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Learning about Liza Minnelli

October 16, 2011
By KATHRYN SPIRA , For The Leader Herald

Liza Minnelli, daughter of singer/actress Judy Garland and director Vincent Minnelli, was on Ellen DeGeneres' TV show this past week and I learned a lot about her.

She has been entertaining for six decades on stage and screen, with her first job at 18 months old in a movie as the baby in the very last shot of her mother's film, "In the Good Old Summertime."

She stated she really wanted to be an ice skater, but instead sang, acted and danced her way to awards in every genre. As Ellen called it, Liza was one of the only entertainers to ever win "an EGOT" which stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

According to Wikipedia, Minnelli has won a total of three Tony awards. Besides the Oscar she won for "Cabaret" in 1972 as best actress, she has won two Golden Globes and a Grammy Legend Award for her contributions and influence in the recording field, along with many other honors and awards.

At 19, she made her Broadway debut and was the youngest ever to win a Tony. Through many awards she also battled addiction and has survived at 65 and shows no signs of slowing down.

Liza said she no longer ice skates because, "from the waste up I'm Dorothy's daughter, but from the waist down, I'm the Tin Man's kid."

She said she has both hip and knee replacements. As she said with a devilish grin, "I have false parts where no one's supposed to have false parts."

A huge health problem came about for Liza in 2000, when she was diagnosed with brain encephalitis after having "laughed for three days straight." At this point doctors told her she would never walk or speak again because of 16 seizures she had had during this time. But Liza refused to accept their diagnoses; instead, she worked for more than a year to speak and walk again. As she put it, she knew how to rehearse, so she just took it one day at a time, and kept rehearsing how to walk and speak again.

Liza said through it all, a sense of humor has really helped.

I have to agree that a sense of humor really does help when you have tried to achieve greatness and then get thrown the proverbial curveball. For me it was MS and for Liza it was brain encephalitis.

I too had trained in the "triple threat" of voice, theater and dance and hoped to appear on both stage and screen. This is where I truly identify with Liza's plight and her frustrations. However, the MS has given me a true gift in that it opened my eyes to what truly matters and is important in life. While I only made it to off-off-Broadway and extra parts in film and TV, I still remember the dream.

Another thing we shared was that we both went to New York City alone to try to make our marks. She obviously made hers.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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