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Minnelli splits from husband

Los Angeles, July 26 (Reuters): Sixteen months after their lavish, star-studded New York wedding, singer-actress Liza Minnelli and her fourth husband, producer David Gest, have separated, her spokesman said yesterday.

Word that the celebrity couple had split came four months after they called off plans for a splashy wedding anniversary party, citing the looming war with Iraq, and Minnelli’s subsequent admission into a rehab program. A report on the website newsday.com quoted an unidentified source close to the couple as saying Gest, 49, was staying in Hawaii, while Minnelli, 57, daughter of the late Judy Garland, remained in her Manhattan apartment.

Reached by telephone late yesterday, Minnelli’s publicist, Warren Cowan, said only: “I can confirm that they’re separated, but that’s all I know.”

It was not clear how long the pair had been apart, but earlier in the day, the couple abruptly cancelled a joint interview scheduled for next week on CNN’s Larry King Live, a spokeswoman for the show said. She declined to give further details.

In March, Minnelli, who has battled addictions to alcohol and painkillers for years, checked into a rehabilitation center in rural Pennsylvania for what her publicist had described as an eight-week “self-help programme.”

Also that month, the couple announced they were postponing plans for a party in New York’s Times Square for 1,200 of their friends to celebrate their anniversary because of the threat of war in Iraq.

Emerging from a prolonged struggle with substance abuse and various health problems, including a near-fatal bout of viral encephalitis in 2000, the Oscar- and Tony-winning performer relaunched both her career and her personal life with her marriage to concert promoter Gest in March of last year.

It was one of the most ballyhooed weddings of the year, with a celebrity-packed guest list that included Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Mickey Rooney, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Crediting Gest with helping her shed 70 pounds and regain her health, a slimmed-down Minnelli embarked on a successful concert tour.

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