Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli Headshot

Actress • Singer • Dancer

Birth Date: March 12, 1946

Age: 78 years old

Birth Place: Los Angeles, California

Parents: Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland

A multiple award-winning legend, Liza Minnelli moved beyond the long shadow cast by her mother, Judy Garland, with an accomplished and prolific career of her own. The daughter of Hollywood royalty, it came as little surprise when Liza followed in her mother's footsteps. Already a Tony-winning Broadway performer, Minnelli won an Oscar for her role as bohemian chanteuse Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" (1972) and followed with the Emmy-winning "Liza with a Z" (NBC, 1972) television special. Her marriage to singer-songwriter Peter Allen ended in 1974, and would be just the first of Minnelli's romantic relationships with men rumored to be homosexual.

It was Allen who penned the Oscar-winning theme song to Minnelli's next film, the comedy classic "Arthur" (1981), starring Dudley Moore. Although beloved by fans, the vulnerable performer suffered from addictions to alcohol and pills, much as her mother had, eventually seeking rehab for her issues. Ever the survivor, Minnelli continued to record and perform, reaching a new generation of fans with the concert special "Liza Minnelli Live from Radio City Music Hall" (PBS, 1992) and again with a hilarious recurring role as an over-sexed socialite on the acclaimed comedy series "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06).

Still going strong, she made a triumphant return to Broadway in the Tony Award-winning "Liza's at the Palace...!" in 2008 and continued to perform live for her devoted fans. After more than 50 years on stage and screen, Minnelli had truly earned her reputation as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

Liza Minnelli was born in Los Angeles on March 12, 1946, into a family whose entertainment roots stretched back hundreds of years. Her mother, Judy Garland, had launched a singing career as one of the three Gumm Sisters before going on to become one of MGM's most beloved musical stars and the legendary Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939).

Her father, Vincente Minnelli, was an Oscar-winning director of such films as "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944) and "An American in Paris" (1951). The couple, who married in 1945, would later divorce in 1951 - due in no small part to Garland's increasingly erratic behavior. Born into the spotlight, Minnelli's anything but normal upbringing was marked by newborn hospital visits from Frank Sinatra her and godfather, composer Ira Gershwin, as well as a film debut at two years old in "Easter Parade" (1948).

Her first and true love, however, was dancing. Minnelli began training as a toddler, but unlike scores of young ballet students, she was invited to perform in her mother's variety act, notably as a seven-year-old appearing alongside Garland as she belted out "Swanee" at New York City's Palace Theater. When Minnelli was 10, she hosted the premiere TV broadcast of "The Wizard of Oz."

Of course, the seemingly glamorous lifestyle was not all it appeared to be, and as Minnelli grew up, she became the de facto caretaker of her younger half-siblings, Lorna and Joey Luft - to say nothing of playing the same role to her erratically-behaving mother who had battled alcoholism and prescription pill addiction since her teen years.

The nomadic nature of show business took Minnelli all over the world, but as a teenager she bunkered down at the family's New York City home and enrolled at the High School of the Performing Arts. No mere high school could contain the powerhouse talent that was the young Ms. Minnelli, so the actress quit at 16 to study drama with renowned coaches Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen and continue with private dance and vocal instruction.

She honed her craft in both musicals ("Take Me Along") and dramas ("The Diary of Anne Frank") before making an acclaimed off-Broadway debut in the 1963 revue, "Best Foot Forward," for which she earned a Theater World Award. The following year, she gave her first concert performance, singing alongside Garland in a televised show from London's Palladium Theater.

The program was released as an album and its popularity led to Minnelli's first solo release, Liza! Liza! in 1964. That same year she toured in a production of "The Fantasticks" and headlined the Broadway musical "Flora, the Red Menace," which not only earned her a Best Musical Actress Tony Award, but also marked her first collaboration with songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, with whom she would work for decades to come.

In promoting the musical, Minnelli performed a scene on the influential pop culture showcase "The Ed Sullivan Show," and her sassy, modern characterization helped establish her appeal with a new generation of musical fans. Banking on that appeal, ABC tapped her to headline a TV special as the title character in the musical "The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood" (ABC, 1965).

In 1967, the sparkling young talent married Australian singer-songwriter (and rumored homosexual) Peter Allen, a protégé of her mother Garland - herself, a kind of icon to many gay men. Young Liza, who yearned to step out of her mother's formidable shadow, began establishing a film career, starting with Albert Finney's directorial debut "Charlie Bubbles" (1967), where she played a secretary who embarks on an affair with her employer (Finney).

She fared much better and earned her first Oscar nomination in "The Sterile Cuckoo" (1969), as Pookie, the heartbreaking eccentric who romances a repressed college student (Wendell Burton). Sadly, Minnelli's mother would not get to share her daughter's blossoming success with her, as the performing legend overdosed on barbiturates in a London hotel room that year.

A stunned and emotionally wrought Minnelli soldiered on in her mother's memory, giving a finely nuanced portrayal of an emotionally immature woman, literally and figuratively scarred by life in Otto Preminger's "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" (1970). But the most memorable screen role of her career came only year's after her mother's passing, with 1972's "Cabaret," in which Minnelli gave a legendary movie musical performance as Sally Bowles in the Bob Fosse version of Kander and Ebb's Broadway hit.

The role had been tailored to Minnelli's strengths and her dazzling turn earned her the Best Actress Oscar and Golden Globe awards. The film's soundtrack was also a success, hitting the U.S. and UK charts. In fact, "Cabaret" became the film by which all Minnelli fans measured all others, solidifying her as a unique talent unto herself.

Minnelli's Emmy award-winning 1972 special "Liza With a 'Z'" (NBC) cemented her status as the variety personality of the era. A stunning production achievement, the entire show was directed by Fosse and filmed with eight cameras, as it was performed non-stop, in its entirety, only once. The soundtrack surpassed even "Cabaret" in popularity, and a re-release of Minnelli's 1964 debut album was added to the two successful albums already released that year.

Minnelli, who now sported her trademark slick, bobbed shag hair and cartoonishly thick eyelashes, appeared simultaneously on the covers of both TIME and Newsweek magazines. She was lauded as a one-woman entertainment juggernaut, as well as one of the few Oscar winners whose parents had both won the award.

But as she reached new heights of success, it was becoming clear that Minnelli shared more with her famous mother than just a tremendous set of pipes. Her split from Peter Allen that year hinted that, like Garland, there was a troubled, vulnerable soul beneath that flamboyant exterior; one that hoped the next standing ovation would obliterate the personal pain.

If a high-octane performance could not fix it, perhaps another drink could. Minnelli openly discussed addiction and depression issues as they advanced and retreated throughout her life.

In 1974, Minnelli took her one-woman show "Liza" to Broadway and released an accompanying album, Liza Minnelli, Live at the Wintergarden. She replaced an ailing Gwen Verdon in Kander and Ebb's "Chicago" on Broadway, directed by Bob Fosse, before marrying filmmaker (and son of "Oz" Tin Man) Jack Haley, Jr. and entering one of the busiest eras of her film career.

She invoked memories of her mother in Stanley Donen's quasi-musical "Lucky Lady" (1975) and worked with her director father in the critical and commercial flop "A Matter of Time" (1976), playing a movie star recalling her days as a hotel maid. Her compelling performance as a big band singer in Martin Scorsese's dark musical drama "New York, New York" (1977), however, earned the actress another Golden Globe Award and gave birth to her signature song.

Her marriage to Haley over, she and Scorsese became romantically involved as a result of their professional collaboration, with Liza next appearing in the director's musical Broadway production "The Act." The production again teamed her with Kander and Ebb, leading to a second Best Musical Actress Tony for her turn as a nightclub singer coping with life and show business.

And speaking of nightclubs, Minnelli became an almost permanent fixture at Studio 54 in New York in the late seventies disco heyday, often working the couch next to such famous 54 luminaries as her close friends Halston, Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson and Liz Taylor.

Minnelli went on to be featured in numerous variety shows and tributes, including "Baryshnikov on Broadway" (NBC, 1980), "Goldie [Hawn] and Liza Together" (CBS, 1980), and a memorably sweet pairing with Kermit on "The Muppet Show" (syndicated, 1976-1981). During that time, she took a third trip down the aisle, marrying artist Mark Gero.

One of Minnelli's biggest box office successes - and a rare non-song and dance role - came with the 1981 romantic comedy "Arthur," in which she played a fast-talking, working-class New Yorker opposite fun-loving, eternally inebriated British millionaire Dudley Moore. The pair's chemistry charmed audiences and critics alike, with Minnelli receiving another Golden Globe nomination for her comedic performance.

The film's Academy Award-winning theme song by Christopher Cross, "Arthur's Theme (The Best that You can Do)," was coincidentally co-penned by Minnelli's ex-husband Peter Allen.

Returning to the song and dance arena, Minnelli took her one woman show "By Myself" to Los Angeles and London in 1984, before a return to Broadway alongside Chita Rivera in the Kander and Ebb show "The Rink," for which she earned another Tony nomination. In 1985, Minnelli earned a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a mother whose son is coping with muscular dystrophy in the TV movie "A Time to Live" (NBC, 1985), after which she was absent from screen acting until the unsuccessful sequel "Arthur 2: On The Rocks" (1988), which failed primarily because people had awoken to the fact that alcoholism was no longer a laughing matter.

In 1989 she replaced an ailing Dean Martin by joining Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. for the landmark television concert "Frank, Liza and Sammy: The Ultimate Event" (Showtime, 1989). The same year, she scored with younger audiences when the album Results, a collaboration with the pop group The Pet Shop Boys, spawned the U.K. Top Ten hit, "Losing My Mind."

As the 1990s commenced, Minnelli continued to tour steadily to sold-out audiences but appeared erratically on screens throughout the new decade. In the feature "Stepping Out" (1991), she portrayed a dedicated teacher of aspiring Broadway talents; released a soundtrack album, and followed up with another live offering, Live from Radio City Music Hall (1992).

Sadly, she also divorced a third time, and began surfacing in TV movies such as "Parallel Lives" (Showtime, 1994) and "The West Side Waltz" (CBS, 1995). She returned to the Great White Way in 1997, temporarily replacing Julie Andrews in the title role of the stage production of "Victor/Victoria."

In 1999, she performed a limited run at Broadway's Palace Theater in "Minnelli on Minnelli," a concert paying tribute to her father.

By the dawn of the new millennium, Liza Minnelli was unquestionably an entertainment legend, but her often undignified personal trials were landing far more press than her tireless touring schedule. She was in and out of rehab for alcoholism, and hospitals for hip and back surgeries.

A case of viral encephalitis that was expected to leave her wheelchair bound for the remainder of her life was the greatest threat. But Minnelli segued from physical therapy to dance lessons, announcing her triumphant return to the stage in 2002 with the show "Liza's Back" on Broadway and an ensuing European tour.

The resilient icon had returned to the spotlight and, like she had during other successful periods in her life, celebrated with a new husband, concert producer David Gest, a man who took all the credit for getting the icon back up on her feet and in the spotlight again.

The odd pairing landed Minnelli more gossip ink than she had known in years, beginning with the unlikely pair's spectacularly over-the-top wedding ceremony, whose guests included Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. It was also at this same ceremony that Gest practically swallowed whole his wife's face when he was informed he could "kiss the bride."

Gay rumors followed Gest - which, if true, would not have been the first time Minnelli had fallen for a possible homosexual. Much like Garland, who had fallen in love with Liza's closeted father, Minnelli was drawn to the same kind of men. Her hopeful new beginning quickly proved otherwise, amid rumors that the plastic surgery-addicted Gest was, in addition to gay, a gold digger as well.

VH1 signed the wobbly and bickering duo for a reality TV show but reneged on the contract when Gest was deemed too difficult to work with. Within 16 months, the couple filed for divorce and the seemingly endless proceedings aired accusations of Minnelli trying to poison Gest and giving him herpes and accusations that Gest was controlling and abusive.

Minnelli rebounded from the heckling personal headlines with one of her best comedic performances to date, in a recurring role as Lucille Austero, a.k.a. "Lucille 2" and love interest of socially inept Buster Bluth (Tony Hale), on Fox's cult fave TV series, "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06; Netflix, 2013- ).

In 2006, her image received yet another boost with the DVD release of her infamous 1972 TV special "Liza with a 'Z.'" Three years later, Minnelli released the DVD "Liza's at the Palace!" (2009), her heralded return to the Broadway stage in a musical production that earned Minnelli a special Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.

Continuing to appear on screens large and small, she enjoyed a guest turn on "Drop Dead Diva" (Lifetime, 2009-14), made a cameo as herself in "Sex and the City 2" (2010), and was the subject of a team project on a 10th season episode of "The Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ).

Minnelli fans of a younger vintage were overjoyed when it was announced that "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06; Netflix, 2013- ) would return for a fourth season to be aired on Netflix's live-streaming application. With her recurring character of grand dame Lucille Austero promoted to regular player, Minnelli was slated to join original cast members Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambor for fans hoped would be a precursor to a feature adaptation of the acclaimed comedy.

By Susan Clarke

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