Lorna Luft, the second child born to Hollywood icon Judy Garland, has had a difficult life in many ways. Her mother’s drug-taking cast a shadow over her childhood; Luft later succumbed to addiction herself. In 2012 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And just when she seemed to be getting back on an even keel, another serious health problem struck.
Judy Garland was immortalized as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, an innocent child whisked away to a mysterious world. But Garland’s real life was nowhere near as magical. She suffered from low self-esteem, exacerbated by the demands and criticism of Hollywood producers. From a young age she turned to drugs and alcohol.
Garland ending up having three children with two different husbands. In 1946 she and film director Vincente Minnelli had a daughter named Liza. A few years later Garland divorced Minnelli and married a man called Sid Luft, with whom she had two children. These were Lorna Luft and her younger brother Joey.
Luft has often spoken about growing up with Judy Garland as a mother. She was aware of her mom’s addiction, and was even sometimes told by her father to replace her drugs with sugar pills. The intense spotlight under which Garland lived was also bewildering to a child. But Luft’s childhood was still mostly happy, until Garland’s fatal overdose in June 1969.
Luft was 16 at the time and the tragedy devastated her. It also sent her down a dark and dangerous path. As she grew up and became a party girl, she turned to drugs just like her mother had done. But luckily, she was able to snap herself out of it. Using hopes of a future family as motivation, she checked herself into rehab.
And then, she was able to concentrate on not only raising a family, but having a successful career. Just like her mother and sister Liza, she took to the stage. She appeared in high-profile productions like Guys and Dolls and White Christmas, and even a version of The Wizard of Oz. Life was sweet – until 2012, when she discovered a lump on her breast.
At first, Luft tried to ignore the lump. Her friends told her to go to a doctor, but she didn’t want to believe what was happening. Eventually, three weeks later, she underwent a biopsy. The results weren’t good. Luft was having her toenails done in a beauty salon when she received the call telling her she had breast cancer.
Luft’s friend, singing star Barry Manilow, booked her an appointment with a top cancer doctors, David Agus, who reassured her she was going to be okay. Given the choice between a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, she chose the former, to keep her breasts intact.
And, thankfully, she recovered. In 2013 told the Daily Mail about a random occurrence in a café which given her the hope she needed. “I stepped up to the counter to pay and happened to glance up at the wall,” she said. “There was just one poster pinned there. It was of my mother in A Star Is Born. I saw her eyes looking straight back at me… It was a sign.”
As soon as Luft felt better, she got straight back to her job. “Probably the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life is getting back on the stage,” she told Out magazine in 2016. “I performed in New York on my birthday in November and then I went to London and did 10 shows in two weeks.”
“My fear was doctors ever since I was a kid,” she also mentioned to Out magazine. “When my mom or whatever had to take me to a pediatrician, I flipped out. Now I’ve faced my biggest fear and thought I can face anything. That’s something that’s built into me.” Little did she know then, however, that her health problems were far from over.
On March 11, 2018, Luft was rushed to hospital after collapsing backstage at London concert. Her worried husband Colin Freeman had noticed that she was forgetting lines. His worst fears were confirmed when she blacked out, and the performer was whisked off to see medical professionals.
It wasn’t good news. Luft’s spokeswoman, Victoria Varela, informed newspaper The Guardian what had happened. “Luft was rushed to hospital by Colin Freeman, her husband, who was also concerned that she was forgetting lyrics and monologue,” she said. “Following admission to hospital, Luft has been initially diagnosed with a brain tumor.”
“Further information will be available following additional medical tests and examinations,” the spokeswoman went on. But Luft’s fans and friends were understandably concerned. “Shocked to have heard the news of Lorna Luft being diagnosed with a brain tumour,” British musical legend Elaine Paige tweeted. “Sending love and prayers for a speedy recovery.”
Many others kept Luft in thoughts and prayers as well. “Sending huge buckets of love and healing energy to the wonderful Lorna Luft,” radio and theater star Christine Pedi wrote. “What a beautiful lady who I know has what it takes to slay another dragon.” The fact that Luft had only just recovered from breast cancer didn’t go unremarked.
“Our thoughts are with Lorna Luft and her family after her recent diagnosis. Wishing her all the very best for a strong recovery, we certainly know she’s a fighter,” tweeted London’s Savoy Theatre, where Luft had once performed her one-woman show Songs My Mother Taught Me. Another Twitter user succinctly remarked, “Hasn’t this family and Lorna suffered enough?”
But luckily, there was light on the horizon. On March 22, spokeswoman Victoria Varela told news agency Associated Press that Luft had undergone surgery to remove the brain tumor, and it had gone well. Luft would reschedule all her English concerts shortly, Varela went on, and the singer was grateful to her fans and her doctors.
And on April 3, a message appeared on Luft’s official Facebook account. It was the woman herself, wishing to thank her fans personally. “This is my first note to all of you to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for your prayers and messages about my health,” she wrote. “These last couple of weeks have been the challenge of my life.”
“The remarkable, uplifting and grateful news is I’m going to make a full recovery,” she continued. “I want you all to know that through your messages I get stronger every day. I consider myself a very lucky girl to have people like you sending me such positive well wishes… Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Love, Lorna.”
Luft has beaten two serious health problems, no mean feat. Now 65 years old, she’s also outlived her famous mother by almost 20 years. Let’s hope that the worst of the star’s health issues are now behind her, and she can get back to enjoying life.