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Roger Smith

I'd be nothing today if it wasn't for Roger

When Ann-margret met Roger Smith, most people knew her as pretty and sexy. But he encouraged her to accept difficult movie parts, and to develop her song and dance act. Today Ann-Margret is one of the biggest names in show business.

K'It will be wonderful to be back home in Sweden again!' That's what superstar Ann-margret, 42, says. Even if she has lived in the U.S. since she was 5, she still calls Sweden home. And she insists on speaking Swedish when she comes, and she has to convince reporters that she still loves herring, meatballs and Swedish folklore.

I remember her from her first visit to Sweden 20 years ago, when she stepped off the plane dressed in white fur, and with that gigantic red hair. back then, she seemed to be a quite shy and insecure young girl, whose every smile or move was well rehearsed and thought through.

So typically Hollywood, made up by smart agents, some said, and it was hard to imagine that this little inhibited girl, who also didn't look very special, behind all that make up, actually was becoming world famous. That she would go to London and meet the Queen, and then go back home again, where people were gossiping about her and Elvis, her co-star in 'Bye Bye Birdie' (sic).

Even more unbelievable it seemed that someone would come up with the idea of calling her 'The Animal'.

'Don't we all have something of an animal in us', is said to be her usual answer to the press on that one. The same press that gets confused when 'The Animal' sings 'Violer Till Mor' (Violets for mother) as soon as she's back on Swedish soil.

Maybe she wants us to think about the little girl she once was when she first appeared in public in Örnsköldsvik when she was 10.

She was called Ann-Margret Olsson back then - that was before she lost her surname as 'not to embarass her family'. She was then on her first visit in Sweden since she as a 5-year old emigrated with her mother. They had left Valsjöbyn in the county of Jämtland to meet up with daddy Gus, who was an electrician and a Swedish-American, who had lived apart from his family for 4 years.

'I have always been looking for a father-figure', she has said. She speaks often and long about her husband, Roger Smith, whom she has known for close to 20 years, and been married to for 16.

'Even if I am a sex symbol on the screen, I'm one man's woman in private', she says.

He was a disillusioned B-move actor when they first met, and who was getting a divorce. She was one of the hottest things in Hollywood, with an income to match, but she didn't decide what to do or don't do with her career.

'I sang, I danced and acted, but I wasn't pleased with myself. I was like an old work horse, controlled by agents, movie studios and pr-people. I was unhappy, but didn't realize why'.

Along with Roger, 50, came the love of her life. She also got a best friend, an artistic advisor and, as time went, a full time manager.

Under his guidance Ann-Margret's career took a whole new direction. He knew that if she was to be fully accepted as a professional, she had to take more difficult parts. She had to take risks, not be content with just being a sex symbol. In the years since then, Ann-Margret has developed into an outstanding song and dance artist - her shows are the most popular in Las Vegas - and she has shown that she can do character acting of the highest class. Her breakthrough was in 'Carnal Knowledge', directed by Mike Nichols, co-starring Jack Nicholson. She was nominated for an Oscar, and noone could now call her just a stupid sex bomb.

She's a workaholic, who with 22 years in the limelight has done close to 40 films, numerous TV-shows, 7 albums and at least a thousand live performances in vegas, Miami and Europe.

In Sweden she's now hot property not just by the fact that she's doing her show at the China Theatre in Stockholm, but also by the fact that Swedish Television has bought the film 'Who will love my children' - where Ann-Margret of all things plays a worn-out mother of 10, dying of cancer, who is trying to find new homes for her children before she dies. Based on a true story, and Ann-Margret has received fantastic reviews for her portrayal.

Another exciting part she has, is the one in the new version of 'A Streetcar named Desire', which we may soon see, and also in 'The return of the Soldier', which was very well received at the Film Festival in Cannes. Ann-Margret stars along with big names such as Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson. Also in this film, she does a woman totally different from the usual Ann-Margret we normally see - a shy spinster who secretly worships her cousin.

'I try to get different parts all the time', she has said. Maybe she remembers Roger's words to her: 'If you want to become like Katharine Hepburn, don't be satisfied with just the glamourous parts'.

In private, things have happened which have made her mature, since that time when she was Elvis' little girlfriend. About ten years ago something happened that could have put an end to her career - she fell from the stage during a show in Las Vegas. She fractured her jaw in 5 places, got her cheek torn apart and smashed her knee. She was in a coma for 5 days, and for a while doctors even believed her back was injured.

But thanks to the immediate action of Roger, she was back in shape sooner than anyone could ever expect. He flew himself to tha scen of the accident, and brought her with him to one of America's best plastic surgeons. Ann-Margret's face was saved, and today she can hardly feel anything from the accident. But she's not the same inside:

'I had so much time to think while in hospital. I re-valuated things in my life. When you have been so close to death as I have, you believe that God has to have something to do with your life. And that something means more than just being an entertainer'.

Ann-Margret realized how much she meant, not just to Roger, but also the 3 step-children, that he had gained custody of, after the divorce. Another person who she was very close to, was her father, who at the time was treated for incurable cancer at the very same hospital she was in. She wanted to get well for his sake, she said then.

Her father died in 1973, a major blow for Ann-Margret, who then hadn't psychologically recovered from her accident. She threw herself so hard into her work, that she suffered from exhaustion.

'I was tired and nervous and couldn't sleep. Both Roger and I also deeply wanted a child at the time'.

Ann-Margret had 5 months off, and with the help of her husband and psychiatrics, she was back on her feet again:

'Psychoanalysis, the faith in God, and my love for Roger have saved my life' she said.

She has also suffered during later years. She has accepted the fact that she won't have children of her own, and also the chocking fact that Roger suffers from a muscular disorder called Myasthenia Gravis, who in worst cases can lead to total paralysation.

'We have learned to live with it' she says, and she won't hesitate to cancel a show or a tour if Roger would get worse.

'He has done so much for me, now it's my turn to take care of him'.

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By Margaretha Pavell

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