Her mother may have been born in a trunk, but since Day 1, Liza Minnelli has lived life in the glare of a spotlight.
After countless interviews, the Oscar-winning musical star says she has still managed to keep her real-life self to herself. “I learned to grow up in the public eye, and I learned how to keep my privacy,” Minnelli says.
She won’t reveal how.
“I’m not going to tell you! That’s going to keep it private,” laughs Minnelli, who performs in concert Tuesday at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.
Everyone seems to know Minnelli’s turbulent life story: the only child of Garland and MGM director Vincente Minnelli; married four times (to Australian singer Peter Allen, film producer Jack Haley Jr., sculptor Mark Gero and promoter David Gest); a worldwide star who has won four Tonys, a Grammy, an Emmy and two Golden Globes. She has publicly battled alcoholism; had several worn-out body parts (both hips, one knee) replaced; and recovered 12 years ago in Fort Lauderdale from a near-fatal illness.
“I had brain encephalitis. That’s a bit of an issue, yes,” Minnelli says. “It’s funny because they told me I would never walk or talk again, which is a bit of hard news to take. … They told me that, and I said, ‘Nah, that can’t be right. There’s got to be a way, got to be a way. What do you know how to do?’ And I thought, I know how to rehearse. So I started with counting and saying the alphabet over and over and over again. And I did the same thing with walking. One step at a time.”
Two years later, Minnelli performed in a New York City concert appropriately titled, Liza’s Back.
Since then, Liza’s never left, making myriad television and movie appearances. In 2010, she released an album of standards called Confessions — made in her New York City apartment, she says.
“I recorded it in my bedroom because I had a broken knee. [Music director] Billy Stritch, who’s just wonderful, I called him and said, ‘I’m going nuts. Let’s do something.’ So he brought a small piano in, and we just started to play, and to laugh, and to remember songs together. [Decca Records] heard it and thought, ‘This is good.’ So it ended up being released.”
Much of Minnelli’s current concert act is composed of material from Confessions. “More ballads, more intimate songs,” Stritch says. “She doesn’t have to work so hard. Those are songs she did so well, anyway.”
Stritch, 50, who began working with Minnelli during her 1991 Radio City Music Hall show, was with her in 2008 when she returned to Broadway in the Tony-winning Liza’s At The Palace engagement.
During that four-week run, Minnelli paid tribute to her mother by singing Garland’s “Palace medley” (Shine On, Harvest Moon / Some of These Days / My Man / I Don’t Care), which Judy first performed during her Tony-winning run there in 1951.
One song Minnelli won’t sing, ever: Over the Rainbow. “It’s been sung. I don’t like when anybody sings it,” she says.
Stritch says it’s not unusual for concert fans to shout requests for the Garland anthem. “I’m still shocked and surprised how many times people will scream out from the audience, ‘Sing Over the Rainbow.’ So many people have her so locked in with her mother.”
Fans often approach Stritch and say, “I saw you a couple of years ago playing for Judy.” He gently corrects them: “Oh, no, it was Liza.”
And fans often don’t consider that Minnelli was just 23 years old when her mother died of an accidental prescription drug overdose at age 47 in 1969.
He recalls the first December after they met, eating with Minnelli in a restaurant when a radio began to play her mother’s holiday standard, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
“She couldn’t stand it. She had to leave. It was just too much,” Stritch says. “She’s fine with all that now.”
Time has helped.
For years, “there was a fear she would end up the same way and not outlive her mother,” Stritch says. “When she hit 50 there was a sense of relief.”
“She’s a lot more centered in the last few years,” he says. “She’s relaxed and doesn’t get bothered by anything.”
Now 66, Minnelli is comfortable enough to reveal another detail from her personal life: “One of the promises I made to my mom was I said I will never, ever use you. Ever. I won’t use you to get a job. I won’t use you to get in the papers. I love you, I respect you. And she said, ‘All right darling, I know that.’ And so I just kept my promise.”