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Although Judy Garland’s Life Was Filled With Pain, She Is Considered the Ultimate Gay Icon

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Actress and singer Judy Garland lived a life filled with pain and tragedies, which spanned through her 45-year career. Despite her disturbing life, the late star came to be idolized by many, especially the gay community, earning her a reputation as the suffering gay icon.

Judy Garland goes down in history as the tragedy haunted star, with a long list of misfortunes plaguing her decades-long entertainment career. The late singer, actress, and vaudevillian won many hearts with her on-stage charms and phenomenal success. However, it was her tragic life that captured the vast majority of her audience, who somehow could relate with her long-suffering.

Judy Garland performs at a concert in London, 1969 | Image: Youtube/BBC
Judy Garland performs at a concert in London, 1969 | Image: Youtube/BBC

Notably, the actress endured several hardships from the onset of her career at the age of two. Between failed marriages, incessant drug use, crushed self-esteem, depression, and suicidal tendencies, Garland somehow attracted an impressive fandom.

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Born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, Judy Garland was the youngest of three sisters. As a child, she began performing vaudevillian, alongside her sisters, making her first stage appearance at age two. The trio continued their act for several years, adopting the stage name, “Gumm Sisters.”

Following the family’s move to Lancaster, California, Garland’s mother, Francis Avent, strived to push their career beyond stage performances. Soon, they secured a part in the 1929 film, “The Big Revue,” which marked their film debut. Their performance of the musical dance, “That’s The Good Old Sunny South,” in the film was their first foray into motion pictures.

The Gumm Sisters landed several other performing gigs in films and television, garnering rapid popularity. However, their stage name often got ridiculed. As a result, the sisters eventually adopted a new name, “Garland Sisters,” which was more appealing to the audience. The icon took it a notch further and changed her birth-given first name, Frances, assuming the name, Judy.

The Garland Sisters at a vaudevillian performance, 1929 | Image: YouTube/ Ms Mojo
The Garland Sisters at a vaudevillian performance, 1929 | Image: YouTube/ Ms Mojo

When Judy Garland turned thirteen, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios signed her. The legend’s contract with MGM marked the onset of her worst nightmares in the guise of a dream come true.

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Although Garland developed a drug-dependency from the age of ten after her mom kept feeding her sleeping pills to help her sleep during countless tours and trips, her time with MGM worsened her plight.

MGM Studios showed their dissatisfaction over a lot of things about Garland, including her age, height, and weight. To ensure the actress achieved their desired weight, the studio began starving her and increasing her work hours. In addition, they made her take amphetamines to boost her energy levels, coupled with her usual bout of sleeping pills to calm her down.

The psychological impact of the constant run-down by MGM left her with a negative perception of herself, which was to last a lifetime. The actress spent her life feeling inadequate and self-conscious about her appearance. 

Getting referred to as “little hunchback” by MGM chief Louis Mayer did little to prevent her from becoming emotionally damaged for life. Neither did losing her dad to meningitis at thirteen.

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Garland’s powerful voice made her an instant success in the industry. She gradually rose to stardom with a string of musicals alongside Mickey Rooney. Her big break came when she was sixteen, with her role as the young Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Judy Garland’s Dorothy role earned her several accolades. The star’s rendition of “Over The Rainbow,” in the movie fast became her most memorable performance.

Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard Of Oz" | Image: YouTube/ Movieclips Trailers
Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard Of Oz” | Image: YouTube/ Movieclips Trailers

Getting to the peak of her career meant an increased drug use for the successful entertainment icon.

Almost as dramatic as her rise to stardom came her descent to being “homeless broke.” Garland accrued many debts in taxes. Coupled with her unhealthy drug addictions, which led to post-partum depression and mood swings. Many times she tried to take her own life but failed. Gradually, the actress became a bane to herself, which unfortunately rubbed off on the people around her, especially her three kids. Her mental health and drug abuse was a major factor in the decline of Garland’s career.

She spent her last years trying to pick herself back up like a survivor, seeking the big comeback.


Judy Garland’s life did not get any easier. The singer married five different men within two decades. Her first marriage was to composer David Rose in 1941, against her mother’s advice. Due to objections from the studio and Garland’s mom, the pair eloped to Las Vegas to fulfill the marriage rites. 

The legend became pregnant shortly after but underwent an abortion following the ill advice of her mom and MGM. Both feared the pregnancy would have a negative impact on her image and career. Her marriage to Rose lasted barely three years before their 1944 divorce.

Next, she tied the knot with Vincente Minnelli, with whom she shared a daughter, Liza. The marriage ended in 1951, after spending six years together. Their split stemmed from Minelli’s attraction to other men.

Again in 1952, she married Sid Luft, a businessman. Their union yielded two children, Joey and Lorna, before it ended in 1965. Following the divorce, Garland disclosed Luft was physically abusive to her during their thirteen years together. The businessman, however, denied those claims.

Her next relationship was no different. Garland became the wife of fellow actor Mark Herron after her divorce from Luft. The relationship was admittedly an abusive one. The couple divorced within months of their union, and then came the revelation of Herron’s gay status.

Judy Garland and Mickey Deans | Image: YouTube/ MS Mojo
Judy Garland and Mickey Deans | Image: YouTube/ MS Mojo

In March 1969, she got married a fifth time to Mickey Deans. Her time with Deans was remarkably her happiest moment. However, only three months into their marital union, Judy Garland died of barbiturates overdose. She was 47.


Garland’s life of suffering became synonymous with the plight of homosexuals in the real world. Remarkably, she attracted an impressive gay-following, which became an important topic of debate among intellectuals and the media.

In an attempt to explain her influence on the gay community, many have raised several theories. A psychiatric expert explained in a 1967 issue of Time magazine:

“She had the power homosexuals would like to have, and they attempt to attain it by idolizing her.”

Another school of thought suggests the LGBTQ community identified with suffering and persecution, and understood it, just like Judy Garland did. Her body trouble struggles with fame, turbulent love life, her roles in “The Wizard of Oz,” and “A Star Is Born,” as well as her heroic rebounds like a true survivor despite the pitfalls somehow portrays the experience of homosexuals in the world. Hence, she gained admiration as a model of resilience, and ultimately, a revered gay icon.


Then there was the stonewall controversy, which came to be known as the riots that sparked the gay revolution. Coincidentally, the Stonewall uprising occurred barely days after Judy Garland’s death on June 22, 1969.

The Stonewall Uprising | Image: YouTube/History
The Stonewall Uprising | Image: YouTube/History

In the wee hours of June 28, the NYPD raided the Stonewall bar in New York, which hosted homosexuals. Such raids were common at the time as the LGBTQ community was an easy target for the cops, and endured constant marginalization. This time, the patrons at the bar fought back in the reataliation of the police violence.

Other gay bars withing the community joined the confrontation, leading to a series of riots that spurred the gay revolution.

The stonewall incident happened barely hours after thousands of homosexual turned up at Garland’s June 27 funeral to mourn her passing. Over the years, many have speculated that the heightened emotions over Garland’s death led to the June 28 revolution.

Although there is no evidence to assert such claims to date, the place of Judy Garland as the ultimate gay icon is one that remains unrivaled in history.

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