Today with the explosion in reality TV there are a load of faces who are ‘famous for being famous’ but perhaps the original template for this was Zsa Zsa Gabor who died today.
Despite having appeared in over 70 films it was her nine marriages, her embracing of celebrity culture and a self effacing sense of humour all in a heavy East European accent which she never lost despite have lived in Hollywood for most of her life, that bought her real international fame.
Though she was 99 years old when she died she was notoriously evasive about her actual date of birth but its generally thought to be 6th February 1917. Born Sari Gabor in Budapest, Hungary the middle of three sisters, she was nicknamed Zsa Zsa by her family. Her father was a soldier and her mother a wealthy Jewish jewellery heiress but Gabor wanted to be a vet but her mother and her own good looks would drive her in another direction.
It was in 1934 that she made her first stage performance on stage in Vienna in her teens in an operetta and two years later she was crowned Miss Hungary but was quickly disqualified for lying about her age so that she could enter the competition. 1937 saw her first marriage to a Turkish intellectual, Burhan Asaf Belge but this ended in 1941. By this time her parents had divorced themselves and in 1941 she and her mother both emigrated to America and inevitably her beauty saw her land theatre roles with 1952 seeing her film debut in the appropriately named, ‘Lovely to Look At’, despite having no lines to say. By then she was on husband No 2 hotel magnate Conrad Hilton divorcing him for actor George Sanders. That same year John Huston cast her in Moulin Rouge and made 14 more films during that decade in including the top notch tat fest that was, ‘Queen of Outer Space’, which saw her wearing very little as an inhabitant of Venus.
With three marriages already under her belt she was coming to the attention of the gossip columns and was garnering a reputation as a man eater but having divorced Sanders in 1954 she stayed husband free until 1962 when she married an investment banker. It lasted four years and in 1966 she married husband number 5 which lasted seven months. Before leaving it for nine more years before husband No 6 and married the designer of the Barbie doll. Much like the dolls it didn’t last long, only 18 months, and she was straight onto the next husband, Michael O Hara, for seven years. Marriage number 8 was carried out at sea to a Mexican lawyer which bizarrely Gabor had annulled on the grounds that the ship was not far enough from shore for it to be legal!
Her other romantic liaisons were legion and included Sean Connery, Richard Burton and Frank Sinatra and a playboy called Porfirio Rubirosa which was volatile and when he chose an heiress to marry over her she went on stage in Vegas wearing an eye patch over a black eye which he had doled out to her.
Her final husband was Prinz von Anhalt who she married in 1986 until her death and by now her film career was a distraction to her celebrity and her ability to mock herself overwhelmed any serious roles she might have taken and hence she made cameos in ‘The Naked Gun 2 and a half’ and ‘The Beverley Hill Billies’ and her final film ‘A Very Brady Sequel’ in 1996. Despite this though she did not suffer fools gladly.
By now ill health and less than enviable court appearances were starting to take over. In 1989 she slapped a police officer ending with her being convicted of an assault and spending three days in jail. In later years she took her only daughter ,Francesca Hilton to court alleging that she had been defrauded out of $2m by her to buy a house. Her daughter tragically died aged 67 in February 2015.
But ill health really began to take a terrible toll on her. In 2002 she had a car accident which left her partially paralysed. In 2005 she suffered a stroke, in 2010 she had surgery to remove bloodclots that convinced her she was about to die and had the last rites administered by a priest. She also had a leg amputated due to poor circulation and the last year of her life saw her suffering from dementia before finally dying from a heart attack.
Never really a film star but a huge personality in Hollywood the likes of which reality TV stars can only dream of and inevitably fail to achieve. She was undoubtedly one of a kind.