Before the era of reality television popularized the concept of “being famous for being famous,” Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor elevated celebrity to its own sort of art form. She brought a European sense of sophistication to a handful of big-name films, including John Huston’s Moulin Rouge. (The famed director described Gabor as a “creditable” actress.) Mostly, however, she commanded gossip headlines with her flashy and impossibly ritzy personal life. The revolving door of husbands, the uniform of furs and jewels she was seldom seen without, the way she purred “dahhhhling” to everyone she addressed — even offscreen, she was a larger-than-life character. Due to congestive heart failure, Zsa Zsa Gabor died on Sunday morning in Los Angeles. She was 99 years old.

Even before she became a living embodiment of Hollywood style, Gabor lived an extraordinary life. Born a soldier’s daughter in Budapest and ushered into beauty queendom during her teen years, Gabor and her family emigrated from Hungary in 1941, just as the Nazis began to amass power in Europe. Shortly after coming to America, she added “novelist” to her long list of professional larks, co-penning a fictionalized account of her own life along with writer Victoria Wolf. In her career onscreen, she appeared in a little of everything, from classics such as Touch of Evil to the, shall we say, less respected Queen of Outer Space. As America rolled into the Sixties, she began to appear in film less frequently, offering up a parody of herself on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but she never lost that Tinseltown luster.

Here’s what kind of woman Zsa Zsa Gabor was: As the New York Times obituary states, Gabor was pulled over by a traffic cop in 1989 with an expired license and an open bottle of vodka in the passenger seat. She slapped the officer in the face, and then compared the Beverly Hills police department to the Gestapo when making a “weepy” appearance in court. For all of that, she got three days in prison and the anecdote of a lifetime.

If Gabor’s body of film work may not outlive her, her outsized personality and appetite for life surely will. That may be more impressive, too; she made everyday life into her grandest performance of all.

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