you and Elizabeth. We need another floor. Preferably one

with good structural integrity.”

The indignance. The shock. The crestfallen faces as these store execs realized they

were not prepared to handle this sort of event. Hence, why we visited 2 months in


While on that pre-tour, she tasked us to identify a local hospice and do some recon. We were not allowed to share WHO was hoping to visit – just that a major star was planning to stop in.

Understand; at this time, AIDS Hospices were end-stage care facilities: where people went to die.

After her store visit and ensuing fragrance feeding frenzy, she’d take the limo to the

local hospice we’d identified . She would go in unaccompanied – no press, no former

Mossad security guards. Just her.

There seems to be a growing number of remembrance days on the calendar. Recently, we

celebrated Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is fairly new by comparison. My

goal in sharing this is to honor the legacy that the most famous woman in the world

charged us with: “I hope with all of my heart that in some way I have made a difference

in the lives of people with AIDS. I want that to be my legacy.” And to ensure that no one

ever asks me again: “Who is she?”

December 1 holds a special place for me, for the world as a result of her work, her focus

and her force of personality.

The learnings from those years: from the very tactical things like placing the

photographers to get the best photos – to the very strategic, like selecting which

fragrance to release and how – became foundational in terms of how I approach all

client work.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page