This is a true story from beloved doorperson and scenester Dee Finley, who remembers the way Liz changed her life.
Here’s Dee’s touching tale:
“I believe it was 1997.
“Back then, there were few services for addicts. One of the only places to go, for a host of services, was the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center. It was the closest thing junkies had to a real community.
“One Thursday, a celebrity was visiting and a staffer said if I did not sign a release, I needed to stay out of the way of the cameras. I was pissed and thought to myself, ‘It’s probably that idiot Geraldo Rivera come to poke the junkies in the zoo,’ and thought, ‘I’m not signing. I’ll just go sulk in a corner.’
“So I could not believe my eyes when the limo arrived and in walked Elizabeth Taylor. I just about fell over.
“I could not believe it. Liz Taylor! See, my mom didn’t worship God — she worshipped movie stars, and Liz was on the top of that list along with Judy Garland, Jean Harlow, Montgomery Clift, and, of course, Marilyn. The more tragic, the better. Mom could relate. But Liz was her favorite by far.
“So, I really could not believe it when ET walked in. At the time she had just had brain surgery. Her hair was short and blonde. Liz at her dykiest. YUM! I believe she was in a wheelchair but she could get up and walk on her own. And she was beautiful.
“Then it happened. Another staff member informed me that Liz had asked to meet me! I was walked over to a side area and motioned to a chair across from Liz. I missed the chair and wound up kinda kneeling before I got into my chair, like you would before royalty. It was quite fitting as Liz was royalty to me. I felt like I would explode! This was beyond surreal.
“I should explain what Liz was doing there. Back then, it was hard to get any funding for things like needle exchanges, even though it was proven that they cut the rates of HIV infection. Liz gave to lots of places that helped with the AIDS crisis, and this day she was taking a tour to see what her dollars did.
“I can’t remember everything we talked about. I do remember her eyes. They really were violet and kind. The way she looked at me was so sweet and not at all judgmental. She reached across the table to shake my battle-scarred hand and looked me in the eye.
“I thanked her for being so kind and gracious. I told her how this program had helped me and so many others. I told her about my mom, how she adored her, and that I saw her in Who’s Afraid when I was just a kid and how much her character scared me then but is now one of my all-time favorite movies.
“She did not even seem shocked when I smiled. See, at the time I was missing all my front teeth. They were a casualty of the life I was living, brought on by bad genes, bad luck, a lack of dental care, and a skateboard accident. I was ashamed to meet her in the shape I was in. I had fallen far from grace. I was dirty and had been wearing the same clothes for days.
“Then the biggest faux pas of a lifetime happened… before I was introduced to Liz I had been eating popcorn. As I was telling her about my mom and her love for ET I felt a piece of popcorn shoot out of my mouth. I watched in horror, helpless as it flew out of my mouth across the table and landed on her finger, right next to a big rock on her finger. Without thinking I reached across and took the spit-drenched popcorn remnant from her finger.
“I was turning every shade of red. Liz could see my embarrassment and made it seem like nothing happened. She didn’t flinch. Amazing. Later in life, when I was stage-managing rock shows and some nobody would start acting like a diva I would think, ‘Who do you think you are? I spewed popcorn on Liz Taylor’s finger…’
“I stood up and thanked Liz. She reached again for my grimy hand and looked me deep in the eye and thanked me for meeting with her. Can you imagine? She thanked me! I said, ‘No, thank you, Miss Taylor. For all that you do.’ I floated away. I had a Polaroid that someone took of me with Liz that was lost along the way. I also had a bottle of White Diamonds perfume that they gave to all the ladies that day and which I promptly turned into a couple of bags of heroin.
“Meeting Liz had stirred something in me. I mean, if she still saw something in me well, maybe….
“I went back to the exchange some days later. Liz had called and asked about me. I remember saying, ‘She asked for me? By name?’ I was told that Liz said I was ‘a very nice, very pretty young lady’ and that she doesn’t want to offend me, but would like to help me get my teeth fixed.
“I could not believe it! I wanted to run out and find a dentist, but it’s not that easy when you’re homeless and strung out. I kept on using but it was different. If someone like Liz cared about me, then there was hope.
“Eventually I went into a treatment program and by the time I got out, over 2 years had passed. I was worried she would have forgotten all about it, but when I contacted her organization they were very clear: ‘Of course the offer still stands.’ I went about finding a dentist and within a couple of months, for the first time in many years, I had a beautiful smile. All thanks to Liz.
“Every time I smile, I think of her. Liz Taylor was my Tooth Fairy.”