The Saddest Things About Liza Minnelli

This article discusses suicide, drug misuse, mental health issues, addiction, domestic violence, and miscarriage.

For Liza Minnelli, stardom was something she was quite literally born into. The daughter of director Vincente Minnelli and Hollywood legend Judy Garland, Liza experienced the harsh glare of the spotlight when she was still in diapers. It didn't take long for her to follow her mother's path. The earliest of Liza's acting credits is her mom's 1949 film "In the Good Old Summertime," in the uncredited role of a baby. She made numerous TV appearances as a child, even dueting with her mom in her 1963 TV variety series, "The Judy Garland Show." She eventually made her Broadway debut in 1965 at 19 — becoming the youngest actor to ever win a Tony Award. Four years later, she received an Oscar nomination for her debut movie performance in "The Sterile Cuckoo."

Fast forward to 1972, a banner year if there ever was one. In that single year, she delivered an Oscar-winning performance in "Cabaret," and also debuted her iconic Bob Fosse-directed TV special, "Liza with a Z," which won four Emmys and cemented Liza as a major star. More film roles followed, particularly Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York" (starring opposite Robert De Niro), and "Arthur," the smash-hit comedy in which she co-starred with Dudley Moore. 

Despite the fame and fortune, tragedy has been a constant companion throughout Minnelli's life, from her seemingly idyllic Hollywood childhood to the marital difficulties and health woes that came to characterize her later years. These are the saddest things about Liza Minnelli.

Liza Minnelli weathered her mother's drug addiction

To describe Liza Minnelli's childhood as unorthodox is an understatement. After all, her mother was Judy Garland, who'd been a movie star since she was a child, famously starring in the screen classic "The Wizard of Oz" in 1939. Seven years later, Minnelli arrived. "I was born and they took a picture," she told Variety. What Minnelli eventually learned was that her mother, as a child star under contract, had every aspect of her life controlled by the studio, from what she was allowed to eat to the "pep pills" she was given so she could maintain her energy for countless hours of filming. As noted by a 2019 Vogue Arabia profile on Minnelli, Garland eventually became addicted to those same pills. 

Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1973, Minnelli's then-husband Peter Allen recounted what Minnelli had shared with him about the very adult responsibilities she had as a child due to her mother's addictions. In fact, she was responsible for convincing her mom that she was taking more pills than she actually was. "When she was a kid, a doctor told her that Judy could not take more than a couple of Nembutals a day, that more might kill her," he explained. "... So it was up to Liza to empty out most of the capsules and fill them with sugar." Minnelli confessed to Vogue Arabia, "It wasn't and isn't easy to live a so-called normal life."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Her parents' divorce left her mother broke

Liza Minnelli's parents divorced when she was just five years old. As she explained in an interview with Vogue Arabia, the breakup presented financial difficulties for her mother. As a result, there were periods when Garland was flat broke, and couldn't pay her bills. "There was never any middle ground when I was growing up," Minnelli explained. "We either lived like we had millions in the bank, or we had no money at all. That's just the way it was."

Regardless, Garland and her children would often stay in posh hotels, including New York City's famed Plaza Hotel. When money was lacking, the star would wake her children in the middle of the night, get them dressed, and then make a run for it in order to evade having to pay up.

However, at the time, Minnelli didn't feel traumatized by furtively sneaking out of five-star hotels in the wee hours of the morning, recalling that her mother would make a game out of it. "We would put on all the clothes we could, about five layers, and just walk out leaving the rest, laughing," Minnelli told Rolling Stone. "Mama'd say, 'Oh, hell, I needed a new wardrobe anyway.' Descending in the elevator, she would assume her very imperious air, she'd whisper, 'No problem, always keep in mind, 'I am Judy Garland.”"

Judy Garland's tragic overdose devastated her

While Liza Minnelli may not have entirely grasped the severity of her mother's drug addiction and her fragile mental state, neither was lost on Judy Garland's former manager Stevie Phillipps, who also went on to manage Minnelli. In his tell-all memoir, "Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me," (via Vanity Fair), Phillipps wrote of Garland's suicide attempts and his ultimate regrets about his indecision as to whether he should have tried harder to have her placed in a psychiatric hospital. "Could anyone have institutionalized Judy without her permission?" he wrote. "Maybe not ... Everyone was too busy exploiting her." 

In 1969, Garland died in London aged 47 with a coroner's report subsequently determining the cause of death to be an accidental barbiturate overdose. Her mother's death understandably hit Minnelli hard. Speaking with Variety in 2020, she admitted it took her a long time before she was able to listen to her mother's music. Asked if her mom ever shared the difficulties she was experiencing with her children, Minnelli insisted that she hadn't. "No. She wouldn't tell us that," she shared. "She was our mother."

Despite all the decades that have passed, she said that Garland's presence continued to loom large in her life. "When I call on her, she's there, and I call on her a lot," Minnelli said.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Did Liza Minnelli's first husband lie about his sexuality?

Liza Minnelli was just a teenager when she met Australian entertainer Peter Allen, who'd been taken under the wing of mom Judy Garland. In 1964, the young couple became engaged, and were married three years later, shortly before her 21st birthday. The marriage didn't last long. In 1970, they announced a trial separation before divorcing four years later. A long-simmering rumor has held that Allen had long been having an affair with Marc Herron, her mother's fourth husband. Minnelli seemingly confirmed that in a 1996 interview with "The Advocate" (via "David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music"), where she stated, "[I] married Peter and he didn't tell me he was gay. Everyone knew but me. And I found out ... well, let me put it this way: I'll never surprise anybody coming home as long as I live. I call first!" 

In 1982, Allen won an Oscar for co-writing "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," which appeared in the film "Arthur" — and in which Minnelli starred. He died in 1992, aged 48. Meanwhile, having won four Tonys for her work on Broadway, Minnelli must have caught the irony of seeing herself portrayed onstage when Allen's life story formed the basis of the 2003 musical "The Boy from Oz," which opened on Broadway in 2003

Her second marriage was more about companionship that passion

Liza Minnelli walked down the aisle a second time in 1974 when she tied the knot with Jack Haley Jr., son of actor Jack Haley — best known for playing the Tin Man alongside her mother, Judy Garland, in "The Wizard of Oz." Haley Jr. was a Hollywood heavyweight, a producer and director who produced several Academy Awards broadcasts, and was also the writer and director of the nostalgia-laden movie hit "That's Entertainment."

Unlike the rumors surrounding her first husband, Haley was reportedly straight. However, as The Guardian pointed out, the relationship between the two was built on friendship, not sexual passion. Artist Andy Warhol, who traveled in the same social circles, wrote of Minnelli's complicated love life in his diaries, published posthumously. "Like she was walking down the street with Jack Haley, her husband, and they'd run into Martin Scorsese, who she's now having an affair with, and Marty attacked her for also having an affair with [Mikhail] Baryshnikov ... this is going on with her husband standing there!" he wrote in "The Andy Warhol Diaries" (via The Guardian).

One key similarity between Minnelli's second marriage and her first was its brevity. In 1978, the spouses confirmed they'd separated, and ultimately divorced the following year. Despite the divorce, the two remained on good terms. "I fell in love with him the first time I met him, and I have loved him with all of my heart ever since," Minnelli said in a statement published by Variety after his death in 2001.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Her third marriage came to a heartbreaking end

While starring in the musical "The Act" on Broadway in 1977, Liza Minnelli met Mark Gero, the show's stage manager. As she recalled in a 1984 essay written for People, she was at a particularly vulnerable point in her life at the time. "I was tired and lonely, and the pressure was unbelievable," Minnelli wrote. "But Mark intervened, gave me a form of stability and love which, though I resisted it at first, proved to be the right thing." They wed in December of 1979. 

The star experienced a series of personal setbacks during her marriage to Gero, including several miscarriages, and a stint in the Betty Ford Center to undergo treatment for addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 1984, Minnelli returned to the Broadway stage to star in the musical "The Rink," at which point the marriage began unraveling. "I grew distant and uncommunicative, especially with Mark," she wrote in her People essay, noting that their marriage was characterized by a pattern in which, whenever a problem emerged between them, they would ruminate on it in silence until the conclusion of an inevitable fight. Apparently, Gero expected that pattern to repeat as usual. "Instead, I surprised even myself by deciding it was time for us to separate for a while," she wrote. "Mark agreed." In January 1992, the couple was granted a divorce, ending what was to be Minnelli's longest-lasting marriage.

Minnelli experienced multiple miscarriages

During her 12-year marriage to Mark Gero, Liza Minnelli wanted to start a family. Writing for People, she recalled her thrill at discovering she was pregnant but wound up miscarrying just a few weeks after their wedding. She subsequently became pregnant twice more, miscarrying both times.

In January 1981, the New York Times reported on one of those miscarriages. According to the outlet, losing the baby was all the more tragic for Minnelli as she was alleged to have been five months pregnant at the time. She'd also been taking extreme precautions by pausing her career during that period in order to relax in privacy in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Despite those measures, she began experiencing complications that reportedly led her to spend 10 days in the hospital before ultimately losing the baby.

Minnelli never did have children. "It's one of my life's true regrets," she admitted in an interview with SAGA (via Grunge). One of her pregnancies left her with a medical condition that lingered throughout her life — one that made it difficult for her to eat during the days when she was performing. "I have a hiatal hernia, which I got when I was pregnant and they put me upside down trying to hold the baby — and the baby passed away anyway — but I got a hernia, so if I eat and sing like that, and all that muscle, it hurts!" she told The Guardian in 2008.

Liza sought a lot of help for her substance misuse issues

Throughout her life, Liza Minnelli experienced similar struggles with the kind of substance misuse that ultimately led to her mother's death at age 47. According to the late artist Andy Warhol, Minnelli's appetite for drugs was voracious. In his posthumously published diaries, Warhol claimed that Minnelli once demanded of their mutual friend, the fashion designer Halston, "Give me every drug you've got!" Halston allegedly supplied her with marijuana, Valium, and Quaaludes — which she was said to have shared with director Martin Scorsese, with whom she was reportedly having an affair.

Minnelli has reportedly been to rehab five times, most recently in 2015. At the time, her rep, Scott Gorenstein told E! News that she was undergoing treatment at an undisclosed facility, stating, "Liza Minnelli has valiantly battled substance abuse over the years and whenever she has needed to seek treatment she has done so."

She told Variety that for her first stint, her father took her to the Betty Ford Center. Writing for People in 1981, she revealed that it was there she came to realize her issues stemmed from never having truly mourned her mother's death. "There's a danger in keeping somebody who's dead alive in your mind," she wrote. In 2008, Minnelli had come to an understanding of her struggles. "My whole life, this disease has been rampant," she told The Guardian. "I inherited it, and it's been horrendous, but I have always asked for help."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Her turbulent fourth marriage was alleged to be abusive

In March 2002, Liza Minnelli headed to the altar for a fourth time, marrying seven-years-her-junior producer David Gest. The extravagant nuptials boasted the star power of Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor as ring-bearers. The marriage, however, was plagued with rumors — that Gest was gay, that he was only after her money — all of which he denied. The marriage was also filmed for a TV reality show — which VH1 cancelled before its premiere. 

Few were surprised when the marriage imploded 16 months later, and the uncoupling was far from amicable. As NBC News reported, Gest sued Minnelli for $10 million, alleging several instances of physical abuse dating back to before they were married. "She just kept hitting me in the head with her fists, over, and over and over," he claimed. In his divorce filing, he alleged that Minnelli's abuse had left him in such continual agony that he had been prescribed 11 daily medications to manage the pain. Additionally, he claimed that he now suffered a variety of ailments including scalp tenderness, nausea, and hypertension.

Per the New York Post, Minnelli fired back with her own divorce filing claiming that Gest had been "cruel and inhuman" toward her. The outlet reported that when questioned by Splash News about her ex-husband's allegations of physical violence, she reportedly laughed and said, "Oh my God, it's not true." After Gest's death in 2016, Liza summed up her feeling about her late ex-husband when she told Page Six's Cindy Adams, "He's an a**hole."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Liza was hospitalized after contracting a fatal virus

Liza Minnelli had been struggling with health issues for a decade, when she contracted viral encephalitis in 2000, an infection that causes inflammation of the brain and can become fatal. Minnelli's case was severe. "She was quite sick and was in a very serious condition but is now recovering well," her neurologist, Dr. Maurice Hanson told ABC News

Minnelli had been singing in a rental home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida when she suddenly collapsed. Firefighters found her semiconscious and believed she'd suffered a stroke due to exhibiting symptoms such as slurred speech, paralysis on one side of her body, and drooping facial muscles. According to Dr. Hanson, Minnelli was released from the hospital but was then readmitted, this time for dehydration. She eventually made a full recovery. 

At the time, her publicist was quick to shoot down rumors that Minnelli's illness was worse than it was, insisting she wasn't remotely close to death. However, Minnelli subsequently revealed doctors' predictions were far more negative. "I couldn't walk and I couldn't talk, and they told me I wouldn't ... ever again," she told Dateline NBC. "After I was told that, everybody left the room and I turned my face to the wall and started to go, 'A – B – C.' You know, that's what it felt like because I had Carnegie Hall to rehearse. I want to live. I have always wanted to live."

Her dancing days later required multiple surgeries

Liza Minnelli has been singing and dancing for her entire life, and the latter has taken a toll on her body. Dancing, combined with scoliosis (a condition with which she was born), has required Minnelli to undergo surgery on multiple occasions. Per the Orlando Sentinel, in 1994, Minnelli's rep confirmed she was planning to have double hip replacement surgery the following year. While he didn't get into the specifics, he shared that the problems she was experiencing had been inflamed by her years of dancing. "You reach a point where it's time to deal with it," he commented. She'd told the New York Post's Cindy Adams (via Contact Music), that the hip surgery had ultimately left her two inches shorter.

In 2006, she told The Associated Press (via "Today"), "I've got two false hips, a wired-up knee, scoliosis, which I've always had, and three crushed disks. But I feel great. I dance every day — a two-and-a-half-hour class every morning."

In 2011, TMZ caught up with Minnelli, who was in a wheelchair. She explained the reason was that she'd broken her leg in three places and required surgery. However, three years later she offered a different version, telling the New York Post (via Playbill) that she'd required a wheelchair because of issues with her spine. Now, she explained, she'd reinjured herself and would require more spinal surgery. "They”ll have to fuse it," she explained. That surgery was successful, per Global News.

Her worsening health led her to become her a recluse

By the latter part of the 2010s, Liza Minnelli was no longer the ubiquitous showbiz presence she'd been for pretty much the entirety of her life. In June 2018, The Hollywood Reporter addressed Minnelli's apparent retreat from the public eye, noting tabloid conjecture about her declining health. She'd been scheduled to perform at two intimate events that month — one in Orange County, the other in Las Vegas — alongside her longtime friend Michael Feinstein. However, THR reported that both shows had been canceled due to her experiencing a severe viral infection. As Feinstein told THR, the star was no longer residing in New York but was living a quieter life in Los Angeles.

Minnelli recovered, and the following month she performed with Feinstein in a show headlined "Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein: In Conversation and Performance." She performed some of her best-loved songs at the show, and took questions from the audience — all while seated in a chair, indicating her dancing days were behind her.

In 2022, Minnelli's one-time publicist, Scott Gorenstein, confirmed that his former client was more or less retired. "Liza is living her best life, not having to be in front of the cameras," he told the New York Post, noting that Minnelli had been experiencing health issues in recent years. "She's been under tremendous pressure her entire life to perform for audiences," he added. "The past couple of years have allowed her to relax and enjoy another phase of her life."

Was Liza Minnelli's Oscars appearance 'sabotaged'?

In 2022, after several years out of the spotlight, Liza Minnelli made a surprise appearance on one of the world's largest stages: the Academy Awards. As viewers watched, the Hollywood legend appeared onstage seated in a wheelchair alongside Lady Gaga to announce the evening's final award. Minnelli, appearing frail, was greeted with a rapturous standing ovation. After basking in the applause, she suddenly began fumbling with her show notes, appearing confused, and slightly disoriented, with Gaga helping to keep things on track.

Minnelli's former publicist, Scott Gorenstein, revealed he'd masterminded the surprise. However, as he told the New York Post, the carefully planned appearance occurred after the entire show had gone off the rails when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock – which Gorenstein complained stole some of her shine. "But Liza earned every bit of that ovation," he added.

Minnelli's longtime friend, singer and musician Michael Feinstein, subsequently appeared on Sirius XM's "The Jess Cagle Show," claiming that Minnelli was forced to use a wheelchair, despite demanding to be seated in a director's chair. She was allegedly left shaken when the stage manager refused her request. "She was sabotaged. That's [a] terrible word to use, but she only agreed to appear on the Oscars if she would be in the director's chair, 'cause she's been having back trouble," Feinstein said. "She said, 'I don't want people to see me limping out there.' She said, 'You know, I wanna look good. I don't want people to worry about me.'"