Things were looking up earlier this year. Liza Minnelli opened a new show, Minnelli on Minnelli, a tribute to her father, film director Vincente Minnelli, who married Judy Garland and gave birth to Liza 50 something years ago.
The critics gave her mixed reviews. Her step's not as lively, her voice is not as lovely, but her fans are just as loyal as ever. The show broke box office records at Broadway's Palace Theatre. And after Broadway, she took the show on the road.
It should have been the end of her latest run of bad luck.
"I mean, 1999 wasn't a good year for a lot of people, but I had my hip operated on twice and my knees and my throat. And all of the prognoses said you're not going to sing again," she recalls. "'Oh gee! Thanks!' You know."
How did they tell her that?
"Quite easily. They're doctors," says Minnelli. "They know how to do it. They say this all the time, you know. And I wouldn't even know how to be able to teach if I couldn't do this stuff. So it really left me in the lurch."
Minnelli thought at one point that she would never be able to sing or to move again. "I was looking at everything I had, wondering how much it was going to sell for," she recalls. "I'm absolutely serious."
But once more she got back on her feet, faced the music, faced the audience and brought down the house.
Her performance was a show business version of her childhood. And in many ways she had the childhood every little girl dreams of. Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland were superstars, and young Liza knew Hollywood close up. Her father gave her gowns from his films, and both her parents gave her what it takes to go into the family business.
She won an Oscar for her role as the decadent Sally Bowles in Cabaret, and became one of a handful of performers to have the three major awards: the Oscar, the Emmy and the Tony.
That was before the alcohol and the surgeries and all the other problems that almost ended her career.
And now her public life has stopped again. Last week, her road tour was canceled and Minnelli went back to the hospital . Her publicist said it was hip pain again; there's talk of more surgery. The comeback is on hold, but she's had plenty of time to ponder life off stage.
So did she ever answer the question "What will I do if I can't do this anymore?"
As it turns out, Minnelli has considered missionary work among the children of Peru, although her plans are far from firm. When Schlesinger told her he thinks people would have trouble imagining her as a missinary in Peru, Minnelli answered, "Well, I know that's not their problem. They don't have to. They wouldn't have to watch it. They watch what I do up on stage."
In recent shows, what Minnelli has done on stage has included poking fun at her own struggles with weight and alcohol. And if it seems personal, Minnelli points out that her life has been all over the newspapers.
"I have nothing personal in my life," she says flatly. "I don't know what the word 'personal' means."
It's hard to have a personal life if you've lived as Liza Minnelli has, under the lights and under the influence and also in the shadow of her very famous parents.
In the big finish to her show, Minnelli sings along with her mother in Judy Garland's signature song from Vincente Minnelli's film Meet Me in Saint Louis.
All her life, she's been compared to her parents, particularly her mother. To this day, she resents it, although after all these years, she's used to it.
Minnelli has a name for it: The Of-Course Syndrome.
A few examples:
"You know, Judy Garland's kid opened a show. She was good. Well, of course."
Or on a darker note: "You know, Judy Garland's kid just jumped off a building. Well, of course."
And the lesson that this has taught Minnelli?
"To hell with other people's opinions. I'm on my own broom. I intend to stay there. I made it this far, and I always will."
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