LOS ANGELES, Dec 19, (Agencies): Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose 60-year career of playing herself helped paved the way for today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, has died. She was 99.
Publicist Ed Lozzi confirmed to Variety that Gabor died Sunday in her Bel Air mansion. She had been on life support for the last five years, and according to TMZ, which first reported the news, she died of a heart attack.
While Gabor had multiple acting credits, her greatest performance was playing herself: She was famous for her accented English (calling everyone “darling,” which came out “dah-link”), eccentric name, offscreen antics (including a 1989 incident in which she slapped a Beverly Hills cop) and one-liners about her jewels, nine marriages and ex-husbands. Despite her glamorous image, her life, especially in later years, was marred by battles between her much-younger husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt and her daughter.
The actress was frequently in the news in recent years as her health deteriorated. She broke her hip in July 2010 in a fall in her Bel-Air home after a 2002 car accident had left her wheelchair-bound and a massive stroke further hobbled her in 2005. Her leg was later amputated above the knee. Yet Gabor stubbornly clung to life.
Both of Gabor’s sisters predeceased her: Eva Gabor in 1995, Magda in 1997.
Gabor appeared in films including the 1952 “Moulin Rouge,” 1953’s “Lili,” Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” and the 1958 camp classic “Queen of Outer Space.”
Born in Budapest, Zsa Zsa (born Sari) Gabor was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936 and followed her sister Eva to Hollywood. She got her foot in the showbiz door with MGM’s 1952 “Lovely to Look At” and got a bigger break that year with “Moulin Rouge,” directed by John Huston, who is said to have given the ingenue, who spoke heavily accented English and had almost no film experience, a difficult time during the shoot. Gabor’s English improved, but her Eastern European roots became part of her trademark.
On TV, she appeared on “The Red Skelton Hour,” “Playhouse 90” and “Matinee Theater.” She was featured in a 1960 TV adaptation of “Ninotchka” and guested on series including “Bonanza,” “Batman” (as the villainess Minerva) and “The Facts of Life.” She even appeared on the soap “As the World Turns” in 1981.
Her theater credits include “Forty Carats” on Broadway and a touring production of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”
Hollywood didn’t take her too seriously as an actress, maybe because she didn’t take herself too seriously. She seemed to have decided that there were few roles as interesting as her own persona. With her emphasis on showcasing her own glamour and sparking outrage, it’s no surprise that her showbiz work consisted mostly of playing herself in dozens of films and TV series.
Her rise to fame coincided with the spurt of talk shows that filled the airwaves during the early days of TV. The early ’50s created other talkshow and gameshow celebrities, but few parlayed that fame much beyond the 1950s. Gabor’s attitude — “I deserve attention not because of any talent, but just because of who I am” — was an early example of a phenomenon that has ballooned in the past decade, as tabloids put reality-TV figures on their covers and blogs cover them incessantly.
A third sister, Magda, and their mother, Jolie, also received attention from the media, but not as much as the other two. And while Eva Gabor eventually landed a role with which the public could identify her — as Lisa Douglas on the 1960s sitcom “Green Acres” — Zsa Zsa was simply “famous for being famous,” as someone quipped decades ago.
Many of Gabor’s most well-known ripostes came at her own expense and highlighted her predilection for marrying wealthy men. Some of the most notable were “I want a man who’s kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?”; “A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he’s finished”; “Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do”; and, after describing herself as a great housekeeper, she added, “Every time I divorce a man, I keep the house.”
She had a daughter, Francesca, during her 1942-46 marriage to hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, though Hilton reportedly believed Francesca was not his biological daughter, and the millionaire left her just $100,000 in his will. After spending much of her life contesting Hilton’s will, Francesca Hilton died destitute on Jan 6, 2015. Gabor, meanwhile, was the great-great aunt of Paris Hilton.
Other husbands included actor George Sanders (1949-54) and Jack Ryan (1975-76), who is credited with designing the Barbie doll for Mattel. Her marriage to actor and attorney Felipe de Alba was annulled in 1983 after a single day because her marriage to Michael O’Hara, her divorce lawyer in her breakup with Ryan, had not been properly dissolved.
In 1986, at age 69, she married Prinz von Anhalt, some 30 years her junior. He was accused by her daughter of keeping her away from her mother, and it is doubtful Gabor knew of her daughter’s death.
Her 1989 run-in with a Beverly Hills police officer, whom she famously slapped during a traffic stop, was explored in 1991 documentary “The People vs Zsa Zsa Gabor,” and mocked, frequently by a willing Gabor herself, in movies from “Naked Gun 212” to “A Very Brady Sequel” and series including “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Gabor was also said to have indirectly lost millions to swindler Bernie Madoff.
You didn’t have to know exactly who she was to appreciate Zsa Zsa Gabor.
She belonged to a rare, hard-to-catalog vintage of celebrity, not only the great-aunt of Paris Hilton, but a true ancestor of Hilton’s jet-set flamboyance.
For such a flashy member of the leisure class, she did plenty, appearing in a number of films, including Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”; logging enough husbands to field a baseball team; and flaunting sex appeal, excess glamour and an exotic accent into her senior years.
But none of this fully accounts for the enduring recognition she enjoyed and cultivated. Maybe she just knew how to work it. Maybe it happened above and beyond her control. It certainly helped that she was in on the joke.
She was a symbol, from the 1950s on, of European style and flair, of material and romantic extravagance. She was rich in more ways than one. She was playful and outspoken. She was blessed with a ritzy, come-hither name: Zsaahhhh Zsaahhhh!
Some of the heavy lifting that helped sustain the Gabor brand was courtesy of Zsa Zsa’s lookalike sister Eva, who shared the Gabor pizazz. Eva’s star turn in the 1960s as a sitcom socialite on “Green Acres” has guaranteed her immortality in the pop-culture pantheon — and, by association, given Zsa Zsa status beyond her own accomplishments.
But Zsa Zsa could be funny, too.
In a TV commercial from 1963, a begowned, bejeweled Gabor extols the virtues of the Studebaker Lark, kittenishly calling this midlevel compact “so nice, so chic.”
The car featured newfangled disc brakes, and in her fractured English, Gabor purrs to the audience, “My friend says I would be in jail from coast to coast if I wouldn’t have them.”
Dahling, the Zsa Zsa legend cannot die, even in a culture with short memories where attention-seekers jostle for camera time. She lives on, unchallenged, in the cultural ether.
Gabor, the jet-setting Hungarian actress and socialite, helped invent a new kind of fame out of multiple marriages, conspicuous wealth and jaded wisdom about the glamorous life.
Gabor had been hospitalized repeatedly since she broke her right hip in July 2010 after a fall at her home. She already had to use a wheelchair after being partly paralyzed in a 2002 car accident and suffering a stroke in 2005. Most of her right leg was amputated in January 2011 because of gangrene and the left leg was also threatened. Her misfortunes were duly reported to the media by von Anhalt.
The great aunt of Paris Hilton and a spiritual matriarch to the Kardashians, Simpsons and other tabloid favorites, she was the original hall-of-mirrors celebrity, famous for being famous for being famous. Starting in the 1940s, Gabor rose from beauty queen to millionaire’s wife to minor television personality to minor film actress to major public character. With no special talent, no hit TV series such as her sister Eva’s “Green Acres,” Zsa Zsa nevertheless was a long-running hit just being Zsa Zsa — her accent drenched in diamonds, her name synonymous with frivolity and camp as she winked and carried on about men, dahling, and the droll burdens of the idle rich.
She was like popcorn for the public and, for sociologists, the seeming fulfillment of the mindless future imagined in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” a creation made possible by mass, electronic media; her words and image transcribed and beamed into theaters and living rooms, on the Internet and the shelves of newsstands and supermarket checkout lines.
Her secret, in part, was being in on the joke, once saying about a 1956 TV role, “I play a fabulously rich woman who has just bought her fifth husband; she is very unhappy. I won’t tell you who it’s supposed to be.” Ever game for a laugh, Gabor spoofed her image in a videotaped segment on David Letterman’s “Late Show,” which had the two stars driving from one fast-food restaurant to another, sipping sodas and digging into burgers like they were slabs of wedding cake.
Amid all the trivia, she had a peripheral part in two big scandals of the early 21st century: the death of Anna Nicole Smith (von Anhalt claimed to have had an affair with her) and the alleged financial scam of Bernard Madoff (a lawyer said she might have lost $10 million through him). And she was in the spotlight for a dustup from the late 20th century: “The slap heard ’round the world.”
In June 1989, Gabor smacked Paul Kramer, a police officer, on a Beverly Hills street, after he pulled over her Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible for a traffic violation. She was convicted of misdemeanor battery on a police officer, driving without a driver’s license and having an open container of alcohol in the car. She served three days in jail, performed community service at a woman’s shelter and paid $13,000 in fines and restitution.
When she was freed, she told reporters the jailers were kind but “at first I was petrified. They even took my makeup away.”
Gabor kept up the act in the advice book “How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man,” and in the exercise video, “It’s Simple Darling,” in which she banters and stretches with a pair of muscular young trainers. Her memoir, “One Life Is Not Enough,” came out in 1991 and dished about everything from her virginity (gone at 15) to the endless men who came on to her (She would claim that William Paley of CBS promised Gabor her own show if only she would spend an afternoon with him.)
An emotional Frederic von Anhalt told AFP that Gabor had passed away at home, after suffering a heart attack, surrounded by friends and family.
“Everybody was there. She didn’t die alone,” he told AFP by telephone, choking back sobs.
The pair married in 1986, making it by far the longest of her nine marriages.
Gabor, who in her heyday embodied the film industry’s platinum blonde ideal, was a voluptuous former beauty queen with a penchant for lame gowns that accentuated her hourglass curves.
Her resume includes a long list of film roles in such hit movies as “Moulin Rouge,” “Lili” and “Arrivederci Baby!”
Fellow actress Barbara Eden paid tribute to the star.
“Rest in peace Zsa Zsa Gabor. She and her sisters were lovely ladies who were always fun and delightful to be around,” Eden wrote on Twitter.
Born in Hungary on Feb 6, 1917, as Sari Gabor, Zsa Zsa was one of a trio of ravishing sisters known for their shapely curves and passion for well-heeled men.
Her sisters were Magda, and Hollywood star Eva Gabor, who achieved greater acting success in the United States than her sister for her role in the 1960s hit television series “Green Acres.”
Zsa Zsa also came to be known for her love of diamonds and frequently was photographed dripping in the sparkling gems.
During her many marriages and a prodigious number of affairs that made her a fixture in America’s gossip magazines, she had just one child — a daughter Francesca, fathered by hotel magnate Conrad Hilton.
Francesca died early last year from a heart attack. She had been feuding with Gabor’s husband for years, who kept her away from her famous mother.
Gabor wrote in her 1993 autobiography “One Lifetime is Not Enough” that she lost her virginity at the age of 15 to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Her romantic scorecard was a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood heartthrobs of her day, and her kiss-and-tell book detailed romances with screen legends Sean Connery and Frank Sinatra.
Gabor was known to be picky, however, spurning the advances of John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, John Huston and Henry Fonda, she wrote in her autobiography.
Her romantic dalliances even included a flirtation with screen legend Greta Garbo.
“She kissed me straight on the mouth. And I couldn’t help kissing her back because she was so overwhelmingly strong and so beautiful,” Gabor wrote.
Gabor was briefly married to British-born actor George Sanders, who later wooed and briefly wed her sister Magda.
The loquacious actress was known for an endless stream of bons mots, mostly uttered on the talkshow circuit, about her favorite topics: love, sex, romance and divorce.
* A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he’s finished.
* Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.
* Husbands are like fires — they go out when unattended.
* I never hated a man enough to give him diamonds back.
* I’m a great housekeeper. I get divorced. I keep the house.
* You never really know a man until you have divorced him.
Films in which Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared:
“Lovely to Look At,” 1952.
“Moulin Rouge,” 1952.
“The Story of Three Loves,” 1953.
“Three Ring Circus,” 1954.
“Death of a Scoundrel,” 1956.
“The Girl in the Kremlin,” 1957.
“Touch of Evil,” 1958.
“Queen of Outer Space,” 1958.
“Boys’ Night Out,” 1962.
“Picture Mommy Dead,” 1966.
“Arrivederci Baby,” 1966.
“Jack of Diamonds,” 1967.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” 1987.