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The man who guarded Liz's body: 'She was a piece of work'

WHILE ELIZABETH Taylor was in Philadelphia in 1982, performing the Noel Coward comedy "Private Lives" with ex-hubby Richard Burton, Warren Messing was always by her side.

WHILE ELIZABETH Taylor was in Philadelphia in 1982, performing the Noel Coward comedy "Private Lives" with ex-hubby Richard Burton, Warren Messing was always by her side.

Messing, a veteran Philadelphia police officer, acted as Taylor's bodyguard, protecting her from overenthusiastic fans and ushering her through high society while she performed in a four-week run at the Forrest Theatre.

Messing - now 74 and retired, living with his wife in North Wildwood - wasn't supposed to trail Dame Liz. He initially was hired to serve as extra security detail, despite retiring from the police force a week before, after 23 years on the job.

But Taylor's regular bodyguard was sent off to New York due to a drug problem. The star saw the 6-foot-3 Messing while rehearsing and hired him to protect her during her time in the city. He ended up doing so for six weeks.

Messing said that Taylor was afraid of the paparazzi and crazed fans, including one who followed Taylor all over the country just to present her with a bottle of perfume.

Taylor stayed at the Bellevue-Stratford and kept her pet parrot in her room. Messing recalls that the bird possessed a wide vocabulary of curse words. "She always had her parrot with her," Messing said. "The parrot would just be cussing inside the suite. She would take him on the stage and I would always wait for the parrot to start cussing on the stage, but it never did."

Lex Carlin, longtime manager of the Forrest Theatre, remembers that parrot, too. Taylor's limo would pull up outside the theater on Walnut Street, he said, and she'd exit with a cigarette in a holder in one hand, and the parrot on her shoulder, posing for the throngs of fans with cameras.

During the run of "Private Lives," Carlin offered the star's dressing room to Richard Burton but he deferred to Taylor, who then asked that it be painted violet to match her famous eyes. The parrot, unfortunately, pooped all over the redecorated room.

Messing, who called the Bellevue-Stratford his second office, was good friends with then-maitre d', Bernard Lafferty, who begged Messing to introduce him to Liz. Messing agreed, and every night Lafferty would escort Taylor and Messing through to the restaurant and out of reach of prying paparazzi.

"He was a gay guy but he knew how to take care of the women," Messing said of Lafferty.

(Later, Taylor would introduce Lafferty to tobacco heiress Doris Duke, and he became her butler and companion. She willed him $4.5 million and made Lafferty the executor of her estate, scandalously leaving him open to accusations that he had cajoled her into changing the will, and even that he had tried to hasten her death.)

Messing also introduced Taylor to Prince Saud-Bin-Turki, of Saudia Arabia, who was in town so that his wife, Princess Monira, could undergo back surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital. The Prince begged Messing to introduce him to Taylor, who then relayed the message to his employer.

"She said, 'Introduce me, Warren! I could become his next wife,' " Messing recalled. "I said, 'He already has seven or eight wives.' And she said, 'But I will be the number one wife.' "

The royalty - both Saudi and Hollywood - did meet, said Messing, who was eventually hired to guard the Prince's family as well. "They were friends and exchanged gifts the entire time they were in Philadelphia together, but she never became number one," Messing said.

"She was a piece of work. She was a doll."