‘She put on a fur coat over her nightdress and fell giggling in the snow: Elizabeth Taylor’s builder ex-husband on their truly bizarre marriage

He was Liz Taylor’s eighth and final husband – a man she affectionately called ‘Larry the lion’ whose rugged looks and working-class roots could not have been in greater contrast to her glamorous movie- star lifestyle.

And when Larry Fortensky divorced Taylor in 1996, taking £1 million from her estimated £200 million fortune, he slipped happily back into obscurity, shunning all requests for interviews despite being offered a small fortune to ‘kiss and tell’.

Fortensky, now 59, in ill-health and a virtual recluse, continued his self-imposed vow of silence even after Taylor’s death last month from congestive heart failure, aged 79.Elizabeth Taylor playing in the snow during a trip with Larry to Switzerland

Elizabeth Taylor playing in the snow during a trip with eighth husband Larry Fortensky to Switzerland. The 59-year-old has broken his vow of silence to speak about his ex-wife who died last month

But then estranged family members and people he calls ‘assorted hangers-on and leeches’ began cropping up in the media, peddling stories about how Fortensky had begged his ex-wife for money, how she shunned his calls and, most offensively, that she had never truly loved him during their eight-year relationship.

‘Enough is enough,’ he says. ‘It is time for me to tell my story and the truth about Elizabeth and me and to stop these lies once and for all.

‘This is nothing to do with money, I have been offered so much over the years. This is about wanting people to know the real story. I am sick and tired of the lies. I have wonderful memories of my time with Elizabeth and I will treasure her memory for ever.’

Indeed, Fortensky says he and Taylor remained close friends after their divorce, speaking for hours on the telephone several times a month. He says far from begging her for money, he never asked her for a penny. And he reveals Taylor ‘honoured’ their friendship by leaving him £500,000 in her will.Larry Fortensky is in ill-health and a virtual recluse

Larry today is in ill-health and a virtual recluse. He suffers short-term memory loss

Today Fortensky is a shadow of the mullet-haired, hard-partying labourer who met the Oscar-winning movie star when both checked into the famed Betty Ford Clinic in 1988.

‘Elizabeth was in there for pills, I was in there for beer,’ he says stretching back in his favourite leather recliner. ‘I knew who she was, of course, but I can’t tell you that I remember watching any of her films.

‘She was funny and sweet and the more I got to know her the sweeter she became. Of course she was very pretty and I wasn’t too bad-looking in those days either. We had an instant physical attraction.’

His face and body are now bloated by medication taken to counter the effects of a serious accident a decade ago when he fell headfirst down the stairs during a drunken party. His once-golden hair is completely grey. He says he is ‘embarrassed’ by the way he looks.

He suffers short-term memory loss as a result of the fall which left him in a coma for six weeks.

His sister Donna, 57, who lives with him in a neat rented two-bedroom bungalow in the remote town of Menifee, a two-hour drive south of Los Angeles, says: ‘Larry can remember lots of things about his times with Elizabeth but he struggles to remember if he’s taken his pills. He spends his days watching television.

‘But sparks of the old Larry are still there. He still enjoys a beer and a joke. This has been a hard decision for him to make. He never liked the circus that was around him and Elizabeth when they were together and he hates the circus that’s been going on since her death. He will give this one interview and that’s that.’

Fortensky still treasures mementos from what he quietly refers to as ‘my old life’. He goes into his bedroom and brings out several framed photographs of Taylor.

He points to one from 1992 where she is lying in the snow: ‘That was on a trip to Switzerland the year after we married.

‘We were in bed and she sat up and said, “I want to make a snow angel.” She grabbed a fur coat and put it over her nightdress.

‘I chased her outside and she fell in the snow and started waving her arms around giggling like a little girl. That is my favourite picture. I keep it by my bed.

‘That’s how I remember Elizabeth. She had a childishness about her. She was 20 years older than me but I never felt she was old.’Elizabeth with Larry and his Harley-Davidson Christmas present in 1992

Elizabeth with Larry and his Harley-Davidson Christmas present in 1992. ‘She would call him her “stallion”. He loved that. They were very sexy together,’ said his sister Donna

In another picture from 1992 a beaming Larry sits astride a gleaming Harley-Davidson motorbike beside a Christmas tree in the living room of Taylor’s five-bedroom Bel Air mansion.

‘She gave me that on our second Christmas together,’ he says. ‘I still have it outside along with the BMW she gave me for my birthday.’

He smiles when asked what he gave her in return.

‘I knew I couldn’t compete with Elizabeth so I didn’t try. When she gave me the bike I gave her chocolate-covered roses. Another year I bought her a baby lop-eared bunny which she loved.

‘When we went to England for her birthday I bought her a Shih-tzu called Sugar. She loved that dog.’

He wears a Cartier watch and a heavy gold chain around his neck with an coin attached: ‘It’s a piece of eight. Richard Burton bought a couple and gave them to Elizabeth. She had one made into a necklace for herself and one for me.’

He is the first to admit that, even after all these years, he still finds it ‘incredible’ that he ended up marrying a screen legend – and in a £1.2 million wedding at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch at that.

He says: ‘Elizabeth and I were in Betty Ford for six weeks. I was in the dayroom one morning when she approached me.’

His sister Donna interjects: ‘Back then Larry was a catch.

‘He was good-looking and fun and I remember Liz saying to me later that there was no bulls*** with my brother.

‘Her friends in Hollywood were either gay or they were rich playboys who wanted young glamour girls. It was hard for her to find a guy. Larry was a regular guy and that’s what she loved.

‘He had nothing to do with her world and that was refreshing to her. When they met at Betty Ford they got close very fast because that place strips you down.’Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky in London in 1991

Elizabeth and Larry in London in 1991

Larry laughs: ‘Elizabeth had to make her own bed and do chores like washing the floor. She’d never had to do that in her life. The counsellors were tough, accusing her of “acting” in group therapy sessions.

‘The Elizabeth I met was the real woman with none of that stuff that normally goes on around a movie star. We bonded fast.’

He claims the relationship only turned romantic after they left rehab, a statement that is greeted by rolling eyes from his sister.

‘Aw, come on Larry, I don’t believe that for a second,’ she grins. ‘You know what a hound dog you were in those days.’

‘Well, if we did do it in Betty Ford then I don’t remember,’ he says sadly.

Fortensky, a high-school dropout and twice divorced, did not even have a car when he left rehab.

‘I’d wrecked my truck in a drunken accident which is how I ended up at the clinic in the first place,’ he says.

‘I was living in the middle of nowhere and Elizabeth would send her limo with Harry, her long-time chauffeur, to drive me to her place. The car would get stuck in the dirt.’

He kept the relationship secret from his family.

Donna says: ‘I visited Larry one day and Elizabeth called and I heard him saying, “Yes, honey. No, honey.” When he came out I said: “Larry, are you going out with Liz Taylor?” and he said to mind my own business.’

Larry continues: ‘Elizabeth invited me to go and stay with her that first Christmas (in 1988). She had a lovely house. I’d seen big houses before but only working on them on construction sites. I went for a few days and never left.’

He points to an imitation Van Gogh on the wall of his living room.

‘Elizabeth had the real thing on her wall. The house was beautiful. She had an army of staff – there was a personal assistant, maids, cook, gardener and security guys who were ex-Mossad agents.’

He admits there were teething problems when he moved into Taylor’s all-white bedroom at the top of a curving staircase. He once tried to clear away plates after dinner, only to be told: ‘Larry, sit down, there is a girl who will come and do that.’

As he talks it is clear there was genuine love and affection between the two. He tells of long rides on the Harley along California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway.

‘She would wear a helmet and no one knew who she was. We could be alone and free.’

They would stop for burgers in greasy biker bars.

‘People would pretend not to know who she was. Elizabeth loved that. She loved a burger and a beer. She was down-to-earth, or at least as much as she could be for someone who’d been a star since she was a kid.’

Taylor taught her pet parrot Alvin to squawk ‘Larry, Larry’.

‘That damn bird had the same voice as her. I’d be running all over the house.’

He says he desperately tried to avoid becoming Mr Elizabeth Taylor.

‘I always worked for a living and I carried on when I was with her.

‘I am a proud man and I like to work. I didn’t want her money. I’d get up at 6am to go to the construction site. Elizabeth would get up, put on a kaftan and we’d have breakfast.’

Did she make it?

‘Don’t be crazy. Elizabeth never cooked. She’d go back to bed after I left.’
'She (Elizabeth) had a childishness about her. She was 20 years older than me but I never felt she was old,' said Larry

‘She (Elizabeth) had a childishness about her. She was 20 years older than me but I never felt she was old,’ said Larry. They were together for eight years

She would send her limo with lunch prepared by her private chef to his work site.

‘It was so embarrassing. The guys would rib me about it. I’d tell her not to but she kept on doing it.’

When he came home the two would have dinner together – ‘she loved steak and fried chicken’ – and watch movies: ‘We would talk and watch films but never any of hers. That would have felt too freaky.’

Taylor enjoyed ‘playing’ with her incredible jewellery collection, including the 33-carat Krupp diamond bought for her by Richard Burton.

‘She’d get it out and sit on the bed playing. I could always tell when she was coming downstairs because her jewels would rattle.’

He became used to waiting for her to ‘put her movie-star face on’.

‘She had her hair done at home most days. I was always waiting for Elizabeth. She had a closet like a dry cleaners. She had a room full of shoes. She was always late.’

The sexual attraction between them was undeniable.

Donna smiles: ‘She would call Larry her “stallion”. He loved that. They were very sexy together. Larry would get up from the table and drag Liz off to the bedroom.’

He pulls some blue Cartier notes from a drawer in his desk. They are emblazoned with ‘ETF’ (Elizabeth Taylor Fortensky) and written in a flowing hand. In one, Taylor writes to ‘Larry, my love’, saying: ‘I hope you are happy and enjoy me as much as I do you.’

He pulls out a photograph of their wedding day in 1991 at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Taylor’s friend, singer Carole Bayer Sager, was maid of honour, her hairdresser Jose Eber was Larry’s best man.

He shrugs as he says: ‘She wanted to do it. I didn’t get involved at all. I just had to turn up.’Elizabeth Taylor and husband Larry Fortensky meet Princess Margaret

Elizabeth and Larry meet Princess Margaret. ‘Everywhere we went there were cameras… I found it hard. It wasn’t my cup of tea, those cameras everywhere,’ he said

Cracking open a beer, he adds: ‘I don’t remember the vows. I couldn’t hear a damn thing because of the paparazzi helicopters overhead. One photographer parachuted in but security got him before he could get me.

‘Michael Jackson spent the night on the dance floor with a small black kid under his arm. She loved Michael. She never believed any of the child-abuse rumours. I wasn’t so sure.’

The illustrious guest list included Liza Minnelli, Eddie Murphy, Gregory Peck and Nancy Reagan.

Fortensky, the eldest of seven children from working-class Stanton, California, invited only his siblings.

Donna says: ‘I hit the bar, then the dance floor and remember dancing next to Brooke Shields and Michael Jackson. It was unreal.

‘A few days later Larry and I were out on Liz’s yacht and we sailed past a place where we’d fished as kids. He turned to me and said, “I’ve done OK, haven’t I?” It was the only time I ever heard him say anything like that.’

Fortensky said: ‘We travelled the world. We had a dinner in Japan which cost $30,000 (around £20,000 then). The beef had been hand-massaged or something. It was a real good steak but at thirty grand it should have been.’

But within a few years the marriage started to founder. Fortensky, under pressure from his wife, gave up his construction job. He accompanied her on trips around the world but felt trapped in a gilded cage.

Donna says: ‘Elizabeth bought him a Pontiac convertible, bright red. She was worried he would be upset about it. The constant gifts and living off her buck started getting to him. He’s an old-fashioned guy.

‘Then Elizabeth started having health issues. She had one hip replaced and then another. Larry moved out of the master bedroom. That was the beginning of the end.’

Fortensky says he started to hate the constant attention.

‘Everywhere we went there were cameras. Elizabeth would put lipstick on constantly because she said she never knew when she was being photographed. I found it hard. It wasn’t my cup of tea, those cameras everywhere. Elizabeth was used to it. I never got used to it.’

It was Taylor who asked for the divorce in 1996. Donna says: ‘She told Larry she was unhappy and he was unhappy and she didn’t want them to end up hating each other. When they split, Larry went straight back to his old life.’

Fortensky left the marriage with just over £1 million. He embarked on his old life of women and beer and bought a house. His life changed after his drunken fall in 1999.

Uninsured, he spent a fortune on medical bills and bought a £500,000 house in Temecula, California, at the height of the property boom.

It was repossessed last year after plummeting in value to £150,000.

‘I made some bad investments. Since my accident I haven’t been able to work,’ he says.

He insists he never asked Taylor for money. His sister produces an undated letter from Taylor sent shortly after his accident in which she writes: ‘Darling Larry. I’ve been thinking of you often lately and worry about you. I don’t know why, just one of my feelings. I don’t know if you’re working or not…so I’m going to rely on my gut feelings. I think you could use a little help so I would like to send you a thousand a month for the rest of my life or until I go broke.’

Fortensky’s eyes cloud over: ‘I accepted it but I never asked for it.’

His sister says when he was on the brink of being repossessed she rang Taylor. ‘I called her and told her about Larry’s troubles.

‘She sent me a cheque the next day for $15,000 (around £10,000).

‘Larry found out what I’d done and was mad at me. It kept the bank at bay for a while but then he ended up losing his house anyway.’

Today the pair rent a ranch-style home ‘in the middle of nowhere’. A long dusty road winds up to some crude metal gates.

Fortensky says he rarely ventures out and sleeps until noon most days. He is on Prozac for depression.

The Liz Taylor money has caused rifts in the family.

Larry is furious with one sister, Linda, for ‘selling out’ to one of America’s most notorious tabloids, the National Enquirer.

He does not speak to his only daughter Julie, again after a row over money.

‘She tried to get her hands on my money after my accident,’ he says. ‘I won’t ever speak to her again.’

He and Taylor would speak on the phone at least twice a month – their last call was the day before she went into hospital for the final time.

He says her voice was weak a result of fluid on her lungs caused by her failing heart.

‘She was going into hospital the next day. I thought she was going to be OK. I told her she would outlive me. She said, “Larry, I’m going to be OK.” ’

A few days later he learned of her death on the television. ‘I was so shocked. I was so sure she would get to go home and I would talk to her once again.’

Last week, Fortensky received a letter from Taylor’s estate lawyers informing him that he will get £500,000 from her will.

He says the money will enable him to buy a new home.

The bulk of her fortune will go to her four children with the proceeds of her best-selling perfumes being donated to her favourite Aids charities.

Exhausted, Fortensky stands to retire to his room to rest.

He says: ‘I love her, I always will. And I know she loved me, too.’

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