Zsa Zsa Gabor and her husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, apparently had an agreement: They must share the stage.
So when the 73-year-old von Anhalt walked to the podium inside Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills on Friday morning — to deliver what would be the only remembrance during a traditional Catholic funeral mass for Gabor, who died at the age of 99 on Dec. 18 — he made sure to have the legendary actress and socialite right by his side. But he didn’t so much share the stage as he took control of the service, delivering a 40-minute eulogy which detailed his wife’s obsession with the red carpet as well as the tragic health spiral she endured late in life.
While he spoke, von Anhalt stood next to a small table, draped in white cloth and topped with a Louis Vuitton dog carrier, a gold rectangular box (that contained Gabor’s ashes) and a bouquet of what looked like two dozen pink roses, her favorite. In front of the podium was a blown-out photograph of a young Gabor, wearing a dramatic cleavage-baring red gown with oversized puff-sleeves, a diamond necklace and diamond-drop earrings. It read, “Farewell my love,” while similar poster-sized images were displayed at the top of the church steps outside with the words “A Celebration of Life” and “Farewell Dah-link,” the latter a nod to her famous use of the word “darling” puncutated by her Hungarian accent.
Gabor’s ashes arrived at the Catholic church, located on Santa Monica Boulevard between Roxbury and Bedford streets, inside the Louis Vuitton duffel bag and nestled on top of her favorite pink pillow. It’s the same one she’s been using since 2009, von Anhalt said, because it’s filled with goose feathers and is from Munich, of all places. (The Louis Vuitton bag was used for her dog, Macho, the same one who got loose during a Delta Airlines flight in 1989, causing Gabor to be led off the plane by police.)
“She told me, when you go on stage, I’m going to be on the stage,” von Anhalt recalled during his eulogy, which at times was difficult to decipher due to his thick German accent. It would be the only voice he allowed during the service. (More on that later.) “We’re onstage. That’s why we’re here in Hollywood.”
He would mention Hollywood many times throughout the service, which was attended by close to 100 guests, some of whom showed up to pay tribute to Gabor, best known for living a glamorous and extravagant lifestyle and marrying nine times. (Von Anhalt was her longest marriage, as the two were wed more than 30 years.) But many of those in attendance were there to write about the service as members of the media made up close to half of the congregation. In the upper deck, close to two dozen photographers stood looking down, the click of their cameras heard throughout the mass, which was live-streamed on several websites including TMZ.
There were no celebrities, and the only notable names who attended include reality TV star Bobby Trendy, soap star Kate Linder and actor Jason Stuart. “Lots of people she outlived, so most of her friends aren’t here anymore anyhow. And other friends, they went on vacations. Colorado, Acapulco, to have a good time,” von Anhalt said. (In the end, the controversy of an allegedly “fraudulent” funeral had subsided.) Seated next to von Anhalt was his son, Marcus Prinz von Anhalt, while no mention was made of his other son, Oliver Prinz von Anhalt, who died just days ago in a motorcycle accident. Several elaborate flower arrangements in the church were dedicated to him, however.
The service opened with the hymn “Amazing Grace” and was followed by several scripture readings, including II Maccabees (12:43-46) and Acts of the Apostles (10:34-36, 42-42). A tuxedo-clad singer offered “Ave Maria” while Father Edward Benioff praised Gabor for her work with the homeless and the mark she left on the culture at large. “She epitomized and personified Hollywood glamour,” Benioff said.
Following communion and a short prayer, it was von Anhalt’s turn at the podium. He would later explain why he forbade any other speakers for the funeral mass, saying that is what his wife would have wanted. He claimed that she felt most people who ask to speak at events are fake. “She hated it — she hated it so much,” von Anhalt said. “‘Look at those phony people,’ she would say. ‘They are all phony. They talk, there are tears in their eyes. They are so fake. They are only coming for a piece of cake. They don’t suffer.’ My wife hated it.”
He made sure to make the most of his solo opportunity. Von Anhalt started his eulogy by detailing how they met, an encounter he paid for. Seeking to get established in Hollywood after achieving a heightened profile in his native Germany, von Anhalt paid someone $5,000 to secure a photograph of him with a star. That was in late 1982, and in January 1983, a magazine put that photo on the cover. “The German prince for Zsa Zsa Gabor,” he recalled, holding up the magazine for the church to see.
Here are highlights of what everyone heard next:
• Gabor and von Anhalt reunited some time later when he returned to Los Angeles from Germany, where he was living at the time. They attended a party together in the summer. Though they weren’t a couple, the two were approached by reporters who were curious about the status of their relationship. Gabor claimed that they were about to get engaged, von Anhalt remembered. That was news to him, so on the limousine ride home, he asked her about it. “What was that about the engagement?” he asked her. “She said, ‘Shut up!’ That’s how it started.”
• What clearly started as a publicity stunt ended in marriage. Following a “little scandal with a girl over [in Germany],” von Anhalt said he returned to Los Angeles for some relaxing beach time, where he once again reunited with Gabor. She told him that if he went back to Germany that would be the last time he ever saw her. He stayed, and Gabor surprised him again, but this time with news that they would marry in three days.
• He then described their life together over and over again by using the same adjective: fun. “We went around the world,” he explained. “We met the Popes, presidents, we went to the White House, Washington, D.C., the Queen of England. You name it — we’ve been there. We’ve been around the world together. We had fun. Lots of fun. And then in 2002, she had a car accident.”
• Thus started von Anhalt’s long and detailed account of Gabor’s many health troubles, which started with the 2002 accident. Her hairstylist was behind the wheel and he reportedly slammed into a light pole on Sunset Boulevard. Gabor was then confined to a wheelchair, despite many months of physical therapy, and was basically bedridden the rest of her life.
• Not long after the car accident, von Anhalt said Gabor suffered a stroke. “She was in bed and she couldn’t lift her leg. She tried very hard,” he said. “We found out she had a stroke and she couldn’t lift her leg or her arm. Her face was numb. She couldn’t walk.” The quick change in her health caused Gabor to ask her husband if he would stay by her side, or he would leave her behind. “I committed to taking care of her for the rest of my life,” he declared. “She was very scared.”
• Now confined to a wheelchair, the two wondered how Gabor would manage with this new life. “So I called up Liz [Taylor],” von Anhalt said, adding that Taylor was someone who “put on quite a few pounds” and was “fat,” so he wanted to know how she managed. He hoped it would offer some encouragement to Gabor. The couple then bought a Rolls Royce Phantom, which proved to be the perfect height to get her out of the wheelchair and into the car.
• The couple’s lives changed once again when Gabor got an infection on her leg. “It grew and grew and became bigger and bigger,” von Anhalt said. “But we went to the hospital and the doctor said that it was getting better. He showed us pictures, but when you put all the pictures together, I said to the doctor, ‘You tell me that it’s getting better?'” The doctor apparently changed course and offered a much more grim diagnosis: Gabor had six to eight weeks left to live, von Anhalt said.
• Instead, the plan was hatched to amputate her leg above the knee, which would save her life. They agreed, but von Anhalt said he didn’t want to tell Gabor that she was losing her leg. “I told her that we were going to get an x-ray,” he said. “She woke up and said, ‘What happened?’ I told her nothing. She was in the hospital for about 14 days. The wound was healing so fast, faster than we expected, it was just perfect. They wanted to keep us another two weeks and I said, ‘No, we’re going home.’ So I took her home.”
• Gabor’s recovery was moving along “perfectly,” von Anhalt said, but he still had the secret, one that he claimed to keep for three years. “She didn’t know the leg was gone. She found out three years later and it was my mistake because I tried to sit her up on the bed. All of a sudden she looked down and she said there’s a leg missing. I said, ‘No, the leg is there right in front of you. You don’t need a leg.’ And that’s it. It was all OK. We went out and had fun. Everything was OK.” (According to a 2012 report in the New York Post, Gabor may have found out 18 months later that her leg had been amputated.)
• Following years of medical heartbreak, von Anhalt said her death was “a beautiful way to pass.” With no pain, Gabor “slipped out. She left peacefully; she had no pain. It was just perfect.”
• Even though she’s gone, Gabor has left a legacy that many young celebrities have borrowed from to boost their fame, von Anhalt said. “What’s going on today with all these young girls, what they do if everything is quiet around you, you make some news up — just like Zsa Zsa Gabor did. She’s the one who invented it. I like that. She was the master,” he said, referencing how she went to jail in 1989 for slapping a Beverly Hills police officer following a traffic stop.
• Gabor may have been known for extravagance, multiple marriages and a few bit acting parts, but what she loved more than anything else was the red carpet. “Her life was only the red carpet and nothing else,” von Anhalt explained. “She loved it so much.” But what she didn’t adore was actually attending the events that provided the carpet. “She only wanted to enjoy the red carpet, she didn’t want to sit inside. Inside was boring — totally boring.” He claimed that they attended the Academy Awards on multiple occasions, but that Gabor always claimed that she was thirsty to get water, which would then make her have to use the toilet. That way she wouldn’t have to stay in her seat.”
• Being the husband of a woman who was more famous that him has been frustrating for von Anhalt. Every time he left the house, people bombarded him with questions about his wife, which doesn’t seem to be that strange of a query in regard to a spouse who had basically been bedridden since 2002. But it seems to have bothered him. “I go out and the first words I hear is, ‘How is Zsa Zsa doing?,’ he said. “Isn’t anybody going to ask how I’m doing?” That said, von Anhalt is pleased people will continue to speak her name. “She’s a Hollywood star. People will talk about her. It will never end. I will make sure that people are going to talk about her,” he claimed. “She will never be forgotten.”
• Despite the curious medical details and bizarre relationship revelations, von Anhalt did deliver a few moments of sweetness. He explained how he purchased a bouquet of flowers for her once a week during their entire courtship, a habit he will continue even after she’s gone. “As long as I live, I will get her flowers every week,” he said.
• To close his long stretch at the microphone, von Anhalt didn’t leave with loving words for his wife. Instead, he offered a piece of advice. “You have to take care of your partner. When you get married, it’s for better or for worse. I could’ve changed the rules, but I didn’t,” said von Anhalt, who had been married and divorced six times before his union with Gabor. “Right now, my life is ending. I have to fill it up again, hopefully. Please take my advice, right now, think about your partner, he needs you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But he needs you. He needs you badly. You take care of him. It matters and that’s a promise you have to keep. Alright? That’s it.”
Father Benioff then led the congregation in a closing song, before von Anhalt returned to the podium to explain the backdrop, a giant painting of a silver horse that Gabor, a devoted equine enthusiast, had painted herself. Yet another way for them to share the stage, in another final moment.
“Keep her in your heart, the way she was,” he said. “The way she was in Hollywood.”