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Before John Warner served for 30 years in the U.S. Senate, he was the sixth of Elizabeth Taylor’s seven husbands.
The chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee passed away on Tuesday at age 94. In his lifetime, Warner established himself as a celebrated Republican at the center of American politics. But before that, Warner famously married the violet-eyed movie star.
The unlikely pair first met on a blind date in 1976 when the British ambassador asked Warner to escort Taylor to an embassy party honoring another Elizabeth – the Queen of England. The reigning monarch was visiting Washington at the time.
Warner and Taylor married that December on his farm near Middleburg, Virginia.
“Well, I thought we would get married, live on a farm, raise horses,” Taylor told Larry King on his show in 2001. “… And I thought it would be all very sort of farmish, and jobby, horsey, and I could have animals, and I would go out and brand the cattle.”
John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor met on a blind date in 1976 when the British ambassador asked him to escort the movie star to an embassy party honoring another Elizabeth, the Queen of England, who was visiting Washington.
(Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images)
But soon after they wed, Warner set his sights on an open U.S. Senate seat. Taylor, a former Democrat, campaigned with her new husband, drawing huge crowds.
“It’s no question being married to Elizabeth Taylor increased interest in him,” said Donald Huffman, who once led the state Republican Party. “She traveled with him and people turned out.”
Years later, Taylor laughed at how she was told not to dress lavishly during the campaign.
“I ended up a tweed suit,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2006. “Me. Little tweed suits. What I won’t do for love.”
When Warner got to the Senate in 1979, he was the butt of some jokes, including being immortalized as “Sen. Elizabeth Taylor” in the “Doonesbury” comic strip. And once he established himself as a senator, Taylor rarely got involved.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so alone in my life when I was Mrs. Senator, and I don’t blame my ex-husband,” the star wrote in her 1987 book “Elizabeth Takes Off.”
Elizabeth Taylor initially joined John Warner on the campaign trail.
“He never pretended to be anything but a man devoted to public service, and once that service began in earnest, I had to take a backseat to his constituency,” she said.
Unfamiliar in a supporting role, Taylor said she felt worthless, eating and drinking with abandon. Her usual 120-pound figure increased to more than 180. However, Taylor credited Warner with helping her get on track with her weight loss – making her hoist an 11-pound turkey to see how heavy it felt. She said the observation struck home.
Still, the couple grew apart and, after a 14-month separation, divorced in 1982. A year after, Taylor entered the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol dependency.
“I never took it as a personal rejection on John’s part, certainly not on a conscious level,” Taylor wrote in her book. “John wasn’t doing anything more or less than what any other senator did. I just couldn’t bear the intense loneliness, the lack of sharing with the person with whom I most wanted to share.”
As for Warner, he too blamed his work.
“Elizabeth is one who loved to fully share life with her person,” he told The Washington Post in 1984. “You get into the Senate and lose control of the hours and the regularity, and you get tremendously involved in the pressures of that office. She opted for her own career and all of a sudden the fork in the road came.”
Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner divorced in 1982 and remained friends thereafter.
(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Both eventually remarried, and they claimed long after the divorce that they were better friends as exes. Taylor later enlisted Warner’s help in getting more funds for AIDS research, a cause she took up after her beloved friend Rock Hudson died of complications from the disease. The actor passed away in 1985 at age 59.
“[Warner] knows he wasn’t the love of my life. And I know I wasn’t the love of his life,” Taylor admitted to the New York Times in 2002. “But we loved each other. We got along wonderfully until he decided to be a politician. And then he married the Senate.”
Warner’s former celebrity lifestyle became an issue in his 1996 campaign. His opponent, James Miller, portrayed him as an arrogant socialite. “John Warner likes to run around in the fast lane with movie and media stars,” Miller criticized.
But Warner, who after his divorce had dated Barbara Walters, answered only, “I haven’t been in Hollywood in 20 years.”
Taylor passed away in 2011 at age 79.
Warner died Tuesday of heart failure at home in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife and daughter at his side, his longtime chief of staff, Susan A. Magill, said Wednesday.
“He was frail but had a lot of spirit and was involved until his last days,” Magill said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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