Profile: Zsa Zsa Gabor

EVEN by the lax moral standards of Hollywood, Zsa Zsa Gabor was a man-eater of legendary proportions. The former beauty queen claims to have lost her virginity at 15 to the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, and was married nine times.

With a star-studded roll-call of lovers that included Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, JFK, and Richard Nixon, the Hungarian temptress was a siren of unparalleled appetite, almost as attracted to men as they were to her. Diamonds, divorce and pithy bons mots were her stock in trade; fidelity most definitely was not.

Gabor was perhaps the first celebrity, as we now understand the term. She was as notorious for her outrageous affairs, stellar shopping habit and publicity-seeking as she was feted for her acting; she was a woman on the make who was famous primarily for being famous. She may have appeared in almost 70 films but the only time she garnered even a modicum of praise was when she was dubbed a "creditable" actor by John Huston after her performance as the leading lady in the 1954 Toulouse-Lautrec biopic Moulin Rouge.

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But then again, after relentlessly humiliating her during filming, the famously demanding director was probably lying to salve his conscience. If he was telling the truth, he was the only one who believed she possessed a scintilla of acting talent. Moulin Rouge was the only leading role Gabor ever had, with most of her parts lesser cameos in low budget schlock like Queen of Outer Space and Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tilly.

Yet with her thick Hungarian drawl and her constant refrain of "dahling!" she was undoubtedly, undeniably glamorous. Her imposing mother, Jolie, had married a conservative soldier in Budapest and regretted for ever the loss of what she believed would be a glittering acting career. She wasn't going to let her daughters make the same mistake and, in the 1940s, Jolie and her three actress daughters Magda, Sari (or Zsa Zsa) and Eva descended upon Hollywood like the Kardashian sisters, only a hundred times more beguiling. The flamboyant Zsa Zsa had the star quality and immediately spawned a million column inches in Tinseltown's gossip sheets; she was like Cheryl Cole, Jordan and Victoria Beckham rolled into one.

Aristocratic, exotically middle European, self-knowing and self-mocking, she knew how to court controversy and attention. Even now her best quotes can raise a smile. "A man in love is incomplete until he has married, then he's completely finished"; "Conrad Hilton was very generous to me in the divorce settlement, he gave me 5,000 Gideon Bibles"; "Getting divorced just because you don't love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do"; "My husbands taught me housekeeping. When I divorce I keep the house", "How many husbands have I had? You mean apart from my own?"; "I never hated a man enough to give him diamonds back"; "I want a man who's kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?" and "To a smart girl men are no problem - they're the answer".

This week, however, almost eight years after the traffic accident which marked the beginning of the end, the 93-year-old lies close to death in a Los Angeles hospital room. There is, according to her husband Frederic Prince von Anhalt, less than a 50 per cent chance of her surviving the operation to remove a blood clot, with one of her legs likely to be amputated in any case. We know this because Prince von Anhalt gives daily, often hourly, updates on her progress. He has become her cipher, his wheelchair-bound wife's only communication with the outside world.

The contrast between the way she lived her life and the way it looks set to fizzle out contains more pathos than any of her wooden acting performances, and more tragedy than any of her affairs or broken marriages. For much of the past decade Gabor has become increasingly reclusive. For most of the five years since she suffered a stroke she has rarely left the Bel Air mansion which she bought from Elvis Presley and which was built by Howard Hughes. Friends have been rebuffed, well-wishers turned away. Despite her fabled collection of diamonds and her flashy ways, old friends speak of Gabor as a surprisingly down-to-earth woman, an intelligent and deeply loyal soul whose idea of a good night is chatting with friends while playing backgammon while her beloved posse of eight Shih Tzus gambol around her. But those friends have not seen Gabor for months, some of them for years.

Where her first eight marriages were often turbulent affairs in which she wanted to be dominated, but ended up wearing the boots herself, her ninth marriage is different. Frederic Prince von Anhalt is a former German masseur in his late sixties who got his title when he was adopted in adulthood by an octogenarian minor European aristocrat. He left for Hollywood shortly afterwards and made a beeline for Gabor, turning up wearing his reservists' military uniform and showering her with 300 of flowers each day. To her friends' horror, and despite finding out he'd been having an affair with a 17-year-old and later claimed to have fathered a baby by Anna Nicole Smith, she still married him.

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He may have been able to tame the temper that saw her in trouble for slapping a bellboy at The Ritz and then, in 1989, jailed for assaulting a police officer in Beverley Hills after he stopped her car and found she had no licence but did have an open bottle of whisky on the front seat. But friends cite a terminal rift with her only child, Francesca Hilton. They say it is no coincidence that her stroke came days after she tried to sue her daughter for allegedly taking out a fraudulent 3.75 million loan on the mansion, charges which were quickly dropped. The battle lines have already been drawn over her will, with Francesca and von Anhalt bickering over her 10 million estate.

If Gabor survives, her life would consist of a wheelchair-bound existence in which her only public pronouncements came via her husband. He says she doesn't wish to be seen because a woman vain enough to undergo endless plastic surgery doesn't want to be remembered as a desiccated husk; friends say he just wants control over her and her fortune. Either way, it is a sad end for a woman who once entranced stars and royalty, and whose name was for more than half a century a byword for glamour and savoir-faire.

Facts of Life

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• In 2007, Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband Frederic Prince van Anhalt was mugged by three women and handcuffed naked to his Rolls Royce. His only complaint was that one of the women was ugly.

• Gabor celebrated her 91st birthday with half-a-pound of caviar and a glass of pink champagne.

• Gabor is the step-great-grandmother of socialite Paris Hilton, right.

• She speaks seven languages fluently, including Hungarian, English, Spanish and German.

• Gabor's lawyers claim she lost $10 million when fraudster Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme collapsed.

• Her favourite epigram is "never complain, never explain".

• Her fabled diamond collection - she once told Johnny Carson "these are just my working diamonds" - is fake.

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• As well as her eight Shih Tzu dogs, Gabor is obsessively interested in horses. She kept a white Arab horse, Silver Fox, and rode him at the opening of the 1984 LA Olympics.