Zsa Zsa Gabor, who parlayed a minimal acting career into a career as a celebrity, has died. She was 99.
Ed Lozzi, a publicist for Gabor, told CBS LA she passed away at her home Sunday afternoon.
Gabor fell out of bed in 2010 and underwent hip-replacement surgery July 19 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her right leg was amputated above the knee in 2011 to prevent the spread of gangrene, part of a long run of health troubles the mid-century glamour girl has had since breaking her left hip in a fall.
Married nine times, the former Miss Hungary contestant made a career joking about her numerous marriages and luxurious needs. Best known as a sex symbol, Gabor cultivated a comic image of an Old World gold digger. With her diamonds, furs and sense of privilege, she exuded a blond diva swagger, a persona fueled by her serial husbands.
Former spouses included such well-heeled gents as Conrad Hilton and Oscar-winning actor and bon vivant George Sanders, who later married her sister Magda. She was the mother of actress Francesca Hilton.
Although Gabor appeared early in her career in several movies, including a small part as a nightclub singer in Orson Welles’ 1958 classic A Touch of Evil, she was more recognized for her outlandish persona, extravagant lifestyle and penchant for calling everyone “dahling.”
“I don’t remember anybody’s name,” she once said. “How do you think the ‘dahling’ thing got started?
Gabor embodied the Hollywood concept of “celebrity”: A headline-grabbing, spotlight-attracting Bel Air resident regularly in the public eye not because of any unique accomplishment but simply for “being.”
“Every age has its Madame Pompadour, its Lady Hamilton, its Queen of Sheba, it’s Cleopatra, and I wouldn’t be surprised if history singles out Zsa Zsa as its 20th century prototype of this exclusive coterie,” Sanders wrote in his 1992 autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad.
Magda, who died in 1997, and Gabor’s other sister, Eva, who died in 1995, also were celebrated beauties, though Magda generally shunned the public eye. Eva co-starred with Eddie Albert in the 1965-71 CBS comedy Green Acres, playing scatter-brained city-slicker wife Lisa Douglas.
Zsa Zsa Gabor’s haughty grandeur wore thin on occasion: In 1989, she was convicted of slapping a Beverly Hills policeman and sentenced to 72 hours in jail and perform community service. In 2002, she was involved in a serious car accident on Sunset Boulevard as the passenger in a car driven by her hairdresser.
In addition to her celebrity status, Gabor was author of 1970’s How to Catch a Man, considered a how-to guide for gold diggers. Gabor’s zingy humor came to light unexpectedly on an early live TV show where she dismissed a compliment on her gaudy diamonds with, “Oh, Dahling, zese are just my vorking diamonds.”
Her straight-faced, diva-style quips made her a popular talk-show guest in the ’70s and ’80s; in particular, Merv Griffin delighted in plumbing the comic depths of her shallowness. When queried by the mock-serious Griffin about her housekeeping, she retorted: “I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.”
During more recent years, she was game for spoofing her own image: Gabor appeared in one of David Letterman’s Late Night gags, accompanying the baseball-capped host to suburban New Jersey, where they appeared on doorsteps with Gabor asking the stunned housewives if she could come in and take a look at the shoes in their closets.
She even parlayed her jail term into maintaining a spot in the public eye. She appeared in the main title sequence of The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991) in a spoof of her jail-bird notoriety. In similar vein, Gabor did a self-mocking turn in the final episode of the 1960s TV series Batman, playing Minerva, a wily spa owner who fleeced her customers.
She was born Sari Gabor to wealthy parents in Budapest, Hungary. The date, as expected, varies, but is considered to be Feb. 6, 1917. Her starry-eyed mother, Jolie, propelled her into the Miss Hungary contest in 1936. Gabor, her sisters and their mother emigrated to the U.S. about the time of outbreak of World War II.
Gabor’s more serious acting credits include Moulin Rouge, Lovely to Look At and We’re Not Married, all from 1952, and 1953’s Lili. In 1958, she ran the gamut of moviemaking, appearing in Touch of Evil as well as the campy oddity Queen of Outer Space.
During the ensuing years, she appeared on the big screen only rarely, appearing in such ditzy ditties as Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie (1984). She did cameos for Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993) and A Very Brady Sequel (1996) and voiced a character in the animated Happily Ever After (1993).
Survivors include Prince Frederic von Anhalt, whom she wed in 1986. Her marriage garnered her the title Princess von Anhalt, Duchess of Saxony. Eva died in 1995; Magda two years later.
SOURCE: HOLLYWOOD REPORTER