Actress and singer Judy Garland was one of the greatest performers of the golden age of Hollywood. Her meteoric rise to success, however, is often overshadowed by the series of tragic events that ultimately led to her death at just 47 years old. Could a broken heart, the result of four failed marriages, have contributed to the Wizard of Oz star’s untimely end?
She was a teen when she married 31-year-old David Rose
As a teenager, Garland rose to fame as the star of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after first being discovered as a Vaudeville performer. When she was just 19 she married composer David Rose in 1941. Both her mother and MGM head Louis B. Mayer opposed their marriage since Rose was divorced and ten years her senior.
The newlyweds moved into a home in Bel Air not far from MGM studios. The beginnings of their marriage were full of love and happiness but by their first anniversary, Garland was miserable. Growing up as a child star, Garland felt that she was still “13 years old emotionally” and could barely take care of a home – something most wives in the 1940s were expected to do.
Things got even worse when Garland discovered she was pregnant. Worried it would harm her career, her mother insisted she terminate the pregnancy and her husband agreed. Their marriage was never the same after that, Garland later said. They divorced in 1944.
Garland cheated on Vincente Minnelli
On June 15, 1945, Garland married director Vincente Minnelli in her mother’s home. The couple met when Garland starred in Minnelli’s film Meet Me in St. Louis, an instant classic that brought us songs like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Boy Next Door.” It was Minnelli who encouraged Garland to adopt a more mature look for the film, hiring a makeup artist to transform her from a teenage girl to a sophisticated, stylish woman. This brought in an entirely new demographic of Garland fans.
In 1946 Garland and Minnelli welcomed a daughter, Liza, who would follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a celebrated entertainer. But just like with David Rose, the fairytale couldn’t last forever. Garland’s addiction to amphetamines and sleeping pills – introduced to her as a young child actor – contributed to a downward spiral that left her depressed. After she was fired from MGM after 15 years at the Hollywood studio, Garland attempted to end her life twice.
The emotional turmoil took a toll on Minnelli and Garland’s marriage, especially after Garland began having an affair. The couple divorced in 1951.
Sidney Luft enabled her addiction
Garland married her third husband Sidney “Sid” Luft in 1952. The couple first met when Garland was 15, but reconnected in 1951 and began an affair while Garland was still married to Vincente Minnelli. Soon after Luft and Garland began secretly dating – they were both married to different people – Garland became pregnant with Luft’s baby. Scared of the scandal getting out of hand, Luft urged Garland to terminate the pregnancy.
After their rocky start, Luft and Garland built a healthy and thriving relationship. Unlike her previous two marriages, this one seemed different. Luft felt a need to protect Garland, something she said she lacked in other relationships. Their 13-year-long marriage, the longest of any of Garland’s relationships, was a testament to the love and respect they originally shared for one another.
Luft became Garland’s manager, landing her multiple “come back” performance opportunities and the leading role in A Star is Born which earned her an Oscar nomination. The couple had two children together, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft.
By 1962, the couple was growing apart as Garland’s addiction intensified. She rarely visited her children, and even when she did she was usually stoned, according to Luft’s memoir Judy and I. Luft also admitted to “enabling” her addiction by trying to manage her medications, creating “a lesser version of what MGM had blatantly and inhumanely jammed down her throat.”
They finally divorced in 1965. At their divorce hearing Garland accused Luft of being violent and abusive towards her: “He struck me many times. He did a lot of drinking” she told the Superior Court judge.
Mark Herron was physically abusive
The same year she got divorced from Luft, Garland married actor Mark Herron in a hasty Las Vegas ceremony. It was rumored, however, the pair secretly wed while Garland was still legally married to Luft in 1964. Their marriage didn’t last long and the couple split just five months after the wedding.
During the divorce hearings, Garland claimed Herron was physically abusive. Herron confessed he did hit Garland, but only in “self-defense.”
Mickey Deans took advantage of her fame
Musician Mickey Deans married Garland in 1969, just three months before she died. The two met in 1966 at Garland’s hotel room when Deans delivered a package of stimulant pills while dressed as a doctor. They dated on and off for three years before they married on March 15, 1969. The wedding was attended by a few hundred guests, but Garland’s eldest daughter Liza Minnelli didn’t show up. “I can’t make it, Mama,” Minnelli told Garland over the phone, “but I promise I’ll come to your next one.”
Their relationship followed a similar pattern to her other four marriages. Deans forced Garland to perform six shows over a month-long period in London even though the singer said she didn’t feel well enough to perform. He was also verbally abusive and manipulative toward Garland, convincing her to sell personal items, like jewelry he had found at garage sales, and market them as memorabilia.
Garland died soon after her last wedding
It was Deans who discovered Garland’s body in the bathroom of their rented apartment in London, England on June 22, 1969. Her official cause of death was deemed an unintentional overdose of barbituates. She was only 47 years old.
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Her body was clothed in the same dress she wore at her wedding to Deans and taken to New York City where 20,000 people lined up to pay their respects to the Hollywood star.