This weekend, Zsa Zsa Gabor turns 99 years old. Of course, she might dispute that age, but according to most records, it was Feb. 6, 1917 – 99 years ago – that the actress, socialite and ace attention-getter was born Sari Gabor. She’d go on to perform onstage, onscreen and in just about every other part of her life, becoming famous (again) throughout the ’80s and ’90s just for being her outrageous self.
Some might compare Zsa Zsa and her sisters – Magda Gabor, two years older, and Eva Gabor, two years younger – to the Hilton sisters or the Kardashian sisters. And while you can make parallels, there hasn’t been anything quite like the cultural phenomenon that was the Gabor sisters. Merv Griffin summed up their rise to worldwide fame well in his 2002 autobiography: “All these years later, it’s hard to describe the phenomenon of the three glamorous Gabor girls and their ubiquitous mother. They burst onto the society pages and into the gossip columns so suddenly, and with such force, it was as if they’d been dropped out of the sky.”
In honor of Zsa Zsa’s long, famous life and this special birthday, here are nine moments that represent the nonagenarian bombshell at her most outrageous.
1. She had the best excuse for disobeying a cop ever
One of Zsa Zsa’s biggest claims to fame happened as a result of a 1989 altercation with a Beverly Hills police officer who pulled her over for driving with expired tags. She famously slapped him, and would later claim she did so in self-defense. The incident got Zsa Zsa just as many critics as admirers, but her explanation for why she disobeyed the officer in the first place is just bonkers – and very Zsa Zsa.
Speaking on Larry King Live after the incident, Zsa Zsa explained that she’d waited for 45 minutes after being pulled over. As she recalled it, when she asked the officer is she could leave, he told her to “eff off,” which she interpreted as “an English phrase that I didn’t understand. I thought it meant I can go.” She’d go on to claim that no one had ever spoken that phrase to her before.
2. She waged a celebrity feud for the ages
Allegedly after actress Elke Sommer made a crack about Gabor’s weight during a 1984 episode of Circus of the Stars, Gabor held a grudge and eventually told German publications that Sommer “had to sell her house in Hollywood and now lives in the worst section of Los Angeles.” She also said that Sommer “lives from hand-knit pullovers she sells for $150.” When Sommer demanded a retraction, Gabor’s husband, Frederick von Anhalt, piled on more, claiming that Sommer looked like a balding grandmother.
In 1993, the feud eventually led to a California courtroom, and on Dec. 9, 1993, a jury awarded Sommer $3.3 million in damages, which at the time was the largest personal libel judgment in history. The settlement didn’t stop Zsa Zsa, who after the decision said the following about Sommer: “I don’t care if she lives or dies. For the last three years, she has made my life hell. She filed her suit out of jealousy. I used to like her until she called me a big, fat pig, and then I decided I didn’t like her anymore.” So there you go.
3. She and her husband don’t agree on how many husbands she’s had
We’ve mentioned before that Zsa Zsa is famously coy about her age. She’s also famous for having married many times – nine, by most counts: Burhan Asaf Belge (1937 – 1941), Conrad Hilton (April 10, 1942 – 1947), George Sanders (April 2, 1949 – April 2, 1954), Herbert Hutner (November 5, 1962 – March 3, 1966), Joshua S. Cosden, Jr. (March 9, 1966 – October 18, 1967), Jack Ryan (January 21, 1975 – August 24, 1976), Michael O’Hara (August 27, 1976 – 1983), Felipe de Alba (April 13, 1983 – April 14, 1983) and finally Frederic von Anhalt (August 14, 1986 to present).
However, according to a 2007 Vanity Fair profile of Gabor, she and Anhalt apparently disagree on whether he is her eighth husband or tenth. But who’s counting?
4. She credits herself with the Hilton hotel chain acquiring the Waldorf Astoria
While her marriage to Anhalt is the longest-lived of all Zsa Zsa’s unions, Conrad Hilton is perhaps the most famous of all her husbands. The founder of the Hilton hotel chain and great-grandfather to Paris Hilton was married to Zsa Zsa for five years. In her 1970 advice book, How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man, Zsa Zsa says outright that Conrad Hilton’s decision to purchase the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City was her idea. “I’m a compulsive buyer,” she wrote. “Anything beautiful I see I want. That’s how we got the Waldorf Astoria. I told Conrad Hilton, ‘I want the Waldorf,’ and he bought it. The only problem was I divorced him before the escrow was finished.’ ”
5. She bought Elvis’s house
A 1989 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show gave audiences a tour of Zsa Zsa’s Bel-Air mansion, which was built by Howard Hughes and previously owned by Elvis Presley. (“It looked like an old whorehouse,” Zsa Zsa tells Winfrey.) As you may expect, “low-key” is not a word that comes into play with this particular piece of real estate. The mansion sold in 2013 for $11 million.
Another highlight of the clip? Zsa Zsa discouraging Winfrey from gaining or losing weight. “Stay like you are right now. Don’t put on a pound or don’t lose a pound,” she says. “A man likes something to hold on to. I’ve always had a big ass, and look how many husbands I’ve had.”
6. She did something rather shocking with JFK
In short, she never had sex with him. That was one of the surprises to come out of a 1990 interview with Leeza Gibbons on Entertainment Tonight. As Zsa Zsa recalls, she and JFK dated before his marriage. “I dated Mr. Kennedy, the president of the United States, and he never asked me to sleep with him. He slept with almost all of my girlfriends, but maybe he had some respect,” she said. “He took me out. He was a date. He was a date for about six months I was his favorite date. He never once asked me to sleep with him.”
7. She titled her workout video It’s Simple, Darling, and it may be a work of art
Flanked by two Adonises dressed like vintage bodybuilders, Zsa Zsa promises that these simple steps done three times a week will improve your vitality and “drive your man crazy.” But will it? The clip is posted in full online, so please give the routine a shot and report your results back to us as soon as possible. Sample Zsa Zsa instructions: “Pull in your tummy. Pull in your fanny. And be good.”
8. She knew how to eat
Say what you will about Zsa Zsa’s attitudes toward sex, men, women, money and all other manner of things, but you have to admit that for being a woman whose celebrity status stemmed largely on the way she looked, she openly loved food. In fact, she made an effort to distance herself from any lifestyle that would force her to give up the food she loved in order to conform to a certain body type. After all, as she writes in her advice book, “Any woman who diets all the time can’t help but be grouchy. Nobody can be amusing or entertaining on a diet.”
9. She totally owned this one outspoken Donahue cast member
Just watch. The lesson? Don’t try and call out Zsa Zsa. She can’t be stopped.
Honorable mention: No, she didn’t do that thing you’ve heard about with Johnny Carson
There’s a widespread story about a risqué exchange between Zsa Zsa and Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show involving a cat that was purportedly sitting in her lap. (You can guess where this is going.) It’s been told often, to the point that Jane Fonda herself asked Carson about it during a 1989 episode of the show. But it never happened, as near as anyone can tell. It’s still a good story, though.