The soap opera life and loves of Zsa Zsa Gabor

Hollywood actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor has died just weeks before what was expected to be her 100th birthday.

The Hungarian-born star was probably better known for her complicated private life than her work on-screen with even her most devoted admirer, the late director Michael Winner, saying she largely played a thinly-veiled version of herself.

A one-woman walking soap opera, most of the facts of her life are in dispute including exactly when she was born and even how many times she was married.

It is widely believed she was born in 1917 in Budapest, but she also claimed to have been born in 1930, although critics pointed out that would have made her seven when she married her first husband.

Her last husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, is thought to have been her ninth although she said he was the eighth as she did not count her marriage to Mexican actor Felipe de Alba because it was annulled. Meanwhile Frederic insisted he was the 10th.

What is beyond dispute is that Zsa Zsa lived most of her life in the spotlight and came to be the personification of a certain kind of Hollywood celebrity – eccentric, over the top and never shy of a camera lens.

The former beauty queen went to Hollywood in 1952 and built a career based on her glamorous looks.

Her first film was called Lovely To Look At. She followed that with a comedy, We’re Not Married!, whose title could not have been less appropriate for the woman who counted Hollywood actor George Sanders and businessman Conrad Hilton among her former husbands.

Other roles include appearances in B-movies including The Girl In The Kremlin and Queen Of Outer Space.

Her sisters, Magda and Eva, also found fame as actresses and socialites.

She was a regular on talk shows on both sides of the Atlantic where she could be relied upon to name-drop and reminisce about her colourful love life – all in her distinctive European accent.

In 1989 she made the headlines for different reasons when she ended up in court accused of slapping a Beverly Hills police officer who stopped her for driving her white Rolls-Royce without a valid licence.

Michael Winner said Gabor’s greatest role was playing herself.

Speaking before his death in 2013, he said: “She played Zsa Zsa Gabor the actress in real life.

“I thought she had great wit and charm. She was a perfectly reasonable actress, not a great actress but she was perfect in those early comedies.

“She played a glamorous Hungarian. She wouldn’t have been able to play Juliet or be in Hamlet but was perfect for those films.

“Her private life is the equal to those characters in soap operas today but they do not hold a candle to her. Compared to Zsa Zsa Gabor they are just empty shells.”

Michael, who directed her in the 1976 film Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, said she was well aware of her reputation and happy to play on it.

He said: “I did have her in a movie and she was still beautiful.

“I remember we were filming at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles and she turned to me and said, ‘See that man at the barrier? That’s my husband’.

“So I asked her if we should bring him on set and she told me, ‘Don’t worry darling, he’s on his way out’.”

One of her last interviews was given to the magazine Vanity Fair in 2007.

During her later years, Zsa Zsa hardly made any public appearances. The only glimpses given of the star include photographs released by her husband in 2011 for her 94th birthday and another set for their wedding anniversary the same year.

In 2002 she was involved in a serious car accident which reports said left her mostly confined to a wheelchair, and she then suffered a stroke in 2005. In 2011 she was admitted to hospital for a leg infection, which resulted in the amputation of her right leg.

Her relationship with her late daughter Francesca Hilton remained strained until Francesca’s death at 67 in 2015.

She is survived by Prince Frederic who she married in 1986, making it her longest marriage to date.

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