R.I.P. Zsa Zsa Gabor, a character actor who spoke to the heartland

I’m stepping a bit out of my normal lane here, but the passing of another notable, or even iconic entertainment figure this weekend gave me pause for reflection today. 2016 has been rough in terms of the number of famous people we’ve lost, and if we dedicated front page space to each and every one of them this site would likely have been renamed Hot Air Obituaries. But this weekend Zsa Zsa Gabor passed away just short of reaching the age of 100. As New York Magazine noted in a tribute they’ve probably had ready in the vault for some time, she will likely be most remembered for frivolous things.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, an actress known better for her many marriages and glamorous social life than her career in film and television, died on Sunday in Los Angeles, reports the New York Times. Though there are some conflicted accounts, she was most likely 99. The Hungarian-born actress entered the spotlight when she won the Miss Hungary title in 1936. Her family, including her sisters, Eva and Magda, who were also actresses, moved to America right before World War II. By the 1950s, Zsa Zsa and her sisters were famous for their film careers and appearances in the society pages. Zsa Zsa was the last living Gabor sister.

Gabor changed husbands faster than many people change cars and I’ll be the first to admit that she was largely famous for being famous. That’s a rather damning description these days because it summons up images of the Kardashians or Paris Hilton, but given the era she came to fame in it was far less of a negative back then, if still a bit frivolous. (And yes, I mention Paris Hilton knowing full well that she is a somewhat close relative to Zsa Zsa because her second husband was Conrad Hilton and Paris is her great great niece by way of daughter Francesca. Irony abounds in all things I suppose.) Everyone who knew her spoke of her sense of humor and ability to summon up one liners on short notice. The New York Magazine piece recounts one of my favorites, speaking of her lack of interest or experience in doing mundane housecleaning chores. “I am a marvelous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.”

You may have been wondering about the title of this piece. In terms of her persona, Gabor was about as far from the heartlands as one could imagine. If anything, she was always portrayed as being more like her sister Eva’s character in Green Acres… the hopeless socialite who wouldn’t know what to do with a frying pan aside from whacking someone over the head with it. But as a kid, watching her on television, I always like Zsa Zsa. She was funny and outrageous at times, but always seemed just a bit out of place. She came to this country as an immigrant, determined to make it big. And while you could certainly quibble over precisely how she made it to the big time, she most certainly achieved her goals. She was one of the constants in entertainment media who never really seemed to change. She could have wound up living a terrible life in Hungary, but she instead decided to come to America and be simply fabulous.

Also, the final years of her life should be mentioned, particularly in light of the many discussions we’ve had here about end of life issues. Gabor had been almost entirely on life support for the past five years. She had one of her legs amputated a few years ago while fighting a terrible infection. In reality, her quality of life had been gone long before she left us. It was a rather sad end for someone who lived such a huge life.

So yes, she was a bit of a controversial figure in some ways and was fairly open to criticism. But she was also a success story in her own way and brought a lot of joy to many people, including yours truly. Goodbye, Zsa Zsa. It was one heck of a ride.