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Judy had too much talent and too much voice to stay down for long. Perhaps her finest performance was as the unlucky-in-love heroine of the musical A Star Is Born (1954), for which she won an Oscar nomination. As recently as 1961, she took the small role of a drab Jewish hausfrau in Judgment at Nurembergand turned the vignette into a dramatic triumph. There were also memorable personal appearances Manhattan's Palace in 1951 and 1967, Las Vegas' New Frontier Hotel in 1956, the London Palladium hi 1960. To those who felt the magic of her voicenot everyone dida Garland concert was as personal as a love affair. Garland was never a pioneer, just a music-hall balladeer who liked to sing love songs. She was never allowed to leave the stage without one more chorus of the tunes she had made her own, Stormy Weather or Over the Rainbow. She belted them out in a high, throbbing, no-holds-barred soprano that sounded as if it came from a near-to-bursting heart. "A Garland audience doesn't just listen," Spencer Tracy once said. "They feel. They have their arms around her when she works."
Camp Followers. Judy's fans loved her for better or worse; in recent years it was mostly for worse. She drank too much, gained too much weight (then lost it too quickly), and made periodic, halfhearted attempts at suicide. Lawsuit followed lawsuitlawsuits against Judy, lawsuits by Judy against agents, husbands, theaters. Divorce followed divorce. The ghosts of her personal life followed her onstage. Her spent voice began to crack and wobble, and Judy would stumble over lyrics she had sung a hundred times before. Eventually, some people came to see Judy in the morbid hope that she would falter; she attracted a limp army of camp followers to whom she was a figure of mock adoration. Time and again, she had to cancel engagements suddenly because of "illness."
Last January, Judy began a three-week run at London's Talk of the Town cabaret. It turned out to be the biggest flop of her life. One night she appeared an hour late. At first, the audience booed and jeered her, then threw bread, cigarette packages and butts onto the stage. Judy tripped over the microphone line, struggled with a shoulder strap and looked, as one London reporter put it, like a "walking casualty."
In March, she married her fifth husband, sometime Discotheque Manager Mickey Deans.* All the old Garland sparkle swelled in her voice when she exclaimed: "Finally, finally, I am loved." Judy began talking about comebacks an autobiographical film, more recordings, more nightclub appearances. Although physically wasted, she drank less, seemed to friends to be happy, even relaxed. She spent her last night with Deans in their whitewashed mews cottage in the fashionable Belgravia section of London, watching a TV show. Some time during the night, she went to the bathroom and collapsed. Deans found her there the next morning. The official verdict was that Judy had died, at the age of 47, of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. But Ray Bolger, who as the Scarecrow had danced to the Emerald City with Dorothy to find the Wizard, had another explanation: "Judy didn't die of anything, except wearing out. She just plain wore out."