Liza Minnelli: Oh cabaret, oh cabaret, oh cabaret...

Her husband alleges that she caused him 'throbbing pain, severe headaches, vertigo, nausea, hypertension, scalp tenderness and insomnia' with a series of vodka-induced, lamp-throwing physical attacks. One can assume the marriage is well and truly over. But this is merely another curtain-call in the grim performance that is the life of the Hollywood diva
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The Independent Online

There is good news for Liza Minnelli fans. It has been eight years since the 57-year-old entertainer and daughter of Judy Garland has had any kind of screen- acting gig, but next month she is to appear in episodes of a new Fox TV sitcom in America. The show, about dysfunctional families, is called Arrested Development.

Even those who adore Minnelli - who still smile at the memory of her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the 1972 film Cabaret - will ask whether Arrested Development might not also be an apt headline for her life. Born into Hollywood aristocracy with talent to spare and deep-well eyes, she has made a spectacular botch of growing up. No battle is won. Addictions ravage her; marriages collapse around her and health and weight problems haunt her.

About two years ago, she was at her nadir. Prior to that she had suffered two hip replacements, undergone throat surgery that threatened her voice and had come close to death, in 2000, with encephalitis. Back and more hip surgery came in 2001. Then, all of a sudden, the sun seemed to rise again for her. She met a man who fell in love with her. He was David Gest, the producer and concert impresario.

Stardom was hers all over again as Gest cajoled her back to health and on to the stage. Then, in March last year, the happy pair tied the knot with a New York wedding as extravagant as it was gaudy. Michael Jackson carried the bride's train; Elizabeth Taylor was maid of honour. Instead of honeymooning in private, Minnelli flew with her groom to London to open a concert tour with a triumphant night at the Albert Hall.

But what dupes we all are. Cindy Adams, the New York gossip columnist who was another of her bridesmaids, last week let us mortals into a little secret. "Did I ever believe this marriage would go longer than, maybe, two or three scrapbooks? Nobody did. Nobody, nobody, nobody, nobody." Thanks for telling us now.

But perhaps even Adams, who has seen it all, may not have been prepared for the scale of the marital implosion that occurred on Tuesday. That was the day that Gest, 50, filed a lawsuit with the Manhattan courts contending that Minnelli, from whom he has been separated since July, had wrecked the marriage by repeatedly flying into vodka-induced violent rages and physically assaulting him.

The lawsuit is a shocking read. Gest accuses his one-time bride of throwing a lamp at him at the Connaught Hotel in London in June. He says she bit one of her security guards and would chase him, trying to land punches in his face. The vodka, he claims, gives her superhuman strength. For this, he is demanding $10m in damages, claiming that the beatings left him popping 11 pain-killing medications a day to counter "throbbing pain, severe headaches, vertigo, nausea, hypertension, scalp tenderness and insomnia".

Calamity and marital mishap may simply be written into Minnelli's gene code. From her mother she inherited not only musical talent but a talent also for marrying disastrously and for self-abuse. Vincente Minnelli, the director of Gigi and An American in Paris, was number two of Garland's five husbands. Domestic stability was absent from Minnelli's childhood. Some patterns, it seems, cannot be broken. Garland, who made several suicide attempts, paid the ultimate cost for her addictions, dying of a barbiturate overdose in London in 1969.

That stardom was also to be Minnelli's destiny quickly became obvious. In 1965, she became the youngest performer ever, at 19, to win a Tony Award for her role in Flora, the Red Menace, a musical that flopped but which introduced her to the musical scoring team of Fred Ebb and John Kander, the creators of Cabaret. For her sassy portrayal of Bowles in the film version, Minnelli won an Oscar. The same year she did her first TV special, Liza with a Z, which confirmed her status as a variety performer. Ebb and Kander later wrote that other signature Minnelli song, "New York, New York", for the 1977 film of the same name, directed by Martin Scorsese.

The 1970s, however, was also a decade of intense emotional turmoil as well as the start of her heavy drinking and drug-taking. Minnelli divorced Peter Allen, her first husband, in 1972, then married Jack Haley, a producer, in 1974 only to divorce him in 1979, the same year she married the sculptor Mark Gero. That marriage, which Minnelli prayed would produce children, also unravelled after she suffered a miscarriage. Meanwhile, she had romances with figures such as Peter Sellers, Desi Arnaz Jr and Martin Scorsese. Over the years, she has never managed to rediscover the triumph that was hers in Cabaret. In box-office terms, the 1981 hit Arthur surpassed it, but Minnelli, though in a leading role, found herself outshone by Dudley Moore.

In his lawsuit, Gest offers this description of Minnelli's state of being when he scooped her up in late 2001. "Her career had been eclipsed, she was an alcoholic, overweight, unable to be effectively merchandised, [and] could not get insurance to perform concert dates on stage, or in any other artistic media." He was to be her saviour, both emotionally and professionally. Never mind that even at the time of the nuptials, half the world was gossiping about the uncertain sexual identity of Gest. Elton John fuelled the frenzy even on their wedding day. Asked by a TV interviewer what he planned to give Minnelli as a present, he replied: "A heterosexual husband." Gest was forced to address the gay rumours by appearing on TV himself. He told Larry King of CNN: "We are going to beat the odds. We are going to die in each other's arms, I promise you."

There were other signs of trouble almost from the start. Minnelli had her bridesmaids dressed in funereal black for the wedding, almost as if she knew then that the union was doomed. Early in the marriage, the couple struck a deal with the music cable channel VH1 to star in a reality show about their lives in their Upper East Side apartment. But when Gest barred the roving cameras from their bedroom and bathroom, VH1 backed out and lawsuits flew in both directions. The channel accused Gest of being "unprofessional, erratic and deceitful".

By last Christmas, reports were surfacing that the marriage was already cracking, even though the pair were making plans to adopt a three-year-old girl, whom they named Serena. In March, plans for a lavish first anniversary party in a Times Square hotel were scrapped. They blamed it on the Iraq war, but the gossip writers wondered. It was after a particularly violent brawl at the Connaught in June that the partnership came asunder. Gest moved out of the New York apartment. Yet even in August, Minnelli was telling us things were not so bad. "You must understand that it all sounds dramatic, but when you care about each other like me and my husband care about each other, there are things that you do not tell and that is why people make up bad things," she insisted.

Maybe Gest has been making up bad things too. Who knows? According to Adams, he is driven by an insatiable need for the attention of the press. "To David, being without a front page is like Liza without fake eyelashes," she said. But what is clear is that Minnelli, who has responded by filing for divorce, is in a whole lot of new trouble. Do we despair of her or do we feel sorry for her? Hers is a smile like no one else's in showbiz. She has that special bubble. But blink and you see a different person: the spoiled diva who has become sad and silly and a little tragic.