In so many ways, she was truly her mother’s daughter. With seemingly inexhaustible energy and an obvious fondness for the klieg lights, she garnered a cult of millions. But when Liza Minnelli checked into the Betty Ford Center on July 13, 1984, it was sadly apparent that she’d also inherited some of Judy Garland’s most oppressive demons.
The then-38-year-old daughter of Garland and director Vincente Minnelli led a dizzying social life. There were the parties at Studio 54, a slew of well-received performances (including her Oscar-winning 1972 turn in Cabaret), and a wide circle of famous friends. But too much booze-soaked revelry, coupled with an addiction to antianxiety drugs like Librium and Valium (ironically, they were prescribed, Liza later said, following her mother’s 1969 death from a barbiturate overdose), caught up with her. On July 11, the exhausted actress arrived at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, where doctors discovered and removed a growth from her neck. Shaken, sick, and scared, Minnelli flew to California at Betty Ford alum Liz Taylor’s urging, and checked in.
Her ego was deflated by the center’s methods, the days filled with group therapy and chores like laundry. ”When you’re drug dependent,” Liza told PEOPLE that November, ”the first things that slip are the little things, so that’s where you begin.” Seven weeks later, she checked out. But March 1985 saw a setback: Minnelli checked into a Midwestern clinic for ”reinforcement.” Her hairstylist John Barrett attributes Minnelli’s struggles to her environment: ”She has longtime friends who are terrific people, but they clearly didn’t wield enough influence over her habits.”
Somebody, it seems, finally does. Minnelli — currently in the midst of a comeback after a decade of hip replacements, big-screen failures, and a near-fatal bout with encephalitis — largely credits fourth husband David Gest with saving her life, saying he steered her toward rehab after a brief tumble from the wagon in December 2001. ”It was a relief to see that her fiance was a friend rather than sycophant,” says Barrett.
In March, the couple wed in a ceremony that saw Taylor and Michael Jackson serve as matron of honor and best man. The following month, she hatched ”Liza’s Back!” — a show-tune-filled concert tour in which she openly acknowledges her battles with the bottle. ”It would be rather ludicrous to walk around and pretend it wasn’t there,” says Bob Mackie, who designed her wedding dress. Indeed, on the May 31 opening night, she pranced across a New York stage and yelped, ”Liza’s back from AA and she’s doing okay!”