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Famous Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor Dies At 99

By klaireaustria | Dec 20, 2016 06:31 PM EST
Zsa Zsa Gabor, Actress Famous for Her Glamour and Her Marriages, Dies at 99 (Photo : Express / Stringer)

Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Hungarian actress whose self-parodying glamour and revolving-door marriages to millionaires put a luster of American celebrity on a long but only modestly successful career in movies and television, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. She was 99.

The cause was heart failure, her longtime publicist Edward Lozzi said.

Married at least eight times, calling everyone "Dahlink," flaunting a diamonds-and-furs lifestyle and abetted by gossip columnists and tabloid headline writers, Ms. Gabor played the coifed platinum femme fatale in plunging necklines in dozens of film and television roles, many of them cameos as herself. Her career, which began with the title Miss Hungary in 1936, was still going strong in the 1990s, outlasting those of her sisters, Eva and Magda, celebrities in their own right. She was the last surviving Gabor sister.

"A girl must marry for love, and keep on marrying until she finds it," Ms. Gabor once said. Her husbands included a Turkish diplomat, the hotel heir Conrad Hilton, the actor George Sanders, an industrialist, an oil magnate, a toy designer, a divorce lawyer and a man often referred to in the news media as the Duke of Saxony. Another marriage that nobody counted - a case of bigamy at sea with a has-been Mexican actor - lasted only a day and was annulled.

In 1989, she was arrested for slapping a police officer who had pulled her over for a traffic violation and found that her license had expired and that she had an open vodka bottle in her car, a Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible. Breezing into court, she took the stand and, by turns haughty, coquettish, weepy and coarse, spoke of Gestapo tactics in Beverly Hills. The judge gave her 72 hours in jail.

Ms. Gabor appeared in more than 60 television movies and feature films, mostly American-made, although some were Italian, French, German and Australian. Critics said her best roles were early in her career, in "Moulin Rouge" (1952) and "Lili" (1953). She also appeared as a nightclub manager in Orson Welles's 1958 classic "Touch of Evil" and, the same year, as a sexy alien in "Queen of Outer Space," a camp favorite about virile American astronauts landing on a planet populated by scantily clad women.

From the 1950s into the '90s, she was also on scores of television programs: talk shows, game shows, comedy specials, westerns, episodic dramas. On the 1960s series "Batman," she played the gold-digging Minerva, whose mineral spa fleeced swells by extracting secrets from their brains. "A real vicked voman," she described the character in her Hungarian accent.

Exploiting her naughty celebrity, Ms. Gabor, with the help of collaborators and ghost writers, published four books: "Zsa Zsa Gabor: My Story" (1960), "Zsa Zsa's Complete Guide to Men" (1969), "How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man" (1970) and "One Lifetime Is Not Enough" (1991).

In addition to her steady appearances in movies and on television, Ms. Gabor operated a mail-order cosmetics company. She once offered $1 million to anyone who could prove she had had a face-lift.

In 1974, she bought a villa in Bel Air built by Howard Hughes and formerly owned by Elvis Presley. Her multitiered clothes closet - 30 feet long, 12 feet deep and 14 feet high - contained 5,000 garments that, except for favored gowns, were given to charities and replaced with a new wardrobe from time to time, according to her official fan site, zsazsagabor.org.

In early 2009, Ms. Gabor discovered that she had joined a long list of celebrities who were victimized by Bernard L. Madoff, the financial swindler whose worldwide Ponzi scheme that cost investors tens of billions. Her lawyer Chris Fields said she lost at least $7 million and possibly as much as $10 million.

Ms. Gabor had been in and out of hospitals for years. She suffered head and other injuries and was hospitalized for a month in 2002 after a car driven by her hairdresser struck a utility pole in West Hollywood. It left her in a wheelchair, and she retreated from the spotlight. She suffered a stroke in 2005 and had surgery for a blocked carotid artery. In 2007, she again underwent surgery to treat a leg infection and aftereffects of the stroke.

In July 2010, she underwent hip-replacement surgery after a fall at her home in which she also suffered a concussion. Released from the hospital in August, she was readmitted two days later for treatment of unspecified complications. In January 2011, her right leg was amputated above the knee after an infection proved resistant to antibiotics. Doctors said the operation was necessary to save her life.

Two months later, shock over the death of her friend Elizabeth Taylor sent her to the hospital with high blood pressure, and Ms. Gabor's publicist, John Blanchette, quoted her as saying she feared she was next. In November 2011, she had emergency surgery after blood began flowing through a feeding tube inserted in her stomach.

Born Sari Gabor in Budapest in 1917 - she always gave a birth date of Feb. 6 or 7, but not the year, though Mr. Lozzi confirmed on Sunday that it was 1917 - Ms. Gabor grew up in relative prosperity, the second of three daughters of Vilmos and Jolie Gabor. Raised for stardom, the sisters attended private schools and were chauffeured to acting, dancing, music and fencing classes.

On the eve of World War II, Ms. Gabor, her mother and her sisters emigrated to the United States, and by the 1950s the Gabor sisters had become as well known for their love lives as for their careers.

Magda, who acted on radio briefly and helped her mother operate a chain of jewelry boutiques, died in 1997, as did her mother. Eva, who was best known for her role on television's "Green Acres" in the 1960s - and whom the public sometimes confused with Zsa Zsa - died in 1995.

Zsa Zsa, who divorced seven of her eight husbands, was first married to Burhan Belge, a Turkish diplomat in Budapest, from 1937 to 1941. Her second marriage, to Mr. Hilton, lasted from 1942 to 1947. Their daughter, Francesca Hilton, an actress, was Ms. Gabor's only child. She died in 2015.

Her other marriages were to Mr. Sanders (1949-54), who later married Magda Gabor; the investor-industrialist Herbert L. Hutner (1962-66); the oil magnate Joshua S. Cosden Jr. (1966-67); Jack Ryan, an inventor and toy designer who helped create the Barbie doll (1975-76); Michael O'Hara, a lawyer (1976-82); and Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, whom she married in 1986.

Mr. Prinz von Anhalt, often described in the news media as a prince or the Duke of Saxony, was born Hans Robert Lichtenberg, the son of a police officer in Germany. He changed his name to include what sounded like a title after Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt, the Duchess of Saxony, adopted him in 1980 as an adult. The adoption, widely reported to have been a business transaction, conferred only an illusion of nobility, reinforced by the name change.

Some biographies of Ms. Gabor also mention a 1983 marriage to Felipe de Alba, a lawyer who appeared in films in Mexico in the 1940s and '50s, but Ms. Gabor said it lasted only a day. The ceremony was performed by a ship's captain at sea but was probably illegal because the ship was not in international waters, and Ms. Gabor was technically not yet divorced from Mr. O'Hara. It was later annulled, just to make sure.

There were also notorious affairs with Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican playboy, and with Rafael Trujillo Jr., the son of the Dominican dictator.

Ms. Gabor is survived by her husband, Mr. Prinz von Anhalt.

Ms. Gabor's many public appearances included a 1987 address to the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco, where she spoke to the family law section at a standing-room-only luncheon. "We've had enough of the routine speakers," the chairman said, introducing Ms. Gabor as "an optimist who still believes in marriage."

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