Anatomy of a Breakup

updated 08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/25/2003 01:00AM

1. MEET CUPID
The romance began when Liza sang at Michael Jackson's Gest-produced 30th-anniversary concert in Manhattan in 2001.

2. THE WEDDING LOOKED LIKE LOVE BOAT
The ludicrously overplanned March 16, 2002, ceremony in New York City brought out what one witness calls "the biggest freak show in the world"—1,000 close friends, including a bridesmaid the bride barely knew (singer Mya), Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson, Tito Jackson, David Hasselhoff, Diana Ross and such showbiz oldies as Carol Channing and Mickey Rooney. "All these people you'd thought were dead," says the source, "were in fact alive and at Liza's wedding!" The bride, now on marriage No. 4, "looked bewildered," says her friend, composer Fred Ebb. "It would have bewildered anyone."

3. RAIDING SPACES
Liza's N.Y.C. apartment was a temple of '70s chic that had been decorated by her late pal Halston, but most of it was junked once Gest moved in. After that, says a friend, "it looked more like a convention center."

4. MORE HYPE THAN HONEYMOON
They spent the days after their nuptials doing Larry King Live to build buzz for her comeback concerts. Gest, says one source, often sounded more like a press release than a spouse. "Every sentence was, 'Liza's back! She's better than ever!' "

5. HE WAS THE BIGGER DIVA
Their reality-show dream of being VH1's answer to The Osbournes ended in October after only one never-aired episode. The TV crew barely made it in the door—"He was such a neat freak," says one source, "he made everyone wear surgical booties"—and he made so many requests (including an alleged $50,000 for a Halloween party) that VH1 shut it down. (Gest's rep says the booties were for construction workers.) The couple and VH1 have since sued each other. But Liza, says the source, "was wonderful."

6. FRIENDS NO MORE
"Nobody could get to Liza," complains one longtime pal who felt that Gest kept his wife to himself and away from her old circle. Gest, long known to constantly change phone numbers, "wanted to be the only thing, the only hero in her life." New York Post columnist Cindy Adams says she managed to stay in the loop by letting Gest understand she wasn't going to meddle. "You had to go with the flow when she was in his grip."

7. HE COUNTED HER CALORIES
Gest got her to lose 80-plus lbs. and was zealous about her keeping it off. "She'd look at sweets," says a source. "He'd say, 'No, no, no.' " A January TV chat with Britain's Graham Norton (below) bogged down with dieting talk after Liza said Gest was "obsessed" with weight. She sighed, "I know some very nice heavier people."

8. REHAB REVISITED
One thing Gest couldn't control was Liza's ongoing battle with substance abuse. "I don't know how many times I can do this," he told Cindy Adams after Liza had gone back into rehab. "I can't do this again." She was at the Caron Foundation, a clinic in Wernersville, Pa., on their first and only anniversary.

9. PAINFUL PDA
"You look like you were blowing her up," interviewer Ruby Wax said after watching Gest engulf Liza's puckered lips with his yawning chasm of a mouth. He answered, "I look like a fish going in to take out her whole intestines."

10. ALL WORK, NO PLAY
Endlessly working to rebuild Minnelli's career, "they were on an excruciating treadmill," says a friend of Gest's. She fell off: When she broke her kneecap in a hotel in Bologna, Italy, in May, says her stepfather Sid Luft, "I thought, 'Poor Liza, that sounds like trouble.' " But the show—a benefit with Luciano Pavarotti—did go on: Liza sang by satellite from her hospital bed.

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