Legendary Hollywood actress and violet-eyed beauty Elizabeth Taylor, who captured hearts in National Velvet to launch a film career that spanned five decades, died on Wednesday aged 79.

Ms. Taylor had been in Los Angeles's Cedars-Sinai hospital for six weeks with congestive heart failure, a condition with which she struggled for some years and recently suffered complications, a family statement said.

“She was surrounded by her children Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd, and Maria Burton,” the statement said, noting that Ms. Taylor, who married eight times, was survived by 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humour and love,” Mr. Michael Wilding said.

Ms. Taylor won two Academy Awards for best actress, including in the 1966 classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of the many films she played opposite Richard Burton.

In later years, as her health failed, she retired from public gaze, although she notably attended the 2009 funeral of her long-time friend Michael Jackson.

Born in London on February 27, 1932, Ms. Taylor was evacuated to California with her American parents in 1939, where she was soon discovered at her father's art gallery by the fiancée of the chairman of Universal Studios.

She debuted in 1942 in There's One Born Every Minute, and by 1944 had become a child star with National Velvet.

Ms. Taylor married for the first time in 1950, aged 18, to playboy hotel chain heir Nicky Hilton. The marriage lasted 203 days, collapsing amid verbal and physical abuse.

She moved on, and by 1952 had tied the knot with British matinee idol Michael Wilding, 19 years her senior. They had two children, Michael Jr. and Christopher.

Though Ms. Taylor said Mr. Wilding gave her stability, it wasn't enough. She filed for divorce in 1956, and within days of the separation, producer Michael Todd, 49, proposed.

They had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances, in August 1957, but seven months later tragedy struck — Mr. Todd was killed in a plane crash in New Mexico.

Devastated, Ms. Taylor was accompanied at Mr. Todd's funeral by his best friend, singer Eddie Fisher — with whom she began an affair and married in 1959.

She won her first Oscar for best actress in 1960 for her portrayal of a high-class call girl in Butterfield 8. Then came Cleopatra (1962), on the set of which she met Mr. Burton.

They married in March 1964 in Montreal. By the time they were filming Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the harrowing portrayal of a marriage torn by booze, bitterness and failure mirrored their own.

Ms. Taylor and Mr. Burton divorced in June 1974 and remarried in October of the following year in Botswana, only to divorce again in August 1976.

The marriage left her an alcoholic and her career in decline. A seventh marriage to Virginia senator John Warner, from 1976-1982, failed to cure the blues.

Ms. Taylor later overcame her alcoholism and a dependence on painkillers and emerged a champion in the cause of AIDS victims.

In 1991, she married husband no. 8 Larry Fortensky, a 40-year-old construction worker she met in rehab. They parted amicably three years later.

Mr. Michael Wilding said on Wednesday: “We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for mom having lived in it.”