Maybe it’s because we’re both adult children of alcoholics of the elite ninja level. Maybe it’s just a rite of passage for every gay man transitioning out of youth and into uh, shall we say, more mature years. Maybe it has something to do with he fact that her whole life seems to be covered in rhinestones and glitter. Whatever it is, the older I get the more I love Liza Minnelli. As I watched this week’s Sloshed Cinema film, Arthur from 1981, I found myself waiting for her to pop back up on-screen. Sure, some of that had to do with the film’s now downright offensive screen portrayal of an alcoholic and craving an escape from Dudley Moore’s buffoonish performance but mostly it had to do with her sheer Liza-ness. It’s the throwaway sassy girlfriend role so frequently found in 1980’s comedies to be sure. Minnelli, at this stage of her career already a Broadway legend and an Oscar winner probably just needed the paycheck .Yet it doesn’t matter because within seconds of appearing in the film, in that red cowboy hat and yellow raincoat, we’re smitten with her just like Arthur is. There’s just something about her that crackles on every level regardless of how underwritten the role is. Granted, razzamatazz was something she was probably born with. I mean she can’t help it. Even sitting at a piano singing on a talk show in the 1970’s, she’s dialed up to an 11. And gloriously so.
Being the daughter of Judy Garland sparkly showbiz just runs through her veins. Yet there’s always been more to her too. A sadness. A desperation. A loneliness and usually along with those things comes addiction and self-destruction. Liza’s battles with drug use are well chronicled (probably another reason why I’m drawn to her). According to lore, her dependency on Valium kicked into a high gear when her mom died in 1969. There’s even a legendary Warhol diary entry where he writes Liza arrived at Halston’s apartment in 1978 and declared, “Give me every drug you got.” My kind of girl.
By the mid-80’s when I was massively consuming pop culture and not drugs (not yet anyway) Liza was doing guest spots, tours and lesser film roles (Rent-a-Cop with Burt Reynolds anyone?). Like any good addict, she’d been in rehab a few times and had a few terrible, short-lived marriages. Thus she wasn’t really on my radar. In this time frame obsessing about Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Boy George were full-time jobs, leaving little room for a Broadway star from yesteryear. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles in the 1990’s was I quickly educated by older wiser gay men that Liza is a genius and must be revered as such. I watched Cabaret for the first time in adulthood and had my mind blown open.
I was also sat down in front of her classic Bob Fosse directed television special Liza with a Z.
I was even turned on to her Results record, a guilty pleasure of the highest order that she recorded with the Pet Shop Boys in 1989.
Later career Liza wasn’t always the prettiest. Like this call-your-sponsor worthy performance from the Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary performance from 2001.
But time and Liza Minnelli both march on. Last year, she was in rehab once again for painkillers (she was pill popping way before we called it opioid addiction, y’all) and like clockwork the minute she got out, she was spotted singing at clubs and on stages. Back and forth from legend to camp to trainwreck and back again, the woman is human teflon. And this might be her real appeal to me.
In my old home group, we had woman who, god love her, could not stay sober. She would get 4 months and relapse. She’d get 6 months and relapse. She’d pick up 30 days and go back out. After a long disappearance, I heard this gal is now sober and recently celebrated 2 years. I wanted to burst into applause when a friend told me this. What can I say? I love a good comeback story, including my own. Humans,especially addicts and alcoholics, can crawl back from some pretty gnarly times. Given her heritage and where she comes from, its remarkable Liza has been able to survive. Turning 70 last spring, she’s already outlasted mama Judy Garland by 23 years. She’s changed a tragic family legacy, even with stumbles off the wagon and bumps in the road. This is miraculous not just for Hollywood royalty but for anybody.The fact that we can change inevitable tragic endings and changed doomed old behaviors is truly magic.
So maybe I love Liza for just the razzle dazzle. Maybe a fucking great film like Cabaret is enough to cement a person’s superstar status. But maybe it’s more. Maybe all of our collective comebacks and failures are actually helping other people too. Maybe we keep just trying and that alone is enough.