The Untold Truth Of Liza Minnelli
Liza Minnelli is an icon. The stage and screen veteran was born on March 12, 1946 to actress and singer Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, according to Biography. Garland, one of the most famous Hollywood stars of all time, is known for her powerful pipes and her roles in films such as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Star Is Born. Minnelli soon proved to have a sultry singing voice that rivaled her mother’s, and it didn’t take long for Minnelli to establish a reputation for herself and become a superstar to rival Garland.
Minnelli’s career has been an extraordinary one, but it’s also been marred with tragedy. Her early success was accompanied by heartbreak, including the early death of her mother, a string of unhappy marriages, and substance abuse. In spite of all her troubles, though, Minnelli has always managed to come out on top.
Minnelli has captured the hearts of generation after generation, and her lifelong career is still going strong. Given her legendary life, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction, but we’re going to try. Here are some facts that you never knew about Liza Minnelli.
Liza Minnelli was exposed to show business starting at a young age
As the daughter of famed songstress Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, it was inevitable that Minnelli would be bitten by the acting bug sooner or later. Minnelli grew up surrounded by show business and made her first film appearance as a baby in 1949’s In the Good Old Summertime.
While Minnelli was born into a world of fame, she didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. “It’s like growing up in a coal mining town,” she said on Larry King Live. “Everybody does what everybody else does.” As she grew older, of course, Minnelli realized that her world was anything but normal. Even if she hadn’t embarked on a career in acting and music, she still would have been well-known as the daughter of two of the most famous Hollywood icons of the era. As Minnelli put it in an interview with Variety, “I was born and they took a picture.”
As a little girl, Liza Minnelli dreamed of being an ice skater
It’s hard to imagine Liza Minnelli as anything but an actress and a singer — it’s in her blood, after all. But Minnelli had very different dreams as a child, although they still involved performing for an adoring audience. As a little girl, Minnelli longed to become an ice skater — and she was good, too, she said in a 2010 interview on Larry King Live.
Minnelli explained that it wasn’t exactly the ice that enraptured her, though. “I loved the music,” she revealed. “I loved the music so much that I wanted to do strides that matched it. It was like some kind of force.”
It makes sense, then, that the music she called “some kind of force” led her down the path of musical theater. Minnelli fell in love with the stage after seeing the musical Bye Bye Birdie with her mother in New York and upended her career plans. “And I thought, maybe I’ll do that,” she added.
Liza Minnelli made her stage debut as a teenager
In high school, Liza Minnelli made her stage debut when she starred as the lead in a school production of The Diary of Anne Frank. In an interview with Variety, Minnelli recalled her parents’ delighted reactions to her performance, in particular her mother who “came backstage after the show with tears streaming down her face.”
By 16, Minnelli had moved to New York City to pursue an acting career and to hone her dance skills. And while her parents reluctantly approved of her move, they didn’t financially support her. However, that was fine with Minnelli, who wanted to do things on her own. The Guardian noted that she even returned money sent by family friend Frank Sinatra, determined to support herself.
Minnelli’s efforts paid off. At 19, her role in Flora the Red Menace made her the youngest-ever Tony winner. Minnelli didn’t let the award make her complacent, though. “The best part about winning an award is the night you win it,” she told Variety. “And then you have to go back to work.”
Liza Minnelli had a very tight bond with her mother, Judy Garland
While many people might have assumed Judy Garland’s own tragic life meant her children had a difficult childhood, Liza Minnelli has made it clear that nothing could be further from the truth. “One of the biggest misconceptions about my mama is that she didn’t provide me with a happy childhood,” Minnelli told Vogue. While the superstar admitted that “there were highs and lows for sure,” overall she looks back on her childhood fondly.
However, Minnelli was often more like a mother to Garland than a daughter, caring for her through her substance addiction and taking charge at home. But if the responsibility ever felt like a burden, Minnelli doesn’t remember it that way, and instead recalls being her mother’s “best friend and confidante.”
Garland died in 1969 from an accidental overdose, noted Biography. She was just 47 years old. While Minnelli mourned her mother’s death, years later she told The New York Times that, in a way, it brought them even closer together as she can now talk to her mom “in my own head.” She added, “It took space away, and also now no one can harm her.”
Liza Minnelli's dad, Vincente Minnelli, may have been behind her signature hairstyle
Liza Minnelli was also very close to her father, Vincente Minnelli, who she credits with bringing magic to what was often a chaotic childhood. “I got my drive from my mama and my dreams from my father,” she told Vogue.
Minnelli’s father encouraged her love of acting and dancing. According to Harper’s Bazaar, it was also her father who inspired the signature pitch-black pixie cut that she sported in the 1972 film Cabaret and has worn for most of her life. However, this might not be entirely factual as she was seen with the hairstyle as early as 1968. Variety gives a far more mundane recounting of how she settled on her iconic hairstyle, reporting that she cut off her hair after getting gum in it.
Whatever the truth is behind her haircut — a legend must be allowed to keep some secrets, after all — what’s certain is that Minnelli’s father was devoted to her, and she to him. “I loved him so much and I wanted to please him so much (that) I never did anything wrong,” Minnelli shared with The Times of Northwest Indiana.
Liza Minnelli has "millions of parents"
As noted by Town & Country, Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli separated in 1949 when Liza Minnelli was just 3 years old. They divorced the following year, and both would go on to re-marry three times. While this could have been confusing and troubling for Minnelli, she was excited to be surrounded by a large family which included not only stepparents but also a stepbrother and three half-siblings. “They married again so many times I have millions of parents,” Minnelli told The Guardian.
Some of those bonds could be complicated, though. Per the Los Angeles Times, Minnelli’s 94-year-old stepmother, Lee Anderson Minnelli, sued her in 2002 for selling the home she lived in. While the house technically belonged to Minnelli, the lawsuit claimed she was required to allow her stepmother to live there for the rest of her life. A spokesperson for Minnelli, however, issued a statement claiming that Minnelli had offered to buy her stepmother a condo.
The lawsuit was dropped later that year, with Minnelli’s stepmother insisting the two were on good terms. “I love her,″ she said (via the Associated Press). “She’s my daughter.″
Liza Minnelli is one of the few people to have an EGOT
It would be easy for someone unfamiliar with Liza Minnelli’s career to assume that her fame is due to nepotism. Watch her perform just once, though, and it becomes obvious that her success is well deserved. Minnelli is a woman of many talents, and they’ve been rewarded with multiple awards over the years, including an EGOT — the name given to the rare winning of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.
Per Insider, just a handful of people have won “the most coveted award in Hollywood.” The short list includes Rita Moreno, Audrey Hepburn, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and John Legend.
While EGOT purists might argue that Minnelli is not a true EGOT winner as her Grammy is a special award and not in a competitive category, as noted by New York Show Tickets, it’s impossible to deny her overwhelming talent. Her official bio at the website for the Emmys lists her as having won a whopping four Tony Awards, an Oscar, two Golden Globes, and an Emmy on top of her non-competitive Grammy Award.
Liza Minnelli has struggled with addiction
Like her mother, who died of a barbiturate overdose, Liza Minnelli has struggled with addiction — and she’s been frank about her battle. “My whole life, this disease has been rampant,” she told The Guardian of her alcoholism. “I inherited it, and it’s been horrendous, but I have always asked for help.”
After her mother’s death, Minnelli was prescribed Valium to cope with her grief. Minnelli then began abusing drugs, until she entered rehab at the Betty Ford Center in 1985. “I’m learning to be a friend to myself,” Minnelli said (via The Buffalo News).
That wouldn’t be her only time in rehab, but Minnelli has been determined not to let her addiction take over her life. “So what do you do?” she asked Today in 2005 after a relapse. “You get up and you go on, and you try not to do it again.”
Liza Minnelli was once told she'd never walk again
Shocking as it may sound, a simple mosquito bite almost paralyzed Liza Minnelli for life in 2000. Minnelli contracted a virus called encephalitis from the bite which, per the Mayo Clinic, causes “inflammation of the brain.” The fact that Minnelli survived the potentially life-threatening virus was a miracle, but her road to recovery was a long one. The virus left Minnelli with speech difficulties and unable to walk; her doctors told her that she’d be wheelchair-bound from then on, but she refused to accept this diagnosis.
Minnelli eventually made a full recovery, but it was hard work. “People don’t usually recover like I recovered but I would not give up,” she explained to The Guardian. “I just couldn’t — I don’t know how you’d do anything else.” And in an interview with NBC, Minnelli said that she focused on being able to perform again in order to heal. “I want to live,” she revealed. “I have always wanted to live.”
Liza Minnelli did her own stunts on Arrested Development
Not only did Liza Minnelli learn to walk again after her bout with encephalitis, but she also turned to stunt work after the health scare. Minnelli memorably starred on the comedy Arrested Development as Lucille 2, whose extreme vertigo is a running joke on the series. Lucille falls down a lot on the show, and every fall you see on screen is Minnelli in action — and falling isn’t as easy as it looks, either.
Minnelli joined the cast at the request of its director, Ron Howard, who’d previously worked with her father; he recalled how hilarious Minnelli is, but Minnelli also proved to be a meticulous performer. On her first day on set, a stunt double was ready to go but Minnelli wasn’t having it. “I said, ‘What do you mean?'” she told the The Spokesman Review. “I went… and worked three hours on how to fall down.”
Minnelli did have some previous experience in stunt work, telling Variety, “I knew all the stuntmen in Hollywood from when I was little and played on the MGM lot, so I figured out how to make it work.”
This is the reason Liza Minnelli hasn't done more films
Unlike Judy Garland, who racked up dozens of film roles during her career, Liza Minnelli hasn’t been as prolific a movie star. Not that she hasn’t starred in her fair share of films — Minnelli has many films under her belt, including The Sterile Cuckoo, Lucky Lady, and Arthur. Still, Minnelli has never seemed keen on becoming a movie star. Many of her film credits, such as The Muppets Take Manhattan and Sex and the City 2, are actually cameos in which she plays herself.
Minnelli could have no doubt had her pick of starring roles over the years, but the actress has always been a stage performer at heart. “I guess the reason is I loved performing so much,” she said on Larry King Live. “I loved entertaining.”
Simply reciting lines and singing songs wasn’t enough for Minnelli, and film proved to be too impersonal of a medium for her to want to build her career around. Instead, she prefers the rush of performing for a packed theater. “That’s a different audience every night,” she added.
Liza Minnelli will never authorize a musical about her life
While a musical about Liza Minnelli’s life would no doubt be a hit, if one ever comes out in her lifetime it won’t be authorized. The reason? Minnelli has very strong feelings about someone interpreting her life. As her collaborator Michael Feinstein told The Hollywood Reporter, “She said to me, ‘Michael, you can say anything you want about me after I’m dead.'” According to Feinstein, Minnelli is troubled that “people are constantly portraying her” and finds it “very painful.”
As far as Minnelli is concerned, there’s only one Liza Minnelli and she’s it. “She doesn’t want to see somebody do her,” said Feinstein. “She says, ‘Honey, not when I’m alive and can still do it.'”
Minnelli was similarly dismissive of the 2019 biopic of her mother starring Renée Zellweger, telling Variety that she didn’t want to watch it. “I do not approve nor sanction the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
Liza Minnelli's love life parallels her mother's
Sadly, Liza Minnelli’s life has echoed her mother’s in more ways than one; like Judy Garland, Minnelli has had a rocky love life. Per Town & Country, Garland was married five times, with four of those marriages ending in divorce. Minnelli has been married and divorced four times. As noted by Biography, both women were married to men who were believed to have been gay; one of Minnelli’s husbands reportedly cheated on her with her stepfather.
Minnelli’s most recent marriage, to David Gest, ended in a bitter divorce after just 16 months. Minnelli swore off marriage after that. “I mean, I most certainly date and go out,” she told Today in 2005. “But I don’t think there’s any reason to get married again, especially after what I’ve been through.”
Minnelli added that she doesn’t think her divorces are the result of “attract[ing] the wrong guys,” though, saying, “I’ve known some wonderful men… I made a mistake and you pay for that.”
Liza Minnelli is "ageless"
The years have not always been kind to Liza Minnelli, and decades of performing have taken a toll on her body. She joked to Saga that she’s “Dorothy’s daughter up top and the Tin Man down below,” referring to her litany of ailments which include two hip replacements and “a wired up knee.”
In spite of everything she’s been through, though, Minnelli is still thriving. Minnelli may have aged physically, but mentally and emotionally, she’s still that starry-eyed girl taking Broadway and Hollywood by storm. Indeed, Minnelli is a pop culture icon whose relevance has never waned, and it’s easy to believe that she’ll always be one — and if she has it her way, she will be. “You don’t understand,” she told Vulture in 2013. “I am ageless!”
Minnelli added that she “never think[s] about age,” and why would she? She’s still at the top of her game and as beloved as ever.
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