Zsa Zsa Gabor, Famous for Being a Celebrity, Dies at 99

Courtesy of Photofest
Zsa Zsa Gabor

The socialite had a small part in 'Touch of Evil' but was renowned for her extravagant Hollywood lifestyle, many marriages and penchant for calling everyone "dahling."

Zsa Zsa Gabor, the actress who worked little but wed often and gained fame for her glamorous, outlandish persona and extravagant Hollywood lifestyle, has died. She was 99.

Gabor, who paved the way for the likes of modern-day socialites Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, died Sunday afternoon, publicist Ed Lozzi confirmed to CBS LA. She had battled serious health issues since she fell out of bed, broke her left hip and underwent hip-replacement surgery in July 2010. Months later, her right leg was amputated above the knee to prevent the spread of gangrene.

Wed nine times, the 1936 Miss Hungary contestant made a career joking about her many marriages and luxurious needs. With her diamonds, furs and sense of privilege, she cultivated a comic image of an Old World gold digger and exuded a blond swagger.

Gabor’s former spouses included such well-heeled gents as hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and Oscar-winning actor and bon vivant George Sanders, who later married her sister Magda.

She was the mother of actress Francesca Hilton, who died of a heart attack in 2015.

Although she had a small part in Touch of Evil, she was more recognized for her outlandish persona, extravagant lifestyle and penchant for calling everyone “dahling.”

“I don’t remember anybody’s name,” she once said. “How do you think the ‘dahling’ thing got started?"

Gabor embodied the Hollywood concept of “celebrity": a headline-grabbing, spotlight-attracting Bel Air resident regularly in the public eye not because of any unique accomplishment but simply for “being.”

“Every age has its Madame Pompadour, its Lady Hamilton, its Queen of Sheba, its Cleopatra, and I wouldn’t be surprised if history singles out Zsa Zsa as its 20th century prototype of this exclusive coterie,” Sanders wrote in his 1960 autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad.

Magda, who died in 1997, and Gabor’s other sister, Eva, who died in 1995, also were celebrated beauties, though Magda generally shunned the public eye. Eva co-starred with Eddie Albert in the 1965-71 CBS comedy Green Acres, playing scatterbrained city-slicker wife Lisa Douglas.

Zsa Zsa Gabor’s haughty grandeur wore thin on occasion: In 1989, she was convicted of slapping a Beverly Hills policeman and sentenced to 72 hours in jail and community service. In 2002, she was involved in a serious car accident on Sunset Boulevard as the passenger in a car driven by her hairdresser.

In addition to her celebrity status, Gabor was author of 1970’s How to Catch a Man, considered a how-to guide for gold diggers.

Gabor’s zingy humor came to light unexpectedly on an early live TV show where she dismissed a compliment on her gaudy diamonds with, “Oh, dahling, zese are just my vorking diamonds.”

Her straight-faced, diva-style quips made her a popular talk-show guest in the 1970s and ‘80s; in particular, Merv Griffin delighted in plumbing the depths of her shallowness. When queried by the mock-serious host about her housekeeping, she retorted: “I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.”

Gabor was game for spoofing her own image: She appeared in one of David Letterman’s Late Night gags, accompanying the baseball-capped host to suburban New Jersey, where they appeared on doorsteps with Gabor asking stunned housewives if she could come in and take a look at the shoes in their closets.

She even parlayed her jail term into maintaining a spot in the public eye. She appeared in the main title sequence of The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991) in a spoof of her jailbird notoriety. In a similar vein, Gabor did a self-mocking turn in the final episode of the 1960s ABC series Batman, playing Minerva, a wily spa owner who fleeces her customers.

She was born Sari Gabor to wealthy parents in Budapest. The birth date, as might be expected, varies, but it is considered to be Feb. 6, 1917. Her starry-eyed mother, Jolie (who lived to be 103), propelled her into the Miss Hungary contest in 1936.

Gabor, her sisters and their mother emigrated to the U.S. about the time of the outbreak of World War II.

Her more serious acting credits include Moulin Rouge, Lovely to Look At and We’re Not Married, all from 1952, and 1953’s Lili. In 1958, she ran the gamut of moviemaking, appearing in Touch of Evil and the camp oddity Queen of Outer Space.

Later, she appeared in such ditzy ditties as Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie (1984). She did cameos for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993) and A Very Brady Sequel (1996) and voiced a character in the animated Happily Ever After (1990).

Survivors include her final husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, whom she wed in 1986 (that was the last of his seven marriages). The union garnered her the title Princess von Anhalt, Duchess of Saxony.