Sid Luft, Judy Garland's third husband, who produced her Oscar-nominated 1954 film "A Star Is Born" and staged her comeback in concerts in the 1950s, has died. He was 89.
Luft died Thursday at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica of natural causes, said John Kimble, a longtime friend and business partner.
The New York City-born Luft moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s and launched Custom Motors, a custom car company on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
He had worked briefly as a talent agent and produced the B-movies "Kilroy Was Here" and "French Leave" when he first met Garland in 1950. That same year, Luft divorced his second wife, B-movie bombshell Lynn Bari, whom he had married in 1943 and with whom he had a son, John.
Garland, the star of MGM classics such as "The Wizard of Oz," in which she sang her signature song, "Over the Rainbow," and Luft were married in 1952.
"When we got married in the early '50s, Judy was still very beautiful," Luft told the London Daily Telegraph in 2001. "She was only 5-foot tall -- just a shrimp of a girl, really -- but she had a very sensuous body, and up close, her skin was like porcelain, pure white. I was crazy about her. She had incredibly kissable lips."
Luft, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and later served as a World War II test pilot for Douglas Aircraft, was known as a heavy drinker and barroom brawler, who claimed to have broken four noses in various altercations. During the war, he also survived a near-fatal plane crash that caused severe burns to his legs and hands.
The rugged, streetwise Luft was in marked contrast to Garland's previous husbands -- composer David Rose and director Vincente Minnelli -- and prompted one press wag to sarcastically ask, "So, Sid Luft is what a girl finds over the rainbow?"
"Yeah, well, I was no Minnelli, that's for sure," Luft told the Daily Telegraph with a laugh. "I grew up in a rough New York neighborhood and didn't put up with [crap] from anyone. I'm a survivor, with the scars to show for it, and I think that appealed to Judy. She needed someone to lean on who wouldn't crack."
When Luft first met Garland, the chemically dependent and depression-plagued MGM star had just been released from her contract at the studio and was, in Luft's words, "on the slippery slope to a fade-out."
"I loved her and didn't want to see her kicked around," Luft said in the 2001 interview. "If MGM couldn't handle her, that was their problem. But she was so incredibly talented that I knew she could land on her feet if she had some help. So what if the movies didn't want her? She could always sing."
Luft, who became Garland's personal manager and producer, engineered her sellout performances at the London Palladium and the Palace Theatre in New York City.
"I wasn't going to let her fail," he said. "As a way to cap her live show each night, I had this idea that she should come down to the edge of the stage and sing 'Over the Rainbow.' It worked like a million bucks."
Coyne Steven Sanders, a longtime friend of Luft's and the author of "Rainbow's End," a book about Garland's weekly television variety series of the 1960s, said Luft deserved credit for transforming Garland into a stage performer and creating the Garland legend.
"Sid was a great showman," Sanders told The Times on Friday. "I think he understood Judy better professionally than anyone else did. He knew how to produce her shows, which were lavishly full-blown productions.
"I'd say he was the most important male figure in her adult life. He certainly was the most sustained relationship she had in her adult life. They had a great love affair."
Luft also got Garland back into films with "A Star Is Born," the Hollywood-set musical drama directed by George Cukor. It won Garland and James Mason Academy Award nominations, in addition to four other nominations.
Luft and Garland had two children, Lorna and Joey. But the couple's personal life was not as successful as Garland's professional comeback. After 13 stormy years of marriage, five of them marked by separations and legal battles, they were divorced in 1965.
Garland, who was briefly married twice after divorcing Luft, died of an overdose -- ruled accidental -- of sleeping pills in 1969 at age 47.
"Whatever bad things happened, you don't fall out of love with somebody like her," Luft told the Daily Telegraph. "All I know is that, if anyone tried to save a woman who was breaking apart, I did. I know that I did the best I could do, and it still wasn't enough."
In recent years, a Los Angeles U.S. District judge barred Luft from selling a duplicate of a special pint-sized "juvenile" Oscar that Garland had received for "The Wizard of Oz."
In 2001, Luft was portrayed by Victor Garber in "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows," a TV movie based on Lorna Luft's memoir. Her father was not a fan of the book or the movie.
"There were so many lies in that movie, and, believe me, I should know because I was there," he told USA Today. "I never mismanaged Judy's money. We always had a business manager. When we chose to dissolve our relationship, as far as me managing her, we owed the IRS $14,000, and that's peanuts, and it was cleared up in a matter of minutes."
At the time, Luft hadn't spoken with his daughter in three years.
"The book that Lorna wrote is about her trials and tribulations of growing up," he said. "All of a sudden ... it turns into a ridiculous biography of Judy Garland. Lorna was only 15 when her mother died, so what the hell did she really know about what went on?"
Sanders said Luft was "very protective" of Garland.
"He spoke of her with great love, compassion and affection," Sanders said. "She was the greatest thing that ever happened to him, and he never got over her."
Luft, who was married and divorced after splitting up with Garland, is survived by his fourth wife, Camille; three children; stepdaughter Liza Minnelli; and two grandchildren.
A funeral service is pending.