Fact Check: Unpacking the Long-Held Claim That Late Actress Elizabeth Taylor Had Naturally Violet-Colored Eyes

Getty Images
Getty Images


The irises of Elizabeth Taylor's eyes were naturally violet-colored.


Rating: Unproven
Rating: Unproven

For decades, people have speculated about Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor's eyes, questioning their true hue: Are they blue velvet, deep purple or vivid violet?

Such is the legend surrounding Taylor's dazzling eyes that she even named a fragrance after them — Elizabeth Taylor Violet Eyes.

Indeed, the debate about Taylor's striking peepers has continued on social media years after her death in 2011, with posts on RedditTikTok and Instagram rehashing the long-held assertion that the screen legend was born with violet-colored eyes.

For example, in 2023, a post on the subreddit r/WhatisMyEyeColour referred to Taylor as "the stunning actor with violet eyes," before asking, "Were they really violet? They look more like a super intense blue to me."


The Eyes Never Lie — But the Camera Can

While some people have claimed that Taylor did have violet eyes, others say her eyes were a striking shade of blue that she enhanced through clever makeup tricks, wardrobe choices and expert lighting.

Classic Hollywood Central, for example, said Taylor's eyes "were probably a very deep blue that could look like violet in the right light. She also accentuated this effect by using a lot of blue and violet eye shadow shades throughout her career."

To confirm Taylor's eye color once and for all, Snopes contacted the Elizabeth Taylor estate. A spokesperson for House of Taylor, a company managing the luxury brands and archive established by the estate, confirmed that Taylor never wore contacts or colored contacts, but did not explicitly state her true eye color.

With the "Cleopatra" actress' career beginning in the 1940s, black-and-white photographs added to the mystique surrounding her eye color. As Hollywood began to use color film more, they often oversaturated images to enhance features such as eye and lip hue. Publicity photos often altered the "violet" color of Taylor's eyes to make them pop and appear brighter.

Taylor often wore clothing, accessories and eye makeup in jewel tones such as blue, green or purple to enhance her eye color. In one close-up scene in the 1974 drama "The Driver's Seat," Taylor's character swiftly applies blue eye shadow with a small cosmetic applicator wand. In 2016, celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic (who counts Kim Kardashian among his famous clients) posted the scene to Instagram, writing, "Love this. #elizabethtaylor. She did that eye in seconds with that tiny brush - shadow, crease and liner. Boom 👏."


Eye Color is Determined by Melanin in Irises

Paler-colored eyes often reflect shades of blue, green and aqua, depending on the person's clothing and lighting conditions, whether natural or enhanced. Like many people with blue or green eyes, Taylor's appeared to change tone depending on what she was wearing and her cosmetics.

Blue eyes can, under certain lighting conditions, create the optical illusion of appearing purple or violet. Eye color can seem to change based on the eyes' light absorption, whether from the sun or the reflection of clothing and enhanced lighting.

Even among ophthalmologists, Taylor's "true" eye color is open to interpretation. Live Science spoke with ophthalmic laser and microsurgeon Dr. Norman Saffra, who told the outlet, "There are various shades of blues and grays, with many in-between. Violet may have been her typical pigmentation," adding, "It's possible to have that eye color; it all depends on the amount of melanin."

Violet is a color closely related to purple that sits next to blue in the red, yellow, blue color wheel. While exceedingly rare, violet or purple eyes can occur due to a lack of melanin, or natural pigment, in the irises, usually due to albinism or a genetic mutation.

Melanin is a natural pigment responsible for the color of skin, hair and eyes. Eye color is related to the amount of melanin in the front layers of the iris. People with dark-brown eyes have a large amount of melanin in the iris, while people with paler shades like light blue or green have much less of this pigment in their irises.

Taylor's eye color likely appeared at some times violet and at other times blue, due to the amount of melanin present in the stroma (the thickest layer of the cornea) of her iris, and the way in which light was reflected and dispersed from her eye.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not mention violet or purple eyes when discussing the rarest eye color, noting that green eyes occur least naturally in the world population:

Green eyes are the rarest, with only about 2% of the world's population having them. Green eyes are not due only to the amount of melanin in the eye, but also with how the light scatters off the eye. The optical effect of light scattering off the melanin in these eyes makes them green.

Violet Eyes Are So Rare, They're Likely a Genetic Mutation

Meanwhile, the Optical Academy notes that "true violet-colored eyes are exceedingly rare and usually a result of albinism. While some individuals, like Elizabeth Taylor, may have deep blue eyes that can seem purple, authentic purple eyes are found in less than 1% of the global population."

Ocular albinism is a genetic condition specifically affecting the eyes, characterized by a significant reduction or complete absence of pigment in the retina. This lack of pigment causes several vision-related issues, including light sensitivity, and often results in very light-blue eyes that can appear purple or even pink in certain lighting. Ocular albinism affects 1 in 50,000 people.

According to The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation: "A common myth is that people with albinism have red eyes. In fact there are different types of albinism and the amount of pigment in the eyes varies. Although some individuals with albinism have reddish or violet eyes, most have blue eyes. Some have hazel or brown eyes. However, all forms of albinism are associated with vision problems."

Taylor was not known to have any optical mutation or vision problems that might have impacted her eye color, but she did have the rare genetic mutation distichiasis, which caused an extra row of naturally occurring lashes to grow on her top and bottom lash lines. This genetic mutation likely enhanced the appearance but not the color of Taylor's eyes.

As noted above, it's incredibly rare to have violet eyes if one does not have ocular albinism. In all probability, Taylor's eyes were indeed a rare shade of blue that appeared violet under certain lighting conditions and when she wore particular wardrobe and makeup choices. It's highly unlikely they were actually violet, seeing as this color is mostly found among the small population of people who have ocular albinism. While she did have a genetic mutation, it resulted in thick eyelashes, not in her distinctive blue/violet eye color. For these reasons, we rate the claim that Taylor's eye color was naturally violet as "Unproven."

In a previous fact check, Snopes investigated the claim that Alexandria's Genesis is a mutation that turns people into "perfect human beings" who exhibit purple eyes six months after birth.


" Purple Eyes: Unraveling the Myth and Genetics." Debby Burk Optical, https://debspecs.com/blog/-purple-eyes-unraveling-the-myth-and-genetics/. Accessed 17 June 2024.

"---." Debby Burk Optical, https://debspecs.com/blog/-purple-eyes-unraveling-the-myth-and-genetics/. Accessed 17 June 2024.

admin. "Myth: Elizabeth Taylor's Eye Color Was Violet." Classic Hollywood Central, 9 Feb. 2021, https://www.classichollywoodcentral.com/classic-hollywood-myths/myth-elizabeth-taylors-eye-color-was-violet/.

BBC - H2g2 - Determination of Eye Colour. https://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mb6music/A734933. Accessed 17 June 2024.

Contact Lenses at 1-800 CONTACTS | World's Largest Contact Lens Store®. https://www.1800contacts.com/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

"Do Purple Eyes Exist? 6 Potential Causes." MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/do_purple_eyes_exist/article.htm. Accessed 17 June 2024.

"Elizabeth Taylor Violet Eyes." Elizabeth Taylor, https://elizabethtaylor.com/elizabeth-taylor-violet-eyes/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

"Eye Color: Unique as a Fingerprint." American Academy of Ophthalmology, 5 Dec. 2017, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/eye-color-unique-as-fingerprint.

Federico, Justin R., and Karthik Krishnamurthy. "Albinism." StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2024. PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519018/.

Is Eye Color Determined by Genetics?: MedlinePlus Genetics. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/traits/eyecolor/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

McRae, Phoebe. "Were Elizabeth Taylor's Eyes Actually Violet?" The List, 23 Oct. 2019, https://www.thelist.com/171504/were-elizabeth-taylors-eyes-actually-violet/.

Melina, Remy, and Callum McKelvie published. "Did Elizabeth Taylor Really Have Violet Eyes?" Livescience.Com, 28 Feb. 2022, https://www.livescience.com/33149-did-elizabeth-taylor-really-have-violet-eyes.html.

"Norman Saffra, MD, FACS." SightMD, https://www.sightmd.com/our-doctors/norman-saffra-md-facs/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

"---." SightMD, https://www.sightmd.com/our-doctors/norman-saffra-md-facs/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

Ocular Albinism: MedlinePlus Genetics. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/ocular-albinism/. Accessed 17 June 2024.

Palmer, Roxanne. "Elizabeth Taylor: Beautiful Mutant." Slate, 25 Mar. 2011, https://slate.com/content/slate/blogs/browbeat/2011/03/25/elizabeth_taylor_beautiful_mutant.html?wpisrc=obnetwork.

RYB Color Wheel. https://bahamas10.github.io/ryb/. Accessed 14 June 2024.

"What Is Albinism?" National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, NOAH, https://albinism.org/publications/what_is_albinism.html.

What Is the Rarest Eye Color in Humans? - Optical Academy. 18 Mar. 2024, https://optical-academy.com/blog/what-is-the-rarest-eye-color-in-humans/.

"What's the Rarest Eye Color, and Why?" AARP, https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2022/rarest-eye-color.html. Accessed 17 June 2024.

"---." AARP, https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2022/rarest-eye-color.html. Accessed 17 June 2024.