Liza Minnelli health problems: why is actress in a wheelchair – and what is her illness viral encephalitis? 

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The Academy Awards 2022 turned out to be a highly eventful night for reasons that no-one could have predicted – amidst actor Troy Kostur making history as the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar, the evening was overshadowed by Will Smith taking to the stage to slap Chris Rock over a “G.I. Jane 2” joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

While the Smith and Rock altercation is the moment that everyone has been talking about, fans and viewers have urged that everyone’s attention should be redirected to presenting duo Liza Minnelli and Lady Gaga.

Minnelli and Lady Gaga appeared together to present the Best Picture award, and it was their interaction that fans have called “heartwarming” – although some have been left wondering why Minnelli was in a wheelchair during the awards ceremony.

This is everything you need to know.

Why was Liza Minnelli in a wheelchair?

Throughout her life, Minnelli has had to deal with a number of difficulties with her health, all of which have likely contributed to her requiring the use of a wheelchair to get around.

In 2006, Minnelli said: “I’ve got two false hips, a wired-up knee, scoliosis, which I’ve always had, and three crushed disks.”

In October 2000, when she was 54, Minnelli was hospitalised with a case of viral encephalitis which, the NHS, says is “an uncommon but serious condition in which the brain becomes inflamed (swollen)”.

She had been admitted to Cleveland Clinic in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after she appeared to have had a stroke. Minnelli was eventually discharged a week later, but was readmitted once again after three days.

At the time, a clinic official said: “We found her semi-conscious on the floor, disorientated and suffering from what we believe was a possible stroke.”

Minnelli was diagnosed with viral encephalitis when she returned to the hospital for a second time.

Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli appeared together to announce the winner of the Best Picture award (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

The NHS says that the signs of encephalitis can begin with flu-like symptoms, like a high temperature and a headache, but in the coming hours, days or weeks, more serious symptoms can develop, including:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Seizures or fits 
  • Changes in personality and behaviour
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Weakness or loss of movement in some parts of the body
  • Loss of consciousness

In an interview with NBC’s Dateline in 2004, Minnelli said: “I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk, and they told me I wouldn’t… ever again.

“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.”

It was thought that Minnelli would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair following the illness, but she was able to recover enough to go on to star in her solo show Liza’s Back in New York and London in 2002, and guest starred in the sitcom Arrested Development between 2003 and 2013.

What was the reaction like to Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli’s presenting?

Minnelli and House of Gucci star Lady Gaga appeared together to announce the highly coveted award for Best Picture.

Minnelli appeared to struggle a little whilst presenting, and fumbled slightly over her words and with her cue cards.

Lady Gaga quickly took over and said: “We are going to tell you who the nominees are right now.”

Minnelli responded by saying “oh good” and laughing. Lady Gaga crouched down and whispered to Minnelli “I got you”, and Minnelli replied with: “I know.”

Fans and viewers found the interaction between the two heartwarming.

On Twitter, one person wrote: “Can we talk about this instead? My father had Alzheimer’s. @LadyGaga is my hero for doing her best to help Liza Minnelli preserve her dignity despite the horrible disease that is trying to rob her of it. Both superstars. #Respect.”

Another tweeted: “Amidst all the brouhaha surrounding prattish Will Smith at the Oscars, too little attention is being given to the talented and gorgeous Lady Gaga (who should have been a nominee) and the incredible Liza Minnelli in an iconic television moment.”

“All joking aside, I hope that at some point we can discuss what a class act Lady Gaga is and how well she kept the Best Picture presentation going while still keeping Liza Minnelli grounded and included without ever being patronising or awkward. Just amazing,” wrote another.

Who is Liza Minnelli?

Minnelli is an American actress, singer, dancer and choreographer, best known for her appearance as Sally Bowles in the 1972 film Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse.

However, well before she became one of the biggest names in the world with a rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award) under her belt, Minnelli was famous from the moment she was born.

She began performing at just the age of three, where she appeared in the final scene of In the Good Old Summertime in 1949 which starred her mother.

Throughout her career, Minnelli has starred in a number of theatrical, film and television roles that you’ll likely recognise her from, including Flora the Red Menace, The Sterile Cuckoo, Liza’s at The Palace, Arthur and Frank, Liza & Sammy: The Ultimate Event.

She has also released a number of albums as well, such as Liza Minnelli, Come Saturday Morning, New Feeling, There is a Time and It Amazes Me.

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