Actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor died Sunday at age 99, her publicist confirmed to CBSLA. She struggled with numerous health problems in recent years, and most recently was hospitalized for a lung infection this past February.
The glamorous Hungarian beauty starred in such films as 1952’s Moulin Rouge, 1953’s Lili, and 1954’s Ring Circus, but there was no role that attracted more acclaim, vitriol, and attention than the one Zsa Zsa Gabor played her entire life: herself.
Long before Paris Hilton began sauntering down the red carpet to the befuddled stares of millions, Gabor occupied the slot of the Hollywood starlet who was, quite simply, “famous for being famous.” Some might argue that she even invented the archetype. Like Hilton after her, she was even part of a celebrity sister-act, of sorts. Her sister Eva, who died in 1995, is best remembered for hit TV show Green Acres. A third Gabor sister, actress Magda, died in 1997. Because all three were deliberately vague about their ages, it’s difficult to say with any certainty who was the oldest, middle, and youngest of the three. But this much is known: The three Gabors racked up 18 divorces between them.
Unlike Hilton, though, Gabor managed to earn the title of “celebrity” sans sex tape or rich daddy. Instead, the beauty queen-turned-actress rose to fame purely through her bubbly personality and sheer force of will — not to mention a dahling Hungarian accent that would spawn countless impersonations.
Watch the actress slither in figure-flattering attire in 1958’s cheese-tastic Queen of Outer Space, or poke fun at her own legal troubles in 1991’s The Naked Gun 2 1/2, and it’s easy to understand how the good-humored Gabor famously attracted the love of nine husbands, many of whom boasted big names (see: actor George Sanders, Barbie creator Jack Ryan, and Paris’ own great-grandfather, Conrad Hilton). She finally settled down in her late 60s. August 14, 2016 marked her 30th anniversary with husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.
Unfortunately, plenty of critics never bought into her appeal. In fact, Gabor told Larry King in 1991 that she was so distraught over the criticism of her acting in 1952’s Lovely to Look At, actor friend Clark Gable consoled her by saying: “Just keep on being Zsa Zsa, because few people have your personality.”
Gabor provided perpetual fodder for the tabloid press. In 1989, she was sentenced to three days in jail for slapping a police officer in Beverly Hills following a traffic violation (the actress always maintained he assaulted her first). In another vehicle-related setback in 2002, Gabor underwent physical therapy after suffering broken bones from a car accident. Then in 2007, husband Prinz von Anhalt made very public claims that he had fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s infant daughter (he didn’t — DNA testing proved photographer Larry Birkhead was the father).
But while Gabor seemed to attract scandal with the same ease that she attracted marriage-minded suitors, there was no tribulation that the diamond-studded Zsa Zsa couldn’t overcome with a smile and quotable one-liner. Her famous take on break-ups: “I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.” On her divorce from Hilton: “[He] was very generous to me in the divorce settlement. He gave me 5,000 Gideon Bibles.” On her poor memory: “I call everyone ‘Darling’ because I can’t remember their names.” Will Gabor’s quips ever get old? Dahling, we hope not.
Gabor is survived by her husband.