When Michael Jackson both introduces you to your wife and serves as best man at your wedding, expectations are high. Alas, after David Gest — concert producer, reality TV star and short-time husband of Liza Minnelli — died this week at 62, a large part of his legacy appeared to be his failed marriage. Because, though Jackson is not known for his creative missteps, that marriage failed spectacularly.
The King of Pop introduced Gest, the producer of two special concerts and a TV special commemorating the 30th anniversary of Jackson becoming a solo artist, to Minnelli in 2001. Some thought them an unlikely couple. Gest was seven years Minnelli’s junior — in show business, age differences usually go the other way. There were whispers that Gest was gay. There were whispers that he was after Minnelli’s fortune, though the troubled, thrice-divorced daughter of troubled, four-times divorced Judy Garland was struggling with medical problems, weight problems and a history of substance abuse and depression.
But Liza was smitten. She had decided to get well, she said, and made some progress — that’s why Gest hired her to perform in Jackson’s 30th anniversary celebration before they were together. Still, she found the impresario gave her a much-needed boost.
“I’m the kind of woman who can only go so far without someone saying, ‘Come on, you can make it,'” she told “The View” in 2002. “And that’s what David did. He said, ‘You can do anything.'”
The couple married in 2002.
“She’s the most beautiful woman in the world,” Gest said he thought at their wedding — an elaborate, star-studded affair that Donald Trump declared “the best” he had ever attended. “And that this is who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
Gest dismissed rumors that he was a gold digger. His bank accounts were already bulging.
“I was already set for life when I met her,” he said. “I had just done a Michael Jackson 30th anniversary celebration. We did well over $20 million. And we owned that, Michael and I. She was, as she said in interviews, basically broke. So I didn’t marry her for anything that she could give me as far as financially. I just loved the woman. I mean, I just loved her, unconditionally loved her.”
Minnelli, who launched a comeback after the wedding, credited Gest with pressing reset on her career.
“Every time I asked David for help … he’d call somebody, he’d know somebody,” she said. “And the encouragement that he gave me really helped.”
The era of good feelings would last little more than a circle around the sun. Gest said he thought he could keep Minnelli clean, but he overestimated his influence.
“On stage, don’t go near her,” Gest said in 2004 — the year after the pair had filed for divorce, and he had sued Minnelli for $10 million, claiming she beat him so badly he needed to be hospitalized. “She’s the best performer in the world. But when alcohol comes in, start running. Because there’s a demon there, and it goes back to her childhood.”
Gest alleged that Minnelli, 5’4″ and closer to 60 than 50, had fists of fury.
“She just kept hitting me in the head with her fists, over, and over and over,” Gest said. “The pain was so enormous that I get now 80 shots around the head to deaden the nerves.”
One set of blows came in London in June 2003, Gest said, after Minnelli downed a bottle of vodka.
“She was saying everything, all the things that she resented me for,” Gest said. “That I used her to become a star.” The couple’s bodyguard, whom Gest allegedly called to stop the attack, remarked: “I’m like, whoa. She can punch.”
Minnelli, who denied she had attacked Gest, countersued for $2 million, saying Gest had pocketed money from the comeback tour he had helped put together. But Gest said that was ridiculous, pointing out he had put up significant money for concerts billed “Liza’s Back.”
“I bought up the first two nights thinking if you can pack them the first two nights, by the time the reviews came out, she’d be able to sell tickets,” he said. He added: “I didn’t care. It’s my wife. Nobody, nobody would have done that for somebody unless they loved them.”
Then things got uglier. Minnelli alleged Gest tried to poison her. Gest said Minnelli gave him herpes. Divorce proceedings dragged on until 2007, when the couple agreed to a no-fault divorce, dropping other litigation. Gest never married again — and neither has Minnelli. Yet.
“I will always love her,” Gest said in 2004.
“If you even hear I’m getting married, hit me over the head and take me outta there!” Minnelli said in 2012.