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Zsa Zsa Gabor, actress and celebutante, dies at 99

Zsa Zsa Gabor (left) poses with sisters Magda and Eva in 1955. | AP

Zsa Zsa Gabor, the 99-year-old former beauty queen and actress, died Sunday in Los Angeles, said her friend and former publicist Edward Lozzi.

The news was first reported by TMZ.

She was ahead of her time. In the Hollywood Golden Age, Gabor, or simply Zsa Zsa to most, was perhaps the first celebutante.

If there had been no Zsa Zsa, there probably would be no Kim Kardashian.

“She did not suffer fools well,” said a statement from Lozzi, who had represented her “on and off” since 1989. “Zsa Zsa Gabor was one tough cookie. Her beautiful lips and mouth would also be her worst enemy when and if she turned on the verbal machine gun. Most of her problems originated from that beautiful mouth.

“Zsa Zsa Gabor will always be an American icon and the klieg in the Gabor-Hilton dynasty.”

Gabor had been in ill health since being hospitalized after a fall in July 2010. She had hip replacement surgery afterward but returned to the hospital several times for treatment of swelling and clots. Most of her right leg had been amputated because of gangrene.

Although after her television career Gabor had become a punchline or a caricature, known for her run-in with a Beverly Hills cop or for her many marriages, it wasn’t always that way. Gabor was of a time when “socialite” was not yet a term of derision.

Despite a spotty film career, she became a staple on TV. She often appeared as herself and spoofed her active social life with a quip and a “darlink” that became her signature term of endearment.

She was born Sari Gabor in Budapest, Hungary in 1917, the middle of three sisters. Magda and Eva also were actresses and socialites; Eva starred on TV’s “Green Acres.” Eva Gabor died in 1995 and Magda in 1997.

Zsa Zsa competed in the 1936 Miss Hungary pageant but was disqualified for being underage. She made her film debut in the musical “Lovely to Look At” (1952) opposite Red Skelton, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. Fittingly for someone who became famous just for being herself, Gabor’s character’s name was Zsa Zsa.

That same year, she also had a part in “We’re Not Married!” with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and starred in “Moulin Rouge” with José Ferrer. Gabor later appeared opposite onetime husband George Sanders in “Death of a Scoundrel” (1956) and had a small role in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” (1958). Memorably, she played Talleah in the B-movie “Queen of Outer Space” (1958).

Beginning in the 1950s through the 1980s, Gabor was a frequent guest on television, in series as diverse as “Playhouse 90” and the “Colgate Comedy Hour” to “F Troop” and “Batman,” as well as countless appearances on variety and talk shows.

She was glamorous, quick-witted and not afraid to make fun of herself or her nine marriages (including to Conrad Hilton, Paris Hilton’s great-grandfather), seven divorces and one annulment. Sample joke: “A man in love is incomplete until he has married — then he’s finished.” Or, touting her housekeeping abilities, she noted that despite her divorces, she manages to keep the house.

Gabor made headlines and jump-started her career in 1989 after an altercation with a police officer. She slapped the cop after being stopped for a driving violation and was arrested on charges of assault.

Zsa Zsa Gabor and husband Prince Frederick von Anhalt enter Beverly Hills Municipal Court in 1989 for her hearing on a misdemeanor battery charge for slapping a traffic police officer. | WADE BYARS/AFP/Getty Images
Zsa Zsa Gabor and husband Prince Frederick von Anhalt enter Beverly Hills Municipal Court in 1989 for her hearing on a misdemeanor battery charge for slapping a traffic police officer. | WADE BYARS/AFP/Getty Images

She was fined and sentenced to three days in jail after failing to complete the terms of her probation. A civil suit was settled out of court in 1991. The incident resulted in an unauthorized documentary, “The People Vs. Zsa Zsa Gabor”(1991). That same year, she memorably spoofed the incident in “The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.”

In later years, Gabor appeared as herself in such movies as “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1993) and “A Very Brady Sequel” (1996).

But legal troubles kept her name in the headlines. In June 2005, she and her husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, sued Gabor’s only child, Francesca Hilton, accusing her of larceny and fraud.

Despite a tepid movie career, a tumultuous personal life and sometimes public legal wrangling, Gabor remained a celebrity for decades, a singular personality known by one name. That was Zsa Zsa, dahlink.

Jim Cheng, USA TODAY