Liza Minnelli Was Unable to Walk or Talk After a Rare Illness: ‘They Told Me I Wouldn’t … Ever Again’

Liza Minnelli’s career has stretched decades, but she has dealt with serious roadblocks along the way. The performer has been stymied by drug and alcohol use, heartbreak, and illness. At one point, she dealt with sickness so severe that doctors believed she would never walk or talk again. Minnelli spoke about the illness and how she dealt with it.

Liza Minnelli wears a sequined dress and sings into a microphone.
Liza Minnelli | Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images

Liza Minnelli won an Oscar for her part in ‘Cabaret’

Minnelli was born into the spotlight. In 1948, at just 14-months old, Minnelli made her first on-screen appearance in The Pirate, which starred her mother Judy Garland and was directed by her father, Vincente Minnelli. Soon, she was performing alongside her mother for the likes of Frank Sinatra. After working on Broadway, Minnelli made an indelible mark on the film industry with her Oscar-winning turn in Cabaret

“You’re nominated, sure you wanta win, but at the same time, you wanta forget about it until the awards night comes, and nobody lets you; they mean well, but they talk about it all the time,” she said, just ahead of winning the award. “They want you to talk about it, promote yourself, and I just don’t take to that. If you get it, fine, if not … how else can you possibly feel about it? I will say, though, that Cabaret itself deserves to win, I don’t like every choice I made in the part, but the movie as a whole is a total breakthrough in filmmaking.”

She spent time in the hospital following a case of viral encephalitis

Three decades after winning an Oscar, Minnelli went to the hospital with viral encephalitis, which causes brain inflammation.

“Liza Minnelli has been a patient here for the last several days,” Dr. Maurice Hanson told Reuters, per ABC News. “She is being treated for viral encephalitis. She was quite sick and was in very serious condition but is now recovering well and we expect to release her in a few days.”

According to Minnelli, doctors worried that she would not survive the illness.

“I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk, and they told me I wouldn’t… ever again,” she told Dateline NBC. “After I was told that, everybody left the room and I turned my face to the wall and started to go ‘A – B – C.’ You know, that’s what it felt like because I had Carnegie Hall to rehearse. I want to live. I have always wanted to live.”

Two years later, she went on to perform her show Liza’s Back in New York City.

Liza Minnelli now considers herself ageless

Though Minnelli’s performances are now few and far between and she has had further health scares since her bout of viral encephalitis, she now says that she feels ageless.

“I am ageless,” she said, per Express. “Truly. I never think about age.”

Minnelli’s friends have commented on her ability to overcome.

She’s a survivor,” said Marisa Berenson, one of Minnelli’s closest friends. “She’s like a phoenix, always spreading her wings and being reborn. I think she’s one of the strongest people I know. It’s really glorious to watch. She does have this incredible strength and courage.”

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