Tragic Details About Rita Hayworth

Hollywood starlet Rita Hayworth was unlike any other. As per Biography, the actress was a revered icon, known for her sex appeal and strong onscreen presence. While she originally intended to be a dancer, she ended up finding her way into Hollywood and exploring the world of cinema. The actress was always meant to pursue a career as a starlet, and her family trained her early, making sure that she attended training sessions as a child.

Hayworth's big break came when she was 16 years old. She was offered a contract at that point by an employee from Fox Film Company and worked on her debut film in 1935. It was called Under the Pampas Moon. She also worked on several other films, such as Dante's Inferno, Charlie Chan in Egypt, Meet Nero Wolfe, Gilda, Tales of Manhattan, and Human Cargo, among others. Gilda was undoubtedly one of the most popular films of her career, a film that helped her establish a strong presence as a star.

Sadly, her personal life was riddled with tragic incidents, and it was difficult for her to overcome those obstacles. From never being given the opportunity to live a normal childhood to struggling to find normalcy and being forced to encounter toxic relationships as an adult and dealing with serious health issues, Hayworth had to fight a lot of battles in her life. Here's a look at the life of one of the most iconic Hollywood starlets of all time.

Rita Hayworth was made to explore dancing early

Rita Hayworth was born on Oct. 17, 1918, in New York. According to Biography, her birth name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her family was familiar with show business and excited by the prospect of their child taking the family's legacy forward. Her dad was Eduardo Cansino, a professional dancer, while her mom, Volga, had been a part of the Ziegfeld Follies. Hayworth's parents were serious about encouraging their daughter to focus on dancing, and she wasn't given much of a choice in the matter. Unsurprisingly, she was already a professional dancer by the time she was 12 years old.

She didn't personally want to dance as a child. According to the book, Rita: The life of Rita Hayworth, Hayworth simply didn't know how to refuse when she was told to take dancing lessons. She said, "I didn't like it much, but I didn't have the courage to tell my father, so I began taking the lessons. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. That was my girlhood." This meant that Hayworth didn't have room to experience a normal childhood and was busy trying to live up to her parents' expectations. Additionally, she didn't receive the right kind of love and support from her family as they pushed her to do better.

She was abused as a child

Not only did Rita Hayworth have to confront the incredibly tough demands of being a child being groomed for stardom, she also had to endure trauma at home. According to an article by The Chicago Tribune, Hayworth was abused by her father when she was young. It later came to light that Hayworth was probably hurt by her father when the duo used to take off on work trips. It was believed that she was possibly quiet and shy throughout her life on account of the trauma she faced early on. These were claims that were put forward by Barbara Leaming, Hayworth's biographer and the author of the book, If This Was Happiness.

In fact, Hayworth's mother did try to protect her daughter whenever she could and even slept next to her whenever her daughter was home to save her from her father. However, it was difficult to be there for her when they were away, and this went unchecked for a long time, causing irreparable damage to Hayworth's psyche.

Her first husband tried to control her

As per Vanity fair, Rita Hayworth got married to an ex-car salesman, Eddie Judson, in 1937. He was much older than her and not exactly the right fit, but Hayworth took a leap of faith. She said, "I married him for love, but he married me for an investment. For five years he treated me as if I had no mind or soul of my own." Judson wasn't kind to his young wife and pushed her to get more work and engage in events that would get her access to more publicity. He even forced her to get uncomfortable electrolysis procedures done in a bid to make her look "less Latin."  Also, as per The New York Times, Judson didn't hesitate to threaten Hayworth if she didn't listen to him. This included threats of harming her physically and disfiguring her.

Additionally, he tried to coerce her into getting physically involved with other men who could help land her more work. At one point, he tried to force Hayworth to go and seduce Columbia's influential head honcho, Harry Cohn. Hayworth firmly put her foot down and didn't fulfill his wishes, angering Cohn. This encouraged Cohn to mistreat Hayworth later when they worked together and treat her with disdain. However, Hayworth stayed strong and held her ground, refusing to budge or let Cohn affect her.

Rita Hayworth had a string of awful marriages

Rita Hayworth was simply unlucky when it came to love. According to The New York Times, Hayworth's second husband was actor/director Orson Welles. He was attracted to her but didn't care about being emotionally available in the relationship and was quite inconsiderate. In fact, he routinely cheated on her without batting an eyelid, courted other actresses, and also slept with sex workers.

After this marriage reached its end, Hayworth was courted by Prince Aly Khan, a royal public figure who was notorious for his playboy image and flamboyance. He chased Hayworth when he was still married and eventually tied the knot with her in a grand ceremony. However, the marriage didn't last, and the couple parted ways in 1951. After the breakdown of this relationship, Hayworth married singer Dick Haymes, who didn't look after her and exploited her finances. 

As far as the men in her life were concerned, things were never rosy, and Hayworth was forced to confront several painful situations and immense heartbreak for a long time.

Rita Hayworth was involved in a tough child custody battle

When Rita Hayworth's marriage with Aly Khan started breaking down, she knew she was in for a tough ride. According to Vanity Fair, things had soured to the point that she would isolate herself to get away from paparazzi and other unscrupulous people. Also, Khan wasn't supportive at all when they were married and was busy trying to date other women while Hayworth tried to figure out a way to stay on her feet.   

At some point, Hayworth decided that she couldn't take it anymore and needed to leave their extravagant lifestyle behind. When she vocalized her thoughts, Khan accused Hayworth of drinking. This angered the actress greatly, who then decided to take her daughters and make a run for it from Europe back to their home in New York in 1951. She was afraid the prince would try to take the girls away from her. The pair did have a custody battle at one point, and Hayworth even briefly lost custody "to the state." Thankfully, she later won custody.

She had a diificult time in Hollywood

Rita Hayworth wasn't necessarily taken seriously despite the fact that she was immensely talented and had great potential. Everything from her ethnicity to her public image was scrutinized and changed. As per a piece by Smithsonian Magazine, Hayworth shied away from her Hispanic roots once she became a popular figure, and those around her took it upon themselves to transform her in many ways. 

She tried everything one could think of to adapt to Hollywood — hair procedures, restrictive diets, and changing her name to simply fit in. If there's one thing that she managed to preserve, it was the fact that her personality shone whenever she took to the stage to dance. She shone as a dancer and seemed unstoppable whenever she performed.

That said, it's undeniable that Hayworth's public image was highly sexualized and misrepresented in a bid to make her seem more appealing to audiences and fans.

Rita Hayworth was misrepresented in more ways than one

Unbeknownst to her, Rita Hayworth's face was once used to promote an atomic bomb. According to Gizmodo, while originally, folks weren't too sure whether this was factual, it turns out that someone really did use the actress' face on a bomb. The rumors were, in fact, started by Hayworth's former spouse, Orson Welles, who said in a radio show that the actress' photo was on a bomb called the Able bomb, a weapon that was used in Bikini Atoll back in 1946. Of course, those responsible for this knew how popular Hayworth was back then and hoped to benefit from it in some manner.

The actress was uncomfortable with this. As per The Daily Telegraph, Hayworth was very upset when she found out about the bomb. Welles recalled, "Rita used to fly into terrible rages all the time, but the angriest was when she found out that they'd put her on the atom bomb. Rita almost went insane, she was so angry."

Rita Hayworth had to briefly leave Hollywood

Rita Hayworth was definitely disillusioned, considering the sheer amount of difficult and traumatic experiences she'd been through in her life. According to a piece by The Independent, when Hayworth was with Orson Welles, the couple was forced to deal with intense public scrutiny considering the fact that both of them were high-profile figures and well-known actors. When the couple worked together on a film, Welles chose to allow everyone to make his wife look bad on screen. She was basically portrayed as a deceitful, dishonest person. This, of course, left Hayworth feeling distraught. 

The experience was exhausting for Hayworth, who decided to take a break from Hollywood. It was around this time that she met Prince Aly Khan and ended up marrying him on the French Riviera. Welles didn't stay mum and remarked that it was "a fatal marriage, the worst thing that could have happened to her. He was charming, attractive, a nice man... but the wrong husband for her."

Rita Hayworth was lonely

Rita Hayworth may have had a long line of suitors and admirers, but that didn't make life any easier for the starlet who was heartbroken and lonely for a major part of her life. As per Closer Weekly, Hayworth was aware of how misunderstood she was. She once told one of her former lovers, Kirk Douglas, "Men go to bed with 'Gilda' — but they wake up with me." Douglas couldn't quite be there for Hayworth himself. He said, "I felt something deep within her that I couldn't help — loneliness, sadness — something that would pull me down. I had to get away."

Hayworth once said that she was a good person but couldn't help but somehow be attracted to "mean personalities." Five unfulfilling marriages left behind a void in Hayworth's life. According to her close friend and rumored lover, actor Glenn Ford, Hayworth could rely on him whenever she needed someone to confide in. He declared, "To the world, she was a sex symbol, but with me, she could just be herself."

Rita Hayworth was thought to suffer from alcoholism

In the late 1970s, Rita Hayworth suffered a major setback when news outlets released stories that made some controversial claims. They said that she was suffering from alcoholism and had been taken to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, where she was not capable of consenting to treatment on her own. As per the Los Angeles Times, before she got help, Hayworth was pretty much on her own and didn't have anyone to rely on. 

At the time, Hayworth was living by herself, struggling to get by on her own when a fan and artist from Newport Beach met her and befriended the actress at a country club. He realized something was amiss when he observed how often she'd turn to alcohol. He wanted to do what he could to help her get out of this predicament, so he asked her to accompany him on a short trip to Newport Beach where he looked after her. On a rare occasion, when he had to leave home for a brief period, he came back to realize that Hayworth had barricaded herself inside and needed to be rescued. When he managed to get in, he saw Hayworth hiding in a closet and made sure that she got access to professional help at Hoag. This was the last time he would see her.

She had Alzheimer's

It took awhile but it eventually became obvious that alcoholism wasn't the problem. Rita Hayworth had Alzheimer's. According to Vanity Fair, her symptoms had started showing up in the 1960s, but no one was able to diagnose her, and her memory problems were attributed to alcoholism. She was struggling to accomplish basic tasks, such as remember her lines while filming. Her makeup artist, Lynn del Kail, told the actress' biographer, "I'd take her into her room and I'd teach her one line. Then she'd go out and they'd shoot the one line. And then we'd go back into the room and do another line."

Hayworth was alone and simply confused, seeking company wherever she could find someone to talk to. For example, she often interacted with one of her neighbors, who was also an actor and would try to spend time with her whenever possible. She also displayed erratic behavior, something that wasn't quite understood by those around her. Saldy, her Alzheimer's diagnosis only came to light in 1980. By this point, she'd spent many years suffering without knowing what was happening to her.

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan Jeffries, Hayworth's daughter, spoke about her mother's state of mind (via the Orlando Sentinel). She said, "It was the outbursts. She'd fly into a rage. I can't tell you. I thought it was alcoholism — alcoholic dementia. We all thought that...You can't imagine the relief just in getting a diagnosis. We had a name at last: Alzheimer's!"

She was reliant on her daughter in her final years

Towards the end of her life, Rita Hayworth definitely didn't receive support or love from the men she'd been with. As explained by Vanity Fair, it was her daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan Jeffries, who supported Hayworth in her final years and moved her to New York to care for her. For Jeffries, it was traumatizing to realize how long her mom had suffered through no fault of her own. She told the Orlando Sentinel that Hayworth would often get agitated and experience paranoia and mood swings without being able to explain what was happening to her. She commented, "Maybe the world couldn't see it if they went back and looked, but I've gone back and I think I can see it. Just something fleeting and fragmentary in her face."

Jeffries said that it was really tough to watch her mother go through what she did, and she believes that Hayworth probably knew what was happening to her mind at one point. Jeffries added that illness can be incredibly humiliating and tough for the whole family to live through. 

What many people don't know is that Hayworth's daughter decided to let go of a budding singing career to look after her mother when she needed her. She said, "The family feels so helpless. And we've been ignorant about it as a country. All I ever wanted to do was to give Rita Hayworth peace in her last years."