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Roger Smith

Elvis, Fred Flintstone and Ann-Margret

At her low point in the early '70s, Ann-Margret decided the next tour would be her last.

She was battling alcoholism and insecurities. She felt overworked. She had just made the intense drama "Carnal Knowledge," which earned her an Oscar nomination but left her depressed and drained. She was 29, and decided enough was enough.

"It was 1971, and in my own mind I was doing a three-week farewell tour," says the stage and screen legend on the line from L.A. "Then I came home for a couple weeks and said (to my husband), 'Honey, I don't think I want to be retired ... I don't like this.'

"I have not looked back since."

There have been big TV specials and movies since then - even another Oscar nomination (1975's "Tommy") - but the stage has been Ann-Margret's calling card. Niagara Falls fans can see for themselves when she brings 45 years of showbiz savvy to the Niagara Fallsview Casino Thursday.

Born in Sweden, Ann-Margret Olsson made her mark in the early '60s with the classic musicals "State Fair" and "Bye Bye Birdie," which led to her memorable turn opposite Elvis Presley in "Viva Las Vegas." A year-long relationship between the two stars made them the Brad 'n Angelina of their day.

Her ups and downs since could fill a book. In fact, it did - 1994's "Ann-Margret: My Story.

- There was the sexy animated Ann-Margrock from The Flintstones.

- There was a gruesome 22-foot fall off a stage in 1974.

- There were movies with Dean Martin, John Wayne, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson.

- There was the debilitating ailment called myasthenia gravis that struck her husband, Roger Smith, in 1980, turning Ann-Margret into a caregiver when she wasn't a performer.

It's a lot to digest in a 20-minute phone interview. She obliges anyway:

Touring can't be getting any easier for you. What's the secret?

A-M: " The secret is my love of performing. It's my passion. What can I say? If I didn't have the passion, I would quit immediately.

"The passion is what got me into being an entertainer in the first place."

Even after 40 years of this, are there still things that get you excited?

A-M: "Yes, because every audience is new and different. When I was doing 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' (2001), I did 485 shows, 42 cities, 37,000 miles, and all of us realized ... when you think you're going to get a laugh one night, you don't. Then the next night is totally different.

"But live performing ... wow. It's very heady stuff."

Are the motorcycles still part of the show?

A-M: "I don't have the motorcycles on stage, but I have a motorcycle outfit!"

Which is good enough for some people, I imagine.

A-M: "I have a motorcycle here at the house. It was given to me three years ago - it's lavender and has Harley-Davidson written in white with little daisies surrounding each letter. It's a girlie bike!"

You kind of went through hell to do 'Carnal Knowledge,' but you got an Oscar nomination out of it. Was it still worth it.?

A-M: "Definitely. I remember we were banned in Georgia!"

You took that as a compliment?

A-M: "Of course. We forget what it was like in 1971. When I was doing 'Best Little Whorehouse,' there was someplace that was going to ban the billboard. It was just me on the billboard under a satin sheet. I just thought that was funny, considering I'm 95 years old now!" (not quite - she's 66)

You managed to escape that 'sexpot' pigeonhole though - you seemed to get better roles and more respect. How did you pull that off?

A-M: "I was just so blessed. I mean, I know I've made some clunkers. One doesn't try to make clunkers but somehow things don't all add up. But I've worked with some great directors, my God."

It's the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. Has this been a tougher month than usual?

A-M: "It's always tough. We were friends for 14 years. (His death) was just such a waste ... so sad.

"He was a pioneer. What can I say ... I can't even talk about it."

How's Roger doing?

A-M: "Thank you for asking. We just went to Baton Rouge with our dog, Missy. He does sleep a lot, but when there's something he has to do, he's up and ready to go."

(Myasthenia gravis is a disease that disrupts nerve impulses to muscles. Though Smith is in remission, Ann-Margret is superstitious even talking about improvement, so she changes the subject.)

We haven't talked about your alter-ego yet. What's the weirdest Ann Margrock story you've ever heard?

A-M: "It's really cute. At airports, I have these little three-year-olds coming up to me going, 'Ann Margrock!' That's all they think I've done, which is fine. If it entertains them, that's terrific."




From The Niagara Falls Review August 31, 2007

The Unofficial Home Of The Fantastic Ann-Margret | A-M Live On Stage