Among all the accolades being given to the late Elizabeth Taylor, there's another one to add: the screen legend was an honorary Jersey gal.
The actress, who died Wednesday of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles at the age of 79, spent many days in Jersey in the 1970s and '80s, beginning with a campaign fundraiser for the gubernatorial run of Raymond Bateman in 1977.
"She was gracious and a crowd pleaser," said Bateman, of the evening on the Binghamton Ferryboat in Edgewater, Bergen County.
Taylor attended the night with her husband at the time, Virginia Sen. John Warner.
"They really came to see her, not me," quipped Bateman, a former state Senate president and longtime legislator from Somerville.
In the '80s, Taylor began an intimate friendship with publishing giant Malcolm Forbes of Far Hills, who often saw the actress fly into the Somerset Airport in Bedminster for getaways.
"She was down to earth, and, by the way, her eyes were dazzling," said Steve Forbes, son of Malcolm. "She had a very good sense of humor, and she was very close to my siblings and to our children."
Taylor and Malcolm Forbes were a good match, Steve Forbes said.
"They both had an unconventional approach to life, and before you knew it, she was on the back of his motorcycle," Forbes said.
Taylor would accompany Forbes and the publisher's riding group, the Capitalist Tools, on motorcycle rides. A trip in 1987 included a stop at the former Rick's Cycle Center in Bound Brook and the Just Plain Jane's bar on Route 528 in Jackson.
"They came to a motorcycle rally we had out in the grove," said Jane McKracken, owner of Just Plain Jane's. "They had a big pink sphinx balloon, because she was in "Cleopatra,' and they were offering rides to go up in the air with her in the balloon.
"That was when she started her work in the fight against AIDS," McKracken said.
Taylor was one of the first celebrities to raise awareness about the disease. As for her afternoon in Jackson, she was quite down to earth despite being up in a balloon, McKracken said.
"It wasn't like she had bodyguards around her," McKracken said. "She had a pair of jeans on and a cowboy hat. She was a small lady, really short, not like when when you see her in the movies. She had no makeup on, but she was still gorgeous, and she had freckles, very light freckles."
Taylor was able to hang out with bikers in a Jackson bar and host the rich and famous at Forbes' estate, including a 1987 gala for the 70th anniversary of Forbes magazine.
"She was the perfect hostess," Bateman said. "It was a wonderful party."
Taylor kept in touch with the Forbes family until the end, Forbes said, and she kept her appreciation for New Jersey.
"She was surprised that New Jersey isn't just a turnpike," Forbes said. "There's a wide variety of New Jersey and you have to see it to overcome (a false impression). She was on the back of a motorcycle, so she got to see it firsthand."
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