Minnelli's ex-husband 'a showbiz icon'

Actress Liza Minnelli with former husband David Gest at a Beverly Hills event in 2002.
Actress Liza Minnelli with former husband David Gest at a Beverly Hills event in 2002. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • David Gest, the United States television personality and former husband of actress Liza Minnelli, was found dead in a five-star London hotel on Tuesday in unexplained circumstances, said the police and a friend.

His body was found at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Canary Wharf district of the British capital.

The 62-year-old had been due to tour Britain later this year in an autobiographical musical show, David Gest Is Not Dead But Alive With Soul.

"It is with great sadness that I can confirm that David Gest has died today," his friend Imad Handi said in a statement released to media.

"David was truly larger than life. He was not just a huge talent and a dear friend, but a showbiz icon."

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said police officers were called to the hotel just after 10am "to reports of an unexplained death of a man in his 60s".

"London Ambulance Service were called to the scene. Life was pronounced extinct at the hotel."

Gest, a music industry veteran, worked behind the scenes for most of his career, producing celebrity awards shows and concert tours featuring former music greats.

In 2001, he staged the concert at Madison Square Garden - Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebra- tion: The Solo Years - which featured the late superstar, the reunited Jackson Five and guests including Minnelli.

Gest grew up in Encino, Los Angeles, where the Jacksons lived, and became friends with them.

A year later, he became Minnelli's fourth husband.

They wed on March 16, 2002, with actress Elizabeth Taylor as a maid of honour and Jackson as best man. Guests at the reception included actors Michael and Kirk Douglas, singer Elton John, actor Anthony Hopkins, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and businessman Donald Trump.

A television series, Liza And David, was planned but was scrapped after one episode was completed because of arguments between the co-stars and the channel's executives.

The couple separated after 16 months. During the divorce proceedings, Gest sued Minnelli for US$10 million, accusing her of beating him while she was drunk.

Minnelli countersued, claiming that he stole at least US$2 million she earned while performing in shows he produced. Both dropped legal claims against each other to finalise their divorce in 2007.

He was a close friend of Jackson, producing a documentary about the late singer in 2011, and had appeared on a string of reality television shows in Britain.

Gest later became a reality TV star in Britain, appearing in shows such as I'm A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here!. He was by then a D-list name whose odds of making it to the end of the show were put at 50-1 by British bookmakers.

On the insurance form he filled out for the producers, he listed among his ailments vertigo, hypertension, scalp tenderness, insomnia, dysphoria (a constant feeling of unease), photosensitivity, recurrent vomiting, anorexia and shingles. He also claimed to suffer from chronic phonophobia - fear of the sound of his own voice.

He soldiered on, surviving until Day 18 of 19, when he became the ninth of 12 contestants to be eliminated.

By then, he had won an avid following among viewers and TV producers, who clamoured to put him back on the air. "His warm heart, cheeky pranks and bizarrely endearing creativity with the truth brought adulation in great waves," The Aberdeen Press and Journal wrote in 2014.

He also wrote a memoir, Simply The Gest, published in 2007. He lived in York and is survived by his mother and a sister.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Minnelli's ex-husband 'a showbiz icon''. Subscribe