Some people achieve greatness, while others are born into it. Liza Minnelli did both—but her fame came with an enormous cost. Born to the Hollywood legend Judy Garland, Minnelli’s path to fame was paved with insecurity, heartbreak, and tragedy. If there’s one thing that Liza Minnelli’s wild life proves, it’s that all that glitters is not gold.
Liza Minnelli Facts
1. She Had Very Famous Parents
Even the most famous children of Hollywood can’t compete with Liza’s pedigree. Her mother was the acting and singing legend Judy Garland, while her father was Vincente Minnelli, the director behind musical classics like Meet Me in St. Louis and An American in Paris. In other words, it looked like Liza had it made from the day she was born. But nothing could be further from the truth.
2. She Had To Grow Up Fast
Nowadays, Judy Garland’s dysfunction—including her addiction to pills and her erratic behaviors on set—is Hollywood legend. But for little Liza, it was a nightmare she woke up to every day. As a child, Liza even had to empty out her mother’s pills and replace the contents with sugar, just to curb the legend’s habit. It was a harsh way to grow up, and it would only get more tragic.
3. Her Mother Made Horrific Threats
According to Liza, one of her earliest memories was that when Garland was upset, she would constantly announce that she was going to overdose in the family bathroom, then lock herself in. One day, Garland had been in there so long that the girl cut through the screen window with a pair of scissors to check on her mother. That’s when she made an incredibly adult discovery.
4. She Saw Something No Girl Should See
Luckily, Garland was still alive, and Minnelli found that her mother had simply dumped the bottle of aspirin she was planning on using down the toilet. However, instead of viewing this as a cry for help, the immature girl only treated it as a game, believing this somehow meant, “All she wanted was attention!” No wonder she got so screwed up.
5. She Took After Her Mother
As we’ll see, Minnelli inherited some serious issues from Garland. Still, that wasn’t all they shared. The younger woman took on Garland’s physique of a large chest, short waist, and long legs—the same physique that MGM studios often berated Garland for. This had devastating effects on Minnelli. Due to her similar body and unique features, Minnelli grew up thinking she was ugly, too.
6. She Didn’t Have A Home
Liza’s entire childhood was filled to the brim with show business. She spent more time on the road or running around MGM studios with her mother than she did anywhere else—especially after her parents divorced in 1951. Indeed, her itinerant little life was actually the inspiration behind the children’s character Eloise, who famously lives in a hotel. If that sounds like a fairy tale for a child, it was more of a horror story.
7. Her Mother Used Her
During her romps around on tour with her mother, Garland expected Liza to be little more than an assistant to her. Later, Liza recalled how Judy would travel around with dozens of luggage bags, while Liza herself was always responsible for her mother’s “personal ice bucket” because Garland hated hotel amenities. Even so, Judy always knew how to keep reeling her daughter in.
8. She Was Her Mother’s Biggest Defender
While reminiscing about her bizarre childhood, Liza revealed a heartbreaking detail about her mother. According to her, for all her mother’s demons, she loved being with the star. As she put it, “Mama almost always made it fun.” Indeed, Liza insists that Garland was one of the funniest people to be around on these trips. Her evidence? One very strange game.
9. She Was A Practical Joker
In one such game, the pair of them would dress in masses of layers of clothing just to get a loaf of bread. Then, while descending the elevator to go out, Garland would put on her “famous” mask and whisper mock-imperiously, “always keep in mind, I am Judy Garland.” With such a glorious role model, it wasn’t long before Liza wanted to take up showbusiness too…but not everyone was happy about this.
10. Her Mom Gave Her A Cruel Putdown
By the time she was three years old, Liza had already appeared in her mother’s film In the Good Old Summertime, and she grew ravenous for more. Her mother’s reaction was disturbing. When Liza announced her intention to follow in her footsteps, Garland’s first response was, “Now don’t get upset because of the way they may compare you to me.” Um, thanks mom. But then this got weirder.
11. She Had A Shaky Debut
When Liza was 18, the coltish teenager was finally ready for the full force of the spotlight, and she convinced her mother to let her go on stage with her during Garland’s performance at the Palladium in London. She wasn’t an instant hit: When Garland purred, “And now, Miss Liza Minnelli,” the crown gave only polite applause. Little did they know, Minnelli was about to blow their minds.
12. She Brought The House Down
Liza may have gotten her foot in the door because of her family connections, but her incredible voice was all her own. She gave the performance of a lifetime at the Palladium that day, winning over the audience by the end of her song. Afterward, the crowd erupted in thunderous clapping for the new star. Only, instead of being happy for her daughter, Garland’s dark side came out.
13. She Threatened Her Mother
It seems that Judy Garland was just as surprised as anyone that Liza had that kind of starpower in her. One friend describes how taken aback the veteran performer was after watching her daughter—and how uncomfortable. Reportedly, Garland yanked Minnelli right off stage after the curtain call and pushed her into the wings, a “big, steely smile” on her face all the while. Still, that wasn’t the only drama going on behind the scenes that day.
14. Her Mom Chose Her Boyfriend
During Liza’s teenage Palladium performance, she met one of her mother’s friends and proteges, the dashing Australian musician Peter Allen. The pair got along well, but Garland had a much more scandalous plan in mind for her daughter. The matron adored Allen, and decided to matchmake him with Liza. Unfortunately for everyone involved…it worked.
15. She Married Young
Minnelli quickly fell head over heels for Allen, and in March 1967, she married him just before her 21st birthday. The pair dove into a luxe Bohemian life full of caviar, ramshackle dinner parties, and chain-smoking. For a while, it looked like Liza might settle down as a housewife to her devoted husband. That’s not how things turned out at all.
16. She Got Her Dream Role
In the late 1960s, Minnelli had already taken Broadway by storm and now wanted to make the big move into film. In fact, she already had a role in mind: She had her heart set on playing Pookie Adams, the quirky, fast-talking lead in the upcoming The Sterile Cuckoo. So when Minnelli actually won the role, she was ecstatic and sent her mother the script to look over. This was a huge mistake.
17. Her Idol Put Her Down
When Garland read the script, she went ballistic. Frenzied, she called Minnelli up and demanded, “But why do you want to play this? How could you possibly understand this screwed-up, neurotic girl?” Liza, who knew her mother’s insecurities like the back of her hand, had to assure her, “Calm down, it’s got nothing to do with you.”
In the end, Minnelli’s instincts were right, and her performance was nominated for an Academy Award. But her most tragic experience with her mother was just around the corner.
18. She Suffered An Enormous Tragedy
In 1969, the same year The Sterile Cuckoo came out, a devastating blow hit Minnelli. That June, just weeks after her 47th birthday, her mother Judy Garland accidentally overdosed on barbiturates and passed. Her death threw the entire world into a tailspin, but Minnelli’s life was now in utter shambles. After all, she had seen disturbing portents of her mother’s end…
19. She Noticed Red Flags About Her Mother
Minnelli remembers watching her mother in her dressing room during her later years and noticing dark signs. Sometimes, Garland would put on a brave face for fans who came to visit her, but if anyone intimated that something was wrong, she would immediately break down and reply, “‘Oh, yes, darling, don’t say a thing, I know.’” Minnelli must have felt intense anguish at her mother’s passing, and it began to show in extremely destructive ways.
20. She Didn’t Grieve Well
The very first thing Minnelli did after her mother’s death was…bury herself in work. Looking to distract herself, she signed on to star as Sally Bowles in the film version of Cabaret, working with director Bob Fosse on an infamously grueling set. During the shoot, Minnelli endured long days filming in Berlin, poring over photos and films of old silent actresses like Louise Brooks to nail the early 1930s aesthetic of the movie.
But for all her professional intensity, Minnelli was getting into some personal hot water.
21. She Had A Scandalously Public Affair
In the midst of her grief and work addictions, Minnelli’s marriage to Peter Allen took a nose-dive it would never recover from. While filming Cabaret, she even struck up an illicit affair with music producer Rex Kramer, flaunting him very publicly in front of her none-too-happy husband. Then again, she had good reason to seek revenge.
22. Her Husband Was Hiding A Secret
Although Peter Allen certainly cared for Minnelli, he was hiding an enormous secret for their entire marriage—he was gay. Even worse, although it seemed like everybody else in their circle knew about Allen’s real predilections, Minnelli herself was totally naïve and clueless about it. And when Minelli did finally find out, it was in the worst situation imaginable.
23. She Got A Nasty Surprise
Minnelli and Allen’s marriage went up in a blaze of glory, to say the least. According to Minnelli herself, she came home one day to find Allen making love to someone else—and that “someone else” was a man. As Minnelli said of the shock, “let me put it this way: I’ll never surprise anybody coming home as long as I live. I call first!” Only, if you think that’s awkward, just wait.
24. Her Family Was Incestuous
Although Minnelli and Allen were both cheating on each other during their marriage, Allen won the “bad spouse” sweepstakes. While he was still in the closet, Allen had another secret affair…with Minnelli’s own stepfather, Mark Herron. It was a huge blow to Minnelli’s ego, and they officially divorced in 1974 after a long separation…but luckily, she won the breakup in a big way.
25. She Had A Big Night At The Oscars
All Minnelli’s work on Cabaret paid off, and the film became a smash hit, earning her yet another Oscar nomination for her interpretation of Sally Bowles. Then it took an even more surprising turn. Although she was up against the likes of Diana Ross, Liv Ullmann, and Maggie Smith in the Best Supporting Actress category, Minnelli managed to win and snag the statue. But the next months of Minnelli’s life proved there really is too much of a good thing.
26. She Made High-Class Friends
During this time, Minnelli found herself caught in the whirlwind of Hollywood life, and not always for the better. Sure, she began to frequent the notoriously exclusive Studio 54 club in New York and made friends with its most famous patrons, including artist Andy Warhol and fashion designer Halston, who made several custom pieces for Minnelli throughout their friendship. Nonetheless, behind the scenes, the eternal party was turning sour.
27. She Took After Her Mother In The Worst Way
For all her successes, Minelli’s private life was spinning wildly out of control. She had never really processed her divorce from Allen, let alone her mother’s untimely end. Overwhelmed, Minnelli developed alarming and all-too-familiar habits. Where she used to barely take aspirin when she had a headache, she was now frequently indulging in pills, alcohol, and more during her nights out. One day, it came to a bizarre climax.
28. She Had An Embarrassing Outburst
Minnelli was always a theatre kid at heart, with a frenetic energy, a big voice, and an even bigger laugh. This went double when she was on substances—and triple when she was trying to score them. Andy Warhol once recalled an evening when Minnelli burst into Halston’s house and passionately begged the designer to: “Give me every drug you’ve got.” Minnelli was tragically taking after her mother, and it wasn’t going to end well.
29. She Had A Disastrous Second Marriage
Surprise surprise, Minnelli’s love life in this hazy decade was nothing short of a train wreck, too. Although she jumped into marriage with director Jack Haley, Jr.—the son of one of her mother’s co-stars—shortly after divorcing Allen, the union was over within five years. Besides that, it wasn’t even her most disastrous romance. That dubious distinction belonged to her salacious fling with a Hollywood prince.
30. She Dated Hollywood Royalty
In 1973, Minnelli reconnected with a ghost from her past: Desi Arnaz, Jr., the son of comedic legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Minnelli and Arnaz had seen each other around Hollywood parties from a young age, but sparks only flew after Arnaz got out of a messy relationship with the actress Patty Duke. Except with Minnelli, the situation went from “mess” to “disaster.”
31. Lucille Ball Hated Her
The hard-partying Liza was seven years older than Arnaz, and his mother Lucille Ball was extremely disapproving of the relationship and of Minnelli herself, who she thought was a bad influence on her son. Although Arnaz accompanied Minnelli when she won her Academy Award for Cabaret, the couple barely lasted a year. Yet Minnelli simply couldn’t stand to be alone, and it drove her to stranger and stranger acts.
32. She Became Erratic
Minnelli had spent a childhood chock full of loneliness and insecurity, and she seemed to be searching everywhere for the kind of stability her home life had never given her. Besides dating a string of famous men in her rebound phases—including director Martin Scorsese and comedian Peter Sellers—she also became notorious for popping up in the oddest of places, looking for companionship, a party, or preferably both. Enter: The infamous Rothschild incident.
33. She Got An Invite She Couldn’t Refuse
In the mid-1970s, Minnelli took a new turn in her persona, moving from the Studio 54 crowd and into the mega-rich world of trust fund babies. While on a trip to Europe, Minnelli found herself invited to the Rothschild family villa on the French Riviera. After weighing her options, she didn’t think she could turn down the overture to hang out with the ridiculously affluent banking family. She quickly regretted her choice.
34. She Offended The Most Powerful Family In Europe
Liza Minnelli was certainly Hollywood royalty, but she was also an over-enthusiastic geek at her core, and had nothing of the old-money stuffiness of the Rothschilds. While at their villa, an attendant asked if she would like to have anything to drink. Referring to the famous Rothschild vineyards, Minnelli responded with a giggle, “Oh, just a bit of homebrew.” Almost no one else laughed. Then Minnelli’s embarrassing stories went from petty to enormous…
35. She Had A Swift Downfall
For a time, Minnelli had film offers coming in left, right, and center, not to mention television spots and musical albums. And then one day, it all came to a screeching halt. Starting in 1975, she starred in a series of very expensive box-office flops, so that by the time she played the female lead in the critically and financially disappointing New York, New York in 1977, she was officially “box office poison.”
For some, this would be an opportunity to reassess their relationship to fame. For Minnelli, it meant more bad decisions.
36. She Had An Achilles Heel
Minnelli had only two strategies to deal with her demons: work harder, and take more substances. This approach worked out as well as you would expect. She hit a feverish pace on her output as the 1980s approached, but when she walked off set, she drank more every night. Before long, she had a raging addiction to prescription medications, particularly the valium she had started taking after her mother passed. Then, at long last, Minnelli hit her rock bottom.
37. Her Father Saved Her Life
In 1984, Minnelli was busy working on Broadway in the musical The Rink, but her substance use had gotten so bad, she was now barely keeping it together for her producers. At a loss, she made one vulnerable move that saved her life. She opened up to her father, Vincente Minnelli, about her struggles, and he helped her quit the show and go into a rehabilitation program at the Betty Ford Center. But Minnelli’s struggles weren’t over.
38. She Went Through Multiple Miscarriages
During her recovery in rehab, Minnelli was married to her third husband, the stage manager Mark Gero. Although the union was her longest at 13 years, tragedy tore through it from the very start. Just a week after their wedding in 1979, Minnelli suffered a miscarriage, and three more followed throughout their relationship. Eventually, Minnelli had to make a gut-wrenching decision.
39. She Had A Twisted Trade-Off
During one of her only longer-term pregnancies, Minnelli ran into the most dangerous complications she had yet experienced. Again, the baby tragically didn’t survive, but in trying to save the infant, doctors gave Minnelli a severe hernia that impacted her health for months. Some time after this, Minnelli resolved to not have children, and has no heirs today.
40. She Was Going To Be “Evita”
Besides her rehab stint, the 1980s began a streak of more bad luck for the once sought-after actress, and everything she touched seemed to turn to dust. In the early 80s, director Ken Russell decided he wanted Minnelli and only Minnelli to star in his upcoming film version of Evita, which told the much-anticipated cinematic story of the Argentinian First Lady Eva Peron.
It looked like Minnelli could finally break her string of flops…but fate had other things in mind.
41. She Got Fired From A Famous Production
Ken Russell was fiercely loyal to Minnelli, so much so that he actually refused to do Evita unless she was the leading lady. This backfired on the actress unbelievably hard. Producer Robert Stigwood got so annoyed with the director’s ultimatums, he unceremoniously fired him, leaving Minnelli right out of a job she never had. Even worse, she had to watch as Madonna made the part iconic a decade later. In reality, though, that wasn’t even Minnelli’s weirdest Hollywood sliding doors story…
42. Barbra Streisand Is Her Cinematic Nemesis
Believe it or not, Minnelli wasn’t the first choice to play her iconic role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Producers originally asked legendary diva Barbra Streisand if she wanted the part, and Babs turned them down, explaining that she wanted to make a move away from musicals. At a loss, the production had to go to their “sloppy” seconds in Minelli.
43. She Fell Dangerously Ill
By 2000, Minnelli had finally crawled her way out of addiction and—besides a puff or two on a cigarette—she abstained from much of the partying she used to partake in. Yet again, her life took a sharp downturn anyway. In 2000, medics rushed the middle-aged Minnelli to the hospital after she contracted a serious case of viral encephalitis. When doctors took a look at her, their prognosis was more terrifying than Minnelli was prepared for.
44. Doctors Thought She Would Never Walk Again
According to the hospital, Minnelli would never walk or speak again after the illness ravaged her body. For a woman who had made show business her entire life, it didn’t get more devastating than this. But, a survivor as always, Minnelli didn’t back down, and entered intense physical and vocal therapy as soon as she possibly could. The results were simply magical.
45. She Made A Heartbreaking Comeback
For practically her whole life, Minnelli refused to sing her mother’s songs, and especially not her greatest hits. Whenever anyone asked why she avoided them, she would curtly reply, “They’ve been sung.” But after her illness, that all changed. In 2002, she had a comeback performance and sang “Over the Rainbow” for the first time in public. Of course, she received a roaring standing ovation.
Well, Minnelli was back on top…which, in her life, only meant she had farther to fall back down.
46. She Had A Bitter Final Split
In 2002, riding high from her comeback, Minnelli married the concert promoter David Gest, her fourth and final husband (so far). But instead of settling into a fairy tale, Minnelli still didn’t get her happily ever after. Only a year later, the pair separated just before Gest launched a $10 million lawsuit against her. Though Minnelli insisted Gest only wanted the money, his accusations in the suit are chilling.
47. Her Ex Made Horrific Accusations
According to Minnelli’s ex, the showbiz queen spent their relationship verbally and physically mistreating him. He also claimed that these violent episodes usually occurred after Minnelli was in her cups. Whatever the truth, the courts kicked the case out in 2006 for lack of evidence, and Gest and Minnelli won an official divorce in 2007. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire…
48. Her Employee Confessed Her Alleged Sins
Not long after Minnelli’s fourth divorce with Gest, more disturbing accusations came to the fore. Her former chauffer accused her of battery, personal injury, and other breaches of contract. The driver also alleged that Minnelli coerced him into intimate relations under threat of termination. Unfortunately for any truth-seekers, Minnelli settled the suit out of court, so we likely won’t get any more details.
49. She Had A Career Renaissance
Never say that Liza doesn’t have a sense of humor about her place in popular culture. Starting just after her controversial split with Gest, she made regular appearances on the sitcom Arrested Development, starring as the man-eating MILF Lucille Austero, AKA Lucille 2. In fact, the writers made the role with Minnelli in mind, though they never dreamed they’d actually snag her until she said yes.
50. She Worked Under A Little-Known Pseudonym
Obviously, Minnelli always struggled with her mother’s legacy and the long shadow she cast, but few know the lengths she used to go to in order to divorce herself from Garland’s identity. For her 1963 TV debut on The Jack Parr Show, Parr introduced Minnelli as “Yduj Dnalrag.” After her performance, he revealed that she was Judy Garland’s daughter, and her on-screen name was merely “Judy Garland” spelled backwards.
51. The New York Yankees Brutally Insulted Her
At one point, Yankee Stadium used to play Liza Minnelli’s cover of “New York, New York” every time the home team lost. Meanwhile, they reserved the original Frank Sinatra version only for when the Yankees won. Not one to stand for this insult, Minnelli gave them an ultimatum: play her version when the Yankees win, or don’t play it at all. They chose “don’t play it at all,” so the Sinatra version is now the only one you hear.
52. She “Kidnapped” A TV Actress
Minnelli has always been a bit infamous for her “quirks,” but one off-the-wall request takes the cake. In 1997, Minnelli got really into the first season of the action spy show La Femme Nikita, and got wind that its star, Peta Wilson, was sitting down for her first interview on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. In response, Minnelli called up a connection and got Wilson’s limo to stop by her house before the sit-down, all so she could meet Wilson and give her some advice on fame.
53. She Has An Infamous Claim To Fame
Minnelli is part of the elite “EGOT” circle—a collection of entertainers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony over the course of their careers. But in a perfectly “Liza” turn of events, she has a more mortifying claim to fame: She is also just one of the few actresses to have the “honor” of winning both a Best Actress Oscar and a Worst Actress Razzie Award.
54. Her Mother Missed Her Most Important Performance
Minnelli has often declined to discuss her true relationship with her mother Judy Garland, and we have only found out some of their highs and lows in dribs and drabs. Even so, perhaps no incident illustrates their dysfunction more than Garland’s actions on Minnelli’s first major opening night, when she was performing in the off-Broadway show Best Foot Forward.
The first uncomfortable detail? Garland didn’t even show up, something the newspapers caught wind of immediately and criticized. But the worst of it went on in Minnelli’s dressing room that night.
55. She Made A Frenzied Phone Call
Minnelli had been so certain her mother would show up that when she didn’t see her face in the audience, she took her first opportunity to track her down. At intermission, Minnelli called her mother’s hotel. She then listened as the legend picked up the phone from her room. When Minnelli asked Garland why she bailed when she clearly didn’t have anywhere else to be, things got complicated fast.
56. She Made Excuses For Her Mother
According to Minnelli, her mother explained that she had thought that opening night was the next night, as if that was an excuse for missing your daughter’s big day. Still, the saddest part happened next. In remembering this call, Minnelli insists that her mother did this all on purpose. According to her, Garland didn’t want to take away her daughter’s thunder on the first day. Although Garland did indeed show up the next night, we may never know her true motives.
57. She Has Eerily Repeated Judy Garland’s Life
There is one more eerie coincidence between Minnelli and her mother that some people miss. Minnelli’s father, Vincente, may have had relationships with other men. Moreover—just like Minnelli with her first husband Peter Allen—rumor has it that Judy also found Vincente in bed with another man, sparking the dissolution of their marriage and the loss of Liza’s innocence.