Obituary

Zsa Zsa Gabor had eight husbands

Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor with her husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.
Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor with her husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The Hungarian actress made headlines with her diamonds- and-furs lifestyle and marriages to millionaires

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

The cause was heart failure, her long-time publicist, Mr Edward Lozzi, told the Los Angeles Times.

Married at least eight times, calling everyone "Dahlink" in her Hungarian accent, flaunting a diamonds-and-furs lifestyle and abetted by gossip columnists and tabloid headline writers, she played the coiffed 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 Miss Hungary title 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," Gabor once said. Her husbands included a Turkish diplomat, hotel heir Conrad Hilton, 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.

I have learnt that not diamonds but divorce lawyers are a girl's best friend.

ACTRESS ZSA ZSA GABOR in an 1987 address to the American Bar Association. She is seen above with her husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt in 1989

Another marriage that nobody counted - a case of bigamy at sea with a has-been Mexican actor - lasted only a day and was annulled.

She was once branded "the most expensive courtesan since Madame de Pompadour", but Gabor insisted that only her marriage to Hilton was financially motivated. Her marriages topped the five by Eva, who starred in the 1960s sitcom Green Acres and who died in 1995, and the six by Magda, whose Hollywood career was mostly based on being the third Gabor sister and who died in 1997.

In 1989, Gabor was arrested for slapping a police officer who had pulled her over for a traffic violation and found that her licence 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.

"You just cannot drive a Rolls-Royce in Beverly Hills anymore because they have it in for you," she said after things had blown over.

She appeared in more than 60 TV 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' 1958 classic Touch Of Evil and, the same year, as a sexy alien in Queen Of Outer Space, a camp favourite about virile American astronauts landing on a planet populated by scantily clad women.

Gabor had been in and out of hospitals for years. She suffered head and other injuries and was hospitalised 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 after-effects of the stroke.

In July 2010, she underwent hip-replacement surgery after a fall at her home in which she also suffered a concussion. In 2011, her right leg was surgically amputated above the knee after an infection proved resistant to antibiotics. Two months later, shock over the death of her friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor, sent her to the hospital with high blood pressure. In 2011, she had emergency surgery after blood began flowing through a feeding tube inserted in her stomach.

Born Sari Gabor in Budapest to jewellery and porcelain merchants, she always gave a birth date of Feb 6 or 7, not the year. But her birth date is most likely Feb 6, 1917.

Her mother spoke of pushing her three daughters to be "rich, famous and married to kings". The Gabor sisters attended private schools and were chauffeured to acting, dancing, music and fencing classes.

Gabor, who divorced seven of her eight husbands, was reported to have eloped for the first time at 14 and married Burhan Belge, the Turkish diplomat, in 1937 in Budapest. Her second marriage, to Mr Hilton, lasted from 1942 to 1947. Their daughter, Francesca Hilton, an actress, was Gabor's only child. She died last year at 67.

Her other marriages were to Sanders (1949 to 1954), who later married Magda Gabor; investor-industrialist Herbert L. Hutner (1962 to 1966); oil magnate Joshua S. Cosden Jr (1966 to 1967); Mr Jack Ryan, an inventor and toy designer who helped create the Barbie doll (1975 to 1976); Mr Michael O'Hara, a lawyer (1976 to 1982); and Mr Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, whom she married in 1986.

Mr Prinz von Anhalt, often described as a prince or the Duke of Saxony, was born the son of a police officer in Germany.

He changed his name 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 also mention a 1983 marriage to Mr Felipe de Alba, a lawyer who appeared in films in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s, but Gabor said it lasted only a day.

Her many public appearances included a 1987 address to the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco, where she told her tales of marital joys and woes, confiding: "I have learnt that not diamonds but divorce lawyers are a girl's best friend."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Zsa Zsa Gabor had eight husbands'. Print Edition | Subscribe