large_oE89VVdKLVuy8KyRUP9zoYgGUOFew people in history have been born into the kind of Hollywood royal family that Liza Minnelli was, and gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon in their own right. Born to screen megastar Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli—who met on the set of the 1944 smash Meet Me In St. Louis—Liza’s very first visitors at the hospital were Frank Sinatra and Noel Coward. She grew up first in Beverly Hills, in a house sandwiched between Humphrey Bogart and Lana Turner, and, after her parents’ divorce, in the halls of the world’s most lavish hotels. (Her time living in the Plaza in New York as a child is said to be part of the inspiration for her godmother Kay Thompson’s children’s book series about a little girl named Eloise.)

By 17, she was starring in off-Broadway shows, and by 19 she was the youngest Tony winner for her appearance in Flora the Red Menace. But at 23—the year she gained her first Oscar nod, for her role in Alan J. Pakula’s The Sterile Cuckoo—her mother passed away of an accidental overdose. After the years Liza spent guarding the troubled movie star from a hounding press— “Who else is going to protect her?” she once said—her mother had succumbed to her addiction. But that didn’t stop Minnelli from conquering every stage she could. As she’s said, “What good is sitting in your room alone?”

Soon she earned her dream role, as Sally Bowles in the 1972 classic Cabaret, which won her an Academy Award and catapulted her into the international spotlight. She took the dark-eyed, raven-haired look with her everywhere from the Bob-Fosse-produced special, Liza with a Z, to Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, even to Andy Warhol’s studio. And while her life wasn’t always easy—four marriages, a couple of stints in rehab, her share of poor reviews—she’s managed to keep her sense of humor about everything, from cracking jokes on stage with her old friend Sinatra to taking roles like the vertigo-stricken Lucille Two on Arrested Development. As she so often sings, “life is a cabaret,” and it’s one for which she has no regrets.

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