Zsa Zsa's frail - but her feuding family are fighting fit

 

Los Angeles

The photo was the final insult. Taken in the bedroom of her French Revival mansion, it showed a frail, bewildered, and gravely ill Zsa Zsa Gabor. Having been confined to an automated bed for most of the past year, she was gamely struggling to get a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne to her once-pouting lips.

Unlike most unflattering snaps of a Hollywood legend, the image was neither taken by an enterprising paparazzo nor stolen from a computer hard drive. Instead, it was handed to the news agency Reuters last week by Gabor's husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, to mark the occasion of his 68th birthday.

He says he circulated the picture to reassure fans that his wife, 94, still has some quality of life, despite multiple health problems that have seen her in and out of hospital since she broke her hip in a fall last summer. Part of her leg was amputated to stop the spread of gangrene in January; more recently she spent days in an emergency room, reportedly coughing up blood.

But its publication has met with a furious reaction from Gabor's only daughter, Francesca Hilton, the product of the second of her nine marriages, to the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton. She sees it as the latest provocative act in a bitter family feud which is overshadowing the last chapter in her mother's colourful life.

"He releases photos of my mother in unflattering situations without hair and make-up, two things that were so important to her," Ms Hilton complained. "He is feeding her alcohol, which could be detrimental to her condition since she is on numerous medications. It's disgusting, and no one is doing anything about it."

The comments, in a statement released this week, mark a new escalation in a long-running and already nasty battle between Ms Hilton and Mr Von Anhalt, which touches almost every aspect of the ailing star's legacy, and shows signs of turning into one of Hollywood's most undignified inheritance disputes.

Already, the duo have fought over the future of Gabor's Bel Air home and have been arguing over her medical bills. They are openly disputing the issue of who has power of attorney over her financial affairs. And, all the while, the woman at the centre of their various claims and counter-claims is lying in bed, dosed-up on painkillers and unable to eat.

Ms Hilton claims she has been prevented from seeing her mother for the past two months. Mr Von Anhalt this week told the Associated Press that because he believes Ms Hilton to be "crazy", she can only come on to his property if accompanied by a doctor.

The hostility ratcheted up again this week when Mr Von Anhalt's spokesman, John Blanchette, announced that Gabor's house had been placed on the market, for between $15m and $16m. In addition, he said that her antiques, shoes, handbags and vast collection of designer clothes would be sold at auction by the Beverly Hills firm Julien's.

In a statement, Mr Von Anhalt said he was vacating the property, which boasts spectacular views over Los Angeles and was once owned by Elvis Presley, because it had outlasted its usefulness. "We only use four rooms out of the 26," he said. "We want to relocate to a gated community."

Ms Hilton smells a rat about the sale, and is deeply suspicious of efforts to liquidate some of her mother's most important assets.

In response to Mr Von Anhalt's comments to the AP news agency, she accused the former socialite of trying to "separate" her from her mother. "I have no idea why he hates me," she said.

The ongoing dispute follows years of eccentric behaviour by Mr Von Anhalt, whose life resembles a soap opera. The son of a policeman, from Bad Kreuznach in Germany, he arrived in Los Angeles in the mid 1980s and adopted the persona of a European aristocrat, changing his first name by deed poll to Prince.

He married Gabor in 1986, after wooing her at a party, and has been her full-time carer for most of the past decade. Recent years have also seen him grab headlines by claiming (wrongly) to be the father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's child, and by launching a brief campaign for the governorship of California.

When he met The Independent on Sunday to publicise the latter project, he began the interview with a typically eccentric flourish, by announcing he intended to legalise prostitution.

"I'm not going to lie," he said, "I have indeed slept with prostitutes. If someone asks about it in debates, I will confess. People will respect it. Like 80 per cent of married men, I enjoy the company of hookers. I'd be an idiot if I said I didn't."

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