Iconic Star Zsa Zsa Gabor Has Died at 99 After Suffering from Chronic Dementia for 5 Years
Paris Hilton's great-aunt — and the first celebrity famous for being famous has died
The celebrated Zsa Zsa Gabor — long credited with being the first media personality who was famous simply for being famous — died Sunday, her rep confirms to PEOPLE. She was 99.
“I am pleased that she is finally out of her misery,” her rep Ed Lozzi said in a statement. “For the past five years, Zsa Zsa has suffered chronic dementia, locked away in her mansion laying in a hospital bed being fed through tubes in her navel, not able to speak, see, write or hear. Nor knowing who she was or how famous she was.”
At a news conference outside her home following Gabor’s death, her husband Frederic von Anhalt recounted the star’s final moments.
“She was slowly slipping away, peacefully, without pain. And it was just the time for her to go. She wanted to go,” he said, according to the New York Daily News, after her blood pressure began to drop and paramedics were dispatched.
“It went fast,” he said of his wife’s decline, becoming emotional as he described their relationship as “a big love affair. She loved me dearly and I loved Hollywood.”
The once-sparkling Hungarian-American socialite had been beset by severe health problems for the past several years and was hospitalized some two dozen times, most recently for a lung infection two days after her 99th birthday.
Partially paralyzed from a 2002 car accident, Gabor suffered a stroke in 2005. After breaking her hip in July 2010, she found herself in and out of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and by November of that year she developed a leg infection believed to be a massive blood clot — one that became a gangrenous wound that, despite best efforts, forced doctors to amputate most of her right leg on Jan. 14, 2011.
Reports since that time sadly told of a steady decline.
Gabor, whose age (because of her vanity and discretion) has always been famously open to debate, would have reached the century mark next year in February.
In contrast to her one-time constant presence on TV talk shows, on which she invariably referred to the host and the other guests (whom she would barely allow to speak) as “dahlink,” Gabor had remained a virtual recluse in her Bel Air mansion since the 1995 death of her younger sister, Green Acres star Eva Gabor, and the 1997 deaths of older sister Magda and their mother, Jolie.
Jolie Gabor, an entrepreneur and jeweler who brought her family to America after World War II and lived to be 100, was long credited with having tutored her beautiful daughters on the importance of attracting wealthy men.
A Headline Grabber
The Budapest-born Sari Gabor, the great-aunt of Paris Hilton — through Zsa Zsa’s 1942-47 marriage to hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, one of her nine husbands — also made headlines in 1989 when she went to jail for three days for slapping a Beverly Hills cop who was trying to issue her a traffic ticket.
In addition to her discussing the incident in a memorable interview on the David Letterman show, Gabor spoofed the slap in the opening scene of the 1991 movie comedy The Naked Gun 2/12: The Smell of Fear and on an episode of TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The sudden renewal of notoriety also yielded the 1936 Miss Hungary a contract for her third book: 1991’s One Lifetime Is Not Enough.
Her previous published works were 1960’s Zsa Zsa Gabor, My Story and the 1970 self-help guide, How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man and How to Get Rid of a Man.
But in her heyday, it was Zsa Zsa’s many love affairs and marriages that made her a household name — something her movie work never did, though she did appear briefly in three bonafide 1950s Hollywood classics: John Huston’s Toulouse-Lautrec biopic Moulin Rouge, the gentle MGM musical Lili and Orson Welles’s noir crime drama Touch of Evil.
She also headlined in the unintentionally hilarious 1958 sci-fi camp classic Queen of Outer Space. Although hers was not the titular role, Gabor, as Talleah, delivered the movie’s much-quoted line: “I hate that queen.”
WATCH: Celebrities React on Social Media to Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Death
Loves and Losses
Gabor’s one child, daughter Francesca Hilton, was born in 1947 after the divorce from Hilton became final. Mother and daughter maintained a contentious relationship that lasted right up until Francesca’s death, at age 67, in January 2015. In 2005, Zsa Zsa took Francesca to court amid claims that her daughter had stolen $2 million from her to buy a house. Francesca denied the accusations.
Besides Conrad Hilton, Gabor’s most recognizable husband was All About Eve Oscar-winning actor George Sanders, to whom she was married from 1949 to 1954. Her most famous lover was the international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, who at the time of his 1953 affair with Gabor was married to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton — though only briefly.
Gabor’s final marriage, to von Anhalt (they wed in 1986), bestowed upon Zsa Zsa the title Princess von Anhalt, Duchess of Saxony. As for Frederic, who is 27 years Gabor’s junior, in 2007 he claimed to have fathered Dannielynn Smith, the baby daughter of Anna Nicole Smith. DNA tests later proved his claim to be false.
Despite a lifetime devoted to the limelight, in her quiet moments Gabor was known to be quick-witted, shrewd and nobody’s fool. Among her many self-defining quotes, Zsa Zsa — whose Bel Air-home was previously owned by Elvis Presley and built by Howard Hughes — once adamantly insisted: “I am not a name-dropper. I can’t help it if everybody I know is famous.”