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Gay Times Summer 12 - Issue 407

Liza Minnelli

Fred Astaire was in no doubt. “If Hollywood had a royal family,” he once said, “Liza Minnelli would be our crown princess.”

He had a point. Famous from before she was born, Noel Coward was the first visitor to Judy Garland’s bedside after she’d given birth to her elder daughter. Ira Gershwin was Liza’s godfather. Kay Thompson – singer, actress and creator of the Eloise books (based, it is said, on Liza herself) – was her godmother.

But the lady in question is having none of it. “I’ve never thought I was anything much,” she says. “Just a gypsy, a jobbing actress who sings and who goes where the work is.” It’s a classic understatement from a Grade A star whose one-woman shows are the stuff of legend, whose recording career has spanned over four decades and who won an Oscar for her indelible portrayal of Sally Bowles in 1972’s film of Cabaret.

That’s an evening she won’t easily forget. “My father [award-winning director Vincente Minnelli] was the quietest man,” says Liza, “but, when they announced I’d won the Academy Award, he screamed so loudly it gave me tinnitus. I’ve never seen anyone so happy. That, for me, was better even than holding the statuette. I thought Diana Ross would win for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. She’d just presented something and, when she came back on stage, she’d changed into a whole new outfit so I thought she must know something we didn’t.”

For all this (genuine) self-deprecation, though, La Minnelli will acknowledge that she’s something of a survivor. “I’ve been down,” she says at one stage, “but I’ve never been out.” Right on both counts. There have been four marriages, four divorces, the last one redefining acrimonious as she and music producer David Gest went their separate ways. And there will be no Husband Number Five, she makes quite clear.

In 2000, a mosquito bite turned septic triggering a bout of viral encephalitis so severe it was predicted that Liza would never walk, possibly even talk, again. But, by sheer force of character, she willed herself better. There have been two hip replacements and a new right knee. “I always say that, on the top half, I’m Dorothy’s daughter, and, on the bottom, the Tin Man’s.”

There was a well-documented battle with the bottle but she hasn’t had a drink in years. “Cigarettes are my only vice,” she says cheerfully. The comparison with her equally gifted mother could scarcely be more pronounced. In 1969, aged just 47, Judy finally succumbed to years of drink and drugs abuse in her rented house in Chelsea.
By contrast, at 66 – her birthday was in March – Liza shows no signs of slowing down. She’ll perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival in July, at the Hollywood Bowl in August and here in the UK at the Hampton Court Palace Festival on 14 June. And she can’t wait. “I just love London. It’s like a second home to me.”

To read the full article, pick up the latest copy of GT out in all good retailers, online and downloadable on your iPhone or iPad.

WordsRichard Barber

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