The Budapest-born socialite and great-aunt of Paris Hilton died Sunday at age 99. Plagued by health problems in her later years, including a lung infection, the amputation of her right leg and eventually chronic dementia, Gabor succumbed to a heart attack after spending the last five years on life support.
During that time, Gabor was “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,” her rep Ed Lozzi said in a statement to PEOPLE.
While she was incapacitated, long-held tensions between her husband, Frederic von Anhalt, and her only child, Francesca Hilton, continued to rise. Hilton, whose father, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, was married to Gabor from 1942 to 1947, died suddenly of an apparent stroke/heart attack in 2015. She was 67. Before her death, Hilton and von Anhalt, her mother’s ninth husband, frequently battled over Gabor’s finances and care.
Von Anhalt, 73, sued his stepdaughter on behalf of himself and Gabor in 2005, claiming she had forged her mother’s signature to take out a $2 million loan by using Gabor’s $14 million home as collateral, according to the Los Angeles Times. Hilton argued that she had her mother’s permission to take out the loan, with the understanding that the money would be used to refinance the mansion and save it from foreclosure, according to Forbes. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed after Gabor failed to show up to court.
Von Anhalt, who is 27 years Gabor’s junior, created another scandal in 2007, when he publicly claimed to have fathered Dannielynn Birkhead, the baby daughter of Anna Nicole Smith. DNA tests later proved his claim to be false.
The family’s bad blood made it back into the courts in 2012, when Hilton filed a petition requesting an independent conservatorship be created to monitor the health and financial interests of her mother. A judge granted the request, but Hilton’s plan backfired when the court appointed von Anhalt as temporary conservator. While the judge ordered the money only be used towards Gabor’s medical needs, Hilton claimed her stepfather was using the money to throw lavish parties, according to the Los Angeles Times.
After her death last year, Hilton’s friend and publicist told Radar Online that she never reconciled with her estranged stepdad, Forbes reports. In fact, shortly before she died, Hilton left von Anhalt with a parting insult, reportedly saying, “My mother wanted to be a princess, so she married an evil queen.”
But the drama continued even after her death, which occurred so suddenly that no plans had been made for her final resting arrangements. With no immediate family outside of her mother, Hilton’s body remained in the morgue for days until von Anhalt himself took control. After initially calling for an investigation into her death, alluding that she had committed suicide, authorities ordered an autopsy and did not allow her stepfather to claim the body.
Von Anhalt told the New York Daily News that he did not tell Gabor of her daughter’s death, explaining, “Zsa Zsa is not aware of the news and I will not let anybody get close to my wife and tell her. She will not know about it … She is a target for strokes. She’ll be 98 in a couple weeks with blood pressure on the rise. I don’t want her to have bad news.”
He also addressed his relationship with Hilton, saying, “I didn’t get along with her, but my wife loved her.”
Although the Daily News reports Gabor’s home was sold to a private investor in 2013 for a reported $11 million, Von Anhalt is allowed to remain in the house until 2019, per the agreement made when the house was purchased. However, he announced in a press conference outside the Bel-Air house on Monday that he wasn’t sure if he would stay.
“I can stay here until September 2019, plus 120 days … but I decided last night it’s very tough for me to be alone in a big house like that,” he said.
Von Anhalt also said that his choice to let Gabor stay at the house instead of receive care at a faculty was in her best interest.
“I was criticized from her family … but I said to myself, ‘This is the right way to do it.’ And I do it. I don’t listen to anybody. And that’s how she made it that long,” von Anhalt stated. “If I would have put her in a home in 2002, she would be gone long ago.”