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Liza Minnelli Outlives

Mandy Berman

“Liza Minnelli has outlived Disney World’s Splash Mountain.” “Liza Minnelli has outlived Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn’s relationship.” “Liza Minnelli has outlived the Chinese spy balloon.”

We’re surprised that Liza Minnelli is alive, aren’t we? Is it because she’s outlived her mother, who died of a barbiturate overdose at age 47, by thirty years and counting? Is it because she has lived what feels like a hundred lives—four marriages, five stints in rehab, dozens and dozens of film and TV and theater credits, and one near-fatal case of viral encephalitis? Seventy-seven isn’t that old, but a Twitter account, @LiZaOutlives, is dedicated to cataloging all of the things that have died as Liza goes on living. The account was created by Minnelli’s one-time publicist and lifelong fan, Scott Gorenstein. He says it’s as a tribute to her longevity and staying power.

Liza doesn’t think of it as loving: “It is predicated on the idea that I should not be alive, which I find hurtful and offensive.”

Yet the account, like Liza, lives on. Maybe it’s a hit because we’ve all expected her to die by now. The joke is not light-hearted or well-intentioned. A real fan would have shut it down after learning that the very woman he idolizes is hurt by it. It seems, instead, that the gag is more valuable to Gorenstein than the feelings of the person he claims to adore.

It’s not funny to me, or shocking, that Liza is still alive. When I first watched her in Cabaret—dark hair cropped close to her head, giant eyes rimmed with black, mouth painted red, skin so white—I had to rewind (the DVD, probably) and watch her singing “Maybe This Time” over and over again. Ghoulish but striving, arms up in triumph on the last note, spotlight on the stage darkening all else. Nothing in sight but Liza. Back to the beginning. Again.

In that song, Liza—playing Sally Bowles—is finally letting herself feel hopeful about a relationship after so much failure. Sally is crude and has seen too much, yet she remains foolishly attached to life, ignoring its darkness, or seeing it as lightness instead. Everything is fabulous. Life is a cabaret. The brilliance of Liza’s performance comes from the chasm between the trauma Sally has endured and how she shows herself repressing and leaning into that trauma, subverting it into something like bragging rights. In the title song, she sings about her roommate Elsie, a prostitute, dying of an overdose. But she doesn’t harp on death. Instead she sings, “When I saw her laid out like a queen / she was the happiest corpse I’ve ever seen.”

It doesn’t matter if you die. What matters is that when you go, you go out fabulously. Hard living is the only way. “When I go, I’m going like Elsie.”


Watch sixteen-year-old Liza Minnelli singing with her mother on The Judy Garland Show in 1963. Twenty-four years apart, they perform optimistic standards about happy relationships like “Together (Wherever We Go)” and “The Best is Yet to Come” with such a practiced ease that it’s hard to tell whether they’re foremost extremely close musical collaborators or an extremely close mother-daughter pair. Possibly both. Possibly it’s the same thing.

In that family, it had to be. “I was born and they took a picture.” She was named after a Gershwin song. Her father was Vincente Minnelli, the director of Meet Me in St. Louis (he fell in love with Garland on set) and An American in Paris. They’re the only nuclear family in history in which mother, father, and child all won Oscars. Talent was in her DNA, and a glamorously tumultuous lifestyle was a given: going on tour with her mother, spending all day on film sets instead of in school, living in the Plaza. Money came in just as it left: swiftly, and in massive sums. Garland, Minnelli, and Minnelli’s half siblings would escape hotels in the middle of the night to evade the bill.

Garland, like so many female starlets in Hollywood’s golden era, was a product of misogynistic mismanagement and sexual abuse. She was put on starvation diets and given speed to work longer hours. Her money was embezzled by men she trusted. She was groped by the actors who played the munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, by Louis B. Mayer and by other studio executives. Liza was her first child.

Liza has been married four times and had three miscarriages—one of which resulted in a hiatal hernia, a condition in which one’s stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. She got viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, by a mosquito bite in 2000, which caused a stroke that she never entirely recovered from. She has battled drug and alcohol addiction for decades; her last stay in rehab was in 2015. Liza is not well, and she hasn’t been for some time.

Pride remains. Liza doesn’t talk much about her struggles with drugs and alcohol, nor about her mother’s. For this reason, their linked issues with addiction—to substances, but also perhaps to love or sex (Judy was married five times to Liza’s four)—have taken on a mythology in the public eye. It’s easy to speculate about these addictions, about these women’s needs: for security, or excitement, or being high, in no particular order or all at once. Their too much-ness gets an outsize weight to their male counterparts (Vincente Minnelli, too, was married four times), perhaps because it’s more unusual to see a woman living so hard. You could see Judy’s addictions as a product of the industry that fed from her, and Liza’s as a product of Judy’s. But make no mistake: the last thing either of them would want to be called is a victim.


Liza appeared at the Oscars in 2022, with Lady Gaga, to present the award for Best Picture. She was in a wheelchair, smiling and laughing and game but delivering her lines at the wrong times and repeating herself. It’s difficult to watch. Less than ten years earlier she was playing Lucille Two on “Arrested Development,” one of her funniest performances ever, getting vertigo at inopportune times and coming onto Buster ruthlessly. Now she’s diminished and confused, and it seems as if the days of playing anything at all are behind her. In contrast, the @LiZaOutlives account feels like a parody of that hard-won living, a pop culture news outlet masquerading as a celebration of life.

There’s a moment on the Oscars when, right before the cameras cut to the video montage, Lady Gaga whispers to Liza—still miked—“I got you.” Liza replies, “I know.” When we see them on the stage again, Gaga sings “wilkommen, bienvenue,” to Liza and, before she gets confused again, Liza sings the next line: “welcome.” Muscle memory. And then she announces the best picture winner, and the crowd erupts into cheers and Liza is surprised, and then delighted. Laughing. Thrilled for the winners, whoever they are.


Illustration by Eric Hanson

Mandy Berman is the author of The Learning Curve and Perennials. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband, the novelist Zachary C. Solomon, and their daughter.