Although she had already been married (and divorced) three times, Liza Minnelli’s fourth and final wedding to producer David Gest was surely the most outlandish.
As long-time mutual friends of Michael Jackson, the unlikely couple met while working on the 2001 concert and TV special Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration. Gest produced the show and Minnelli performed.
As portrayed in the 2002 VH1 special Liza and David’s Wedding, Gest was “smitten” and Minnelli immediately admired the producer. Fast forward a few short months and the two celebrities were at the centre of what can be regarded as the most over-the-top showbiz wedding ever, with their superstar bestie MJ right by their side.
So what else made the Minnelli-Gest wedding ceremony so outrageous? Let’s take a look.
Besides their star-studded guest list, both bride and groom had their famous friends as part of the respective wedding retinues.
During the VH1 special, Minnelli said, “If a coal miner got married a lot of coal miners would come to the wedding. I’m not a coal miner; I’m in show business so all of my friends are in show business.”
The bride had two maids of honour: her Cabaret co-star and long-time friend Marisa Berenson, and Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor.
As for the groom, the best men were brothers Michael and Tito Jackson. Gest had met the Jacksons as an adolescent, and had been friends with them ever since.
Never ones not to make an entrance, Jackson and Taylor were in fact the last to arrive. As the famous friends stepped out of the limo with none other than international superstar Diana Ross, the crowds outside erupted in cheers.
A final noteworthy appearance was when Natalie Cole (who actually replaced a last-minute no show Whitney Houston, according to reports) serenaded the bride and groom and their guests with a rendition of the classic “Unforgettable”, made famous by her crooner dad Nat King Cole.
One of the most impressive aspects of the affair was the list of wedding invitees. Over 800 guests flocked to the New York Church to witness what VH1 dubbed the “celebrity wedding of the millennium”.
From pop stars to dignitaries, the guest list read like a Who’s Who of Hollywood royalty. Some of the high-profile personalities present on the day included Luther Vandross, Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh, Joan Collins, Liam Neeson, Sporty Spice Mel C, Anthony Hopkins, Mia Farrow, Michael Douglas and Donald Trump.
So many famous people attended, some of the celebrity guests commented accordingly.
On the VH1 special, one of Minnelli’s bridesmaids, the singer Mya, recalled that it “felt like I was at an awards show”, while a visibly impressed David Hasselhoff remarked on the frenzy surrounding the guests’ arrival, saying, “Who else could do this?! I mean look at this!”
The crazy costs including security, outfits and flowers
According to British media, the wedding cost US$3.5 million, which adjusted for inflation would be almost US$6 million today. Requiring a full production team to organise and execute, the highly publicised marriage took place on a Saturday in March 2002 at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York.
On the morning of the big day, the streets surrounding the venue were barricaded off and overflowed with paparazzi, journalists and masses of adoring fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite celebrities. Reports said people had been camping out since the early hours of the morning. There was also, to be expected for an event of this magnitude, significant security present.
Ensuring the wedding party looked the part for the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony, teams of make-up artists, hairdressers and stylists were present. For the venue decor, an abundance of orchids were strewn exquisitely around the church altar. Floral designer Preston Bailey explained the massive arrangement was intended to look like the bride and groom were “married under a weeping willow tree”.
For the highly anticipated wedding gown, the 56-year-old bride wore a custom, off-the-shoulder Bob Mackie dress made of ivory satin and a bodice featuring elaborate pearl and teardrop beading, and princess and marquise cut crystals. According to Mercury News, OK! Magazine even paid the couple upwards of US$700,000 to cover the event.
Sure, the guests were stars and the ceremony opulent, but what was perhaps the most memorable thing about the entire day was the newlyweds’ post-vow-exchange kiss.
No restrained peck, the now notorious smooch was an over-the-top and impassioned locking of the lips.
Wedding guest and future American president Donald Trump was quoted as saying, “I have been to many weddings. And I have never seen a kiss like that before,” whereas The View host, Joy Behar quipped, “He sucked her lips right out of her face!”
Unfortunately and perhaps not unexpectedly, the fairy tale Hollywood romance didn’t last. Although, the official divorce was reportedly finalised in 2007, the marriage was over 16 months after it began.
What started as a glitzy and extravagant display of love ended as an acrimonious battle between the exes. Both parties accused each other of various wrongdoings, including abuse. Back-and-forth million-dollar lawsuits were filed, but ultimately the cases were dropped when the divorce settlement was reached.