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Living legend Liza Minnelli at 70

Jürgen Brendel / dbMarch 11, 2016

Though she was no stranger to the stage, the role of Sally Bowles in the 1972 film "Cabaret" propelled Liza Minnelli to international fame. The multi-talented entertainer celebrates her 70th birthday on Saturday.

Liza Minnelli
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Kefalas

Seemingly overnight, the saucy character Sally Bowles from Bob Fosse's 1972 Oscar-winning film musical "Cabaret" swept audiences off their feet - and won Liza Minnelli an Academy Award for her portrayal of the American cabaret performer.

What looked like a dream career, however, was the result of plenty of hard work.

Rumor has it that she unsuccessfully auditioned more than 20 times for "Cabaret" on Broadway before she was cast in the lead role for the movie. That certainly doesn't sound like her family ties - which boosted the careers of many stars in show business - helped her at all.

Born March 12, 1946 in Los Angeles, Liza May Minnelli is the daughter of actress Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli. Her parents separated in 1951, and shared their daughter's upbringing in very different ways.

"My mother gave me my drive, but my father gave me my dreams," Minnelli has been quoted as saying. She grew up in the Hollywood dream factory, surrounded by the glitzy world of American showbiz, frequently moving homes and changing schools. She never graduated from high school, but tentatively began to build a career, performing alongside her mother and visiting her father's film sets.

Liza Minelli Cabaret 1972 ||rights=ED
Minnelli in her most famous role, as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret"Image: picture-alliance/kpa

Minnelli began to make a name for herself as a teenager in New York. The young girl with the huge dreamy eyes was impressive in the 1963 stage musical "Best Foot Forward." She released "Liza! Liza!", her first solo album, in 1964, and received a Tony Award for best musical actress in "Flora, The Red Menace" a year later.

Flush with success, she refused offers for lightweight film musicals, aiming instead for a serious acting career. In 1969, she took the role of eccentric student Pookie Adams in Alan J. Pakula's film " The Sterile Cuckoo," and was nominated for her first Oscar.

Musical extravaganza

Then along came the role of her life. Minnelli played Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" with her bobbed black hair, bowler hat and dark eye makeup, a singer of decadent erotic songs who dreams of a career as an actress. The role was the key to her international success.

Liza Minnelli receives her Oscar in 1973 Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa
The role of Sally Bowles won Minnelli an Oscar for best actress in 1973Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Minnelli strongly identified with her film character, and the film's hit songs "Maybe This Time" and "Life is a Cabaret" are part of her standard concert repertoire.

Her next three films flopped: only the song "Theme from New York" from the movie "New York, New York" gained some popularity.

It eventually become an international hit with Frank Sinatra's 1979 version - as well as New York's unofficial anthem. Occasionally, Minnelli and Sinatra would even perform the song together.

Minnelli loves the stage; she enjoys being in touch with her audience and the atmosphere of a live show. She uses her acting talent as a singer, too, literally "performing" the lyrics - like for instance in the 1972 show "Liza with a 'Z'." Concerts increasingly became an important constant in a life otherwise defined by ups and downs, by crises, numerous failed marriages and drug and alcohol issues.

Marked by life

Minnelli has been married four times, and has divorced four times. The list of her afflictions and operations is at least as long as her list of film roles, which include knee and hip replacement surgery and a bout of encephalitis that was so bad that doctors predicted life in a wheelchair.

The star has grappled with a drug and alcohol addiction, and excess weight. Her first stay at the Betty Ford Center drug rehab clinic in California in 1984 allowed her to continue her career - it was in fact the prelude to a successful comeback. She continues to battle addiction, however, and again checked into a rehab clinic for drug abuse just last year.

Liza Minnelli arrives at the Oscars in 2014 Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
Minnelli made a rare appearance at the 2014 Academy AwardsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Strauss

Today, Minnelli has mostly largely withdrawn from the public eye. She appears fragile, marked by her whirlwind life.

But she regrets nothing, she always says. After all, "Life is a cabaret." You never know what's coming, and whether it will be good. "I think I'd make my mistakes all over again."