Judy, the biopic on Judy Garland's life, is in theaters now

By Alexia Fernandez
September 27, 2019 07:20 PM

Renée Zellweger may be earning praise for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy, but the real-life story behind the Wizard of Oz star is much more tragic.

Garland dominated movie screens with roles in The Wizard of OzA Star Is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis and the Easter Parade, but the star struggled with substance abuse and body image issues since her breakout at the age of 16.

The new film on her life, Judy, follows Garland from 1968 to 1969 as she performs a series of sold-out concerts in London while struggling to cope with depression and her addictions.

Garland’s life in the lead-up to the film’s timeline was tumultuous.

The actress married young, meeting and marrying composer David Rose in 1941 in Las Vegas against the wishes of her mother and MGM Studios. The two didn’t last and divorced in 1944.

A year later, Garland married Vincente Minnelli, the director of her film Meet Me in St. Louis.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They welcomed their daughter, Liza, in 1946, but Garland’s insecurities and depression drove the couple apart after she began self-medicating.

Garland suffered from a nervous breakdown after being fired from MGM. She began an affair with Sid Luft and filed for divorce from Minnelli in 1951. Still struggling with her addictions and depression, Garland married Luft in 1952.

In his memoir, Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland, Luft wrote he felt “an electrical force” and a desire to protect the actress.

They would remain married for 13 years and have two children together — Lorna Luft and Joey Luft — but the two were constantly at odds about Garland’s dependence on alcohol, drugs and her issues with food.

RELATED VIDEO: See Renée Zellweger’s Amazing Transformation Into Judy Garland for New Movie

Told by studio executives that she needed to watch her figure, Garland stopped eating altogether while continuing her strenuous schedule.

“Most of her teen and adult life, she had been on either Benzedrine or a diet or both,” Luft wrote. “Unlike other actresses, she could not successfully camouflage extra weight, especially because she was dancing and singing in revealing costumes. Just 4 feet 11 1/2 inches, she could be underweight and still appear heavy or out of proportion onscreen.”

Hoping to help Garland revive her career, Luft wrote he tried to encourage her to watch what she ate.

Judy Garland and Mickey Deans
Getty Images

When he suggested she eat an apple instead of spaghetti, Garland allegedly said, “Feel better if I ate oats and hay?”

However, Luft couldn’t save her from herself. In the years that followed, her dependency on various pills quickly began to dominate their relationship. He said her drug addiction, suicide attempts and constant struggle to diet drove them further apart.

“If I were to show concern, she’d abruptly tell me to ‘f— off,'” he wrote.

RELATED: Judy Garland’s Five Husbands: How the Men in Her Life Tried to Save Her from Tragedy

By 1962, the pair were living “virtually separate lives” in the same home, with the children residing in one wing that Garland occasionally visited. “[The children] wouldn’t realize she was stoned,” Luft wrote.

They divorced in May 1965, with Garland telling a judge at a court hearing that Luft had been abusive, according to numerous reportsThe New York Times said Garland told Edward R. Brand of the Superior Court, “He struck me many times. He did a lot of drinking.”

Renée Zellweger in Judy 
David Hindley /LD Entertainment/ Roadside Attractions

Though Luft denied the claims, he again faced scrutiny decades later when he attempted to sell her Academy Award, only to be blocked by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Garland married actor and tour promoter Mark Herron in a Las Vegas ceremony in November 1965. (They actually wed in the summer of 1964, but since Garland was still legally married to Luft, they had to wait to make it official.)

He produced Garland’s two 1964 London Palladium concerts with Liza, as well as some 1956 Canadian appearances. They separated five months later.

RELATED: How Judy Garland’s Struggle with Food and Need to Stay ‘Camera Slim’ Fueled Her Drug Addiction

By the time she arrived in London, Garland was in the process of divorcing Herron when she decided to marry Mickey Deans. The two tied the knot in March 1969, three months before her death.

The couple had originally met in Garland’s hotel room in New York in 1966, according to his 1972 autobiography, Weep No More, My Lady. Deans wrote he was posing as a doctor at the time while delivering a package of stimulant tablets to Garland.

They eventually married in March 1969. Months later, in June, Deans found Garland dead in their bathroom at the age of 47.

Zellweger’s new movie also stars Finn Wittrock as Mickey Deans, Rufus Sewell as Sidney Luft, Bella Ramsey as Lorna Luft and Gemma-Leah Devereux as Liza Minnelli.

Judy is in theaters now.

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