Legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor was an American icon, but her death today at age 79 has a special poignancy in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was that sleepy Mexican town that her steamy and tumultuous romance helped build into the thriving resort it is today.
Taylor’s Puerto Vallarta connection dates back to 1963, when Taylor joined actor Richard Burton while he was filming the movie, “The Night of the Iguana.” Both actors were still married, so the paparazzi followed the “It couple” to Mexico after rumors the two were having an affair. The affair made headlines and was condemned by the Vatican.
The two divorced their spouses and remained in Mexico. They loved the seaside town so much, Burton bought a massive 22,900-square-foot home called Casa Kimberley for Liz as a wedding gift. For 11 years, they lived there and in Casa San Angel, another home across the street which was connected by a famous pink bridge.
“The Burton-Taylor romance, plus the movie ‘Night of the Iguana’ meant a lot to Puerto Vallarta,” says Salvador Peña Chávez, Director of Puerto Vallarta’s Tourism Board. “It was the start of the city as a world-class tourist destination.”
In fact, it was their photos of themselves and the surrounding landscape that peaked interest around the world. Puerto Vallarta became the South Beach of the 1960’s, a popular tourist destination for both celebrities and the public. Today, the once-small town of 12,500 has a quarter of a million residents.
Liz Taylor brought more than just tourists to town. During her 11 years there, she founded The Elizabeth Taylor Orphanage and took in children in need.
But Puerto Vallarta is also the place the couple is known to have had tempestuous and very vociferous fights. Eventually, in 1974, they divorced—then remarried in 1975. That second marriage also ended in divorce. Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times in her life.
Today, celebrities still flock to Puerto Vallarta. Kate Hudson was recently spotted there with boyfriend Matt Bellamy. Kevin Costner had a home there, too. More than a dozen movies have been made in the city since “The Night of the Iguana”, including “Predator” in 2008. Word is that city leaders have approved honoring Taylor’s contribution to the city with a public sculpture.
Ivonne Amor is based in Miami, Florida. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.