(Reuters) - Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, who parlayed beauty, diamond-studded glamour and nine marriages into a long celebrity career, died on Sunday. She was 99.
Edward Lozzi, who was a longtime publicist for Gabor, said the Hungarian-born actress passed away at her Los Angeles home after years of decline and illness. She would have turned 100 in February.
Gabor, by most accounts, had a personality that generally outshone her acting skills. Her bubbly demeanour and looks helped land her a string of wealthy husbands. She had a penchant for calling everyone “dah-ling” in her thick Hungarian accent. Along with her two sisters, Eva and Magda, she became a fixture on Hollywood’s social circuit in her prime.
She was once branded “the most expensive courtesan since Madame de Pompadour,” but Gabor insisted that only her marriage to husband No. 2, hotel mogul Conrad Hilton, was financially motivated.
In fact, marriage could have been the Gabor family business and Zsa Zsa, the company’s CEO. Her nine marriages topped the five by Eva, who starred in the 1960s sitcom “Green Acres,” and the six of Magda, whose Hollywood career was mostly based on being the third Gabor sister.
While her acting skills were rarely lauded, Zsa Zsa Gabor carved out a career in her early days in Hollywood. Her finest film roles came with “Moulin Rouge,” where she earned good reviews, in 1952 and “Lili” in 1953.
She appeared in more than 30 movies and by the 1970s she began to reject smaller roles, saying: “I may be a character but I do not want to be a character actress.”
Gabor eventually ended up in low-budget films with such titles as “Queen of Outer Space” and “Picture Mommy Dead.”
Greater success came with nightclub and TV appearances where she disclosed she called everyone “dah-ling” because she could not remember names well, and she relied on self-parodying jokes based on her marriages, haughty demeanour and taste for opulence.
“I am a marvellous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house,” she was quoted as saying.
In the final episode of the 1960s television series “Batman,” Gabor played the guest villainess, Minerva, who used hair dryers to steal information from men’s brains.
Gabor, one of the last stars of Hollywood’s golden age, was not seen in public in her final years as she struggled with her health, including broken bones and cuts from a car accident. She also suffered a stroke and a broken hip, enduring complications from hip replacement surgery. She had much of her right leg amputated in 2011 because of an infection.
Gabor’s most recent stint at the hospital came just days after her 99th birthday last February for breathing difficulties.
Born Sari Gabor into a wealthy family, she was named Miss Hungary in the 1930s. When World War Two approached, Zsa Zsa and her sisters headed for the United States, leaving behind her first husband, Burhan Belge, a Turkish diplomat.
Soon after arriving in Hollywood, where Eva was working as an actress, Gabor married Hilton, with whom she had a daughter, Francesca, who died in January 2015.
In 1949, after divorcing Hilton, Gabor married British actor George Sanders, whom she later was to call her one true love. Sanders would end up married to Magda. Eva Gabor died in 1995 and Magda in 1997.
In addition to Belge, Hilton and Sanders, Zsa Zsa Gabor was married to New York businessman Herbert Hutner, oilman Joshua Cosden, Barbie doll designer Jack Ryan, her divorce lawyer Michael O‘Hara, Count Felipe de Alba of Mexico and Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.
The marriage to de Alba was annulled because her divorce from O‘Hara was not final at the time of the wedding. The 1986 marriage to von Anhalt, which lasted until her death, was by far her longest.
Throughout her Hollywood heyday, Gabor listed her birthday only as Feb. 6, steadfastly refusing to reveal the year. A former spokesman, John Blanchette, said she was born in 1917.
In 1989, Gabor’s temper landed her in jail for three days after she slapped a policeman who had stopped her Rolls-Royce because of an expired license tag. She emerged from jail complaining about the food.
“Zsa Zsa did not suffer fools well,” said Lozzi, who represented her during that period. “Her beautiful lips and mouth would also be her worst enemy when and if she turned on the verbal machine gun.”
She sued Francesca in 2005, saying her daughter had taken out a loan against Gabor’s Bel Air, California, home and used the transaction to steal $2 million.
Reporting by Bill Trott in Washington; Additional reporting by Frank McGurty in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney