ELIZABETH TAYLOR was married 8 times – twice to actor RICHARD BURTON – but her one true love was 3rd hubby producer MIKE TODD who died suddenly in a tragic air crash 53 years ago.

Liz had been a child star at MGM groomed for stardom with an early age along with JUDY GARLAND and MICKEY ROONEY and led a sheltered existence as a child star.  Her schooling, social; activities and entire life was structure around making movies for Metro-Goldwn- Mayer. 

As she transitioned into adulthood she was first married to Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, the Hilton hotel heir in May 1950.  They were split by January 1951. (Hilton later married Zsa Zsa Gabor.)

Her next to fellow Brit thesp actor Michael Wilding lasted nearly five years from 1952-1957 and produced two children.

But it was when she met master showman impresario Mike Todd, she fell head overt heels in love.

Todd, born Avrom Hirsch Goldblogen, in Minneapolis in 1909, Todd dropped out of high school in Chicago and began producing plays. His production of The Mikado was a big hit and paved the  way to Tinsel Town.

After a first failed marriage, Todd wed blowsy screen star Joan Blondell in 1927.  They divorced in 1950 amid allegations of extortion and infidelity.

After achieving fame as a showman extraordinaire his all star super-mega- production Around the World in 80 Days won The Academy Award for Best Picture in 1956.

But what to do for an encore after The Oscar? 

Marry Hollywood’s must eligible female- the sumptuous -in her prime –  Elizabeth Taylor.

The couple wed Feb. 2, 1957.

Liz was set to make a flight to New York with Mike but stayed home with a cold, as Mike, a redoubtable aviator, flew his private plane The Lucky Liz.

Todd’s plane, a twin-engine Lockheed Lodestar, suddenly suffered  engine failure after icing u[p at a dangerously high altitude. The plane pitched went out of control, fell into a dive and  crashed  near Grants, New Mexico, killing Todd instantly.

Ironically, Todd spoke about the plane being safe told pals, mere hours before the fatal crash:
"Ah, c’mon, he said. It’s a good, safe plane. I wouldn’t let it crash. I’m taking along a picture of Elizabeth, and I wouldn’t let anything happen to her."

Todd’s long time pal AND best man at his wedding to Liz, crooner Eddie Fisher recounted in his autobiography, "There was a closed coffin, but I knew it was more for show than anything else. The plane had exploded on impact and whatever remains were found couldn’t be identified…..The only items recovered from the wreckage were Mike’s wedding ring and a pair of platinum cuff links I’d given him".

Liz was devastated as her torment and grief played out across the tabloids and media.

Fisher, who was married to America’s sweetheart Debbie Reynolds at the time, began consoling Liz, the wife of his best friend.

That consolation led to marriage amid charges that a bereaved Liz stole Eddie from Debbie.

She later dumped Fisher for boozy thesp Richard Burton when they making Cleopatra together.

Varied sources have said over the years that despite the many loves of the Hollywood beauty, Liz never fully recovered from the shocking death of her beloved Mike Todd.

And if it weren’t for the cold that prevented Liz from flying, she may very well have died that  tragic day March 22, 1958.

Now, 53 years later — nearly to the day —  Liz has finally joined Mike, reunited in death’s embrace.

–DICK SIEGEL in New York
  Special to The National