Remembering David Gest: Inside His Showbiz Life Before – and After – Marrying Liza Minnelli

The producer was 62 when he died

Photo: Dave M Benett/Getty

brightcove.createExperiences(); David Gest – who was 62 when he was found dead Tuesday in London – had a history in showbiz long before his marriage to Liza Minnelli crumbled into tabloid fodder and he found fame in reality TV.

A Los Angeles native, Gest was born on May 11, 1953. Growing up, he was a close friend of Michael Jackson and his brother Tito.

Working in the entertainment industry, the producer achieved his biggest career feat in 2001, producing the highest-rating musical television special in history: Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, about his longtime childhood friend.

While the Jackson special amped his acclaim, he also met his first and only wife, Liza Minnelli, working on it.

“I remember what a gentleman he was and how attractive I thought he was,” Minnelli told PEOPLE in 2001 of the first time she met Gest. “I have never had anyone take care of me before. I must say, it is an amazing feeling.”

After helping the actress-singer lose nearly 50 pounds, Gest and Minnelli said ”I do” in a star-studded 2002 ceremony, where Jackson stood as his best man and Elizabeth Taylor her matron of honor.

“I have a man who loves me. I thrive on it. I am alive,” Minnelli told PEOPLE ahead of their nuptials.

But alas, their love wasn’t meant to last.

The couple split after less than a year. As Minnelli’s pal, New York Post veteran gossip columnist Cindy Adams told PEOPLE at the time: “They were never going to celebrate a gold wedding anniversary … This was not what you call [a match] made in heaven. This was showbiz glitz.”

Their divorce proceedings quickly turned into tabloid fuel. Months after their split was announced, Gest sued Minnelli for $10 million, claiming he was a victim of domestic violence. Weeks later, Minnelli hit back, suing him for $2 million and alleging he failed her as an agent. (Gest’s suit was thrown out, but the exes didn’t settle their divorce until 2007.)

After their tumultuous split, Gest found fame on British reality TV, appearing on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! in 2006 then judging the Grease Is the Word talent competition in 2007.

Then just this year, he appeared on the U.K.’s Big Brother. He ultimately left the show early, citing medical concerns. But before he left, his fellow contestant, David Bowie’s ex-wife Angie, was informed of the glam rocker’s death – which some in the house took to mean their fellow competitor David had died.

The mix-up led to what would have been Gest’s final musical project: David Gest Is Not Dead, But Alive with Soul, a tour inspired by the Big Brother incident that would have kicked off July 1.

“It is with great sadness that I can confirm that David Gest has died today,” his friend Imad Handi reportedly said in the statement. “David was truly larger than life. He was not just a huge talent and a dear friend, but a showbiz icon.”

Minnelli has yet to comment on her ex-husband’s death.

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