| Liza Minelli and David Gest
London, Oct. 26: Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband isn’t the only one who claims to know the fury of her fists — her bodyguard has come forward to allege that she hit him harder than many men he had fought.
Imad Handi, a karate expert who is reported to be a former world champion, admitted that he was no match for the drink-fuelled actress when she hit him at London’s Connaught Hotel.
The bodyguard said that Minnelli, who shot to fame in the 1972 film version of Cabaret, had delivered a blow harder than many he had received from his karate opponents, when he tried to stop her punching her husband.
“She hit me with a backhanded fist and I must confess it hit me so hard I took a step backwards,” he said.
“I have had people, men, kick me and they didn’t hit me that hard. Out of 10, she was a six.”
Handi, who is based in London, said that the attack occurred on the night of June 10 after Minnelli, 58, had allegedly launched a violent assault on her then husband David Gest, 50.
Gest is now suing her for £6 million and claims to have suffered brain damage.
Talking about the incident, the bodyguard alleged that Minnelli punched Gest in the head and face for about 10 minutes.
“That does something pretty bad. I know, because I’ve been in the ring.”
As the actress accused Gest of “using me to be a star when I am the star!”, the bodyguard tried to calm her down.
“I held her hand gently, and I said, ‘Liza, don’t do this’.”
But the tactic failed. The actress “swung with a tight-fist backhander into my solar plexus and hit me very hard”, Handi said. “She was totally out of control.”
Handi said that the blow he received from Minnelli was “absolutely drunk-induced”.
However, the next day Minnelli was a different woman.
“She was so sweet and forgot about the whole thing,” he said.
“But she hit me that night.”
The bodyguard said that Minnelli was “the sweetest woman in the world when she was sober”.
He had never seen her have a drink because “David wouldn’t let her”, but had seen “what happened after she drank”.
“It was frightening,” he told the New York Post.
“She would talk about her mother, her father, her dog. It was insane.”
The couple separated a month after the incident in London and 16 months after their wedding, at which Michael Jackson was best man and Elizabeth Taylor was the maid of honour.
Gest, an events and concerts promoter, filed his £6-million lawsuit on Tuesday, claiming that Minnelli had beaten him so badly that he suffered brain damage and was forced to take heavy medication, including 12 prescription drugs.
Gest alleged in court papers filed in Manhattan that Minnelli flew into drunken rages on at least 12 occasions, insulting, choking, biting and punching him, both before and after the wedding.
The papers allege that Minnelli had consumed a bottle of vodka — said to give her formidable strength — before the Connaught Hotel attack and threw a lamp at Gest before attacking him with her fists.
Handi said he was “shocked” when he went to Hawaii to visit Gest following the assault.
“It was a bit frightening,” he said.
A friend of Gest’s, who fell out with him a few months ago, said he was “surprised” by the claims.
“I never saw her being violent, but I can believe she was drinking a lot. The truth is, she’s a drunk.”
The friend, who works in the New York media, said that the marriage had been one of convenience for both of them.
“He is a very good producer and when they met she was an overweight has-been.
“He took her under his wing and made both Liza and himself a lot of money. But he really wanted to be famous, not just rich.”
“That must have caused tension, but I heard that he initiated the split because he was fed up with her addictions and her abusiveness.”
The friend said that Gest had been leading a low-key life at his home in Hawaii.
“He’s turned off his television and doesn’t read the papers because he was being bashed all the time. Despite what people think, he is sensitive.”
The claims of husband-beating and now bodyguard-beating are a far cry from the couple’s glamorous wedding in New York, when Minnelli was said to have “danced in happiness” at the altar.
Hundred of fans lined Fifth Avenue to watch guests including Michael Douglas, Anthony Hopkins, David Hasselhoff and Elton John as they arrived in limousines.
The wedding marked a comeback for Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, a director.
She has won an Academy award, an Emmy, two Golden Globes and three Tony awards, but has battled against drug abuse, weight problems and a near-fatal bout of encephalitis.
Last night, lawyers for Minnelli and Gest were unavailable for comment.
Minnelli has said that Gest’s claims were “hurtful and without merit”.