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Roger Smith

I'm just an ordinary girl who's been very lucky...

Ann-Margret's always seemed to be breaking up from her husband Roger Smith. Somehow, they have always managed to find their way back together again.

'The year is 1972. After almost 10 years as 'the best paid nobody' in Hollywood, Ann-Margret has finally been recognized as a real star, she has even been nominated for an Academy Award. She is at the top of her career, and she is one of the best paid actors in the world.

But her marriage to Roger Smith is on the rocks. It's because he's insanely jealous, sometimes rightly so...

Of course, they have discussed having children, but at the same time they hesitated, and put it off for the future. A baby would halt her career, and that wasn't possible at the time, when she was doing better than ever, both artistically and economically.

After all, she was only 31, and they could always have children later. And while she now wasn't a mother, she became a step-mother in 1972. Roger got custody of his three children, Tracy, 14, Jordan, 13 and Dallas, 10, from his previous marriage, to actress Virginia Shaw.

Those children were now living with Ann-Margret and Roger in the house that had once belonged to a.o. Hedy Lamarr and Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, in the Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills. Ann-Margret even built a few more rooms to fit the now bigger family.

Ann-Margret's parents were also living not too far away, in the house Ann-Margret had bought for them at the start of her Hollywood career. Her dad was getting old now, he was 71, and had had some health problems, with his heart. Still, it came as a shock to all when it was revealed he had cancer, and his life was in danger.

And so would Ann-Margret's life also be, in the near future.

Thanks to her success with films such as 'Carnal Knowledge', she was now in demand, not only among film producers, but also by the big hotels in gambling resorts such as Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City, Reno, Nevada and Las Vegas. She could raise her wages accordingly. Soon she was paid $250,000 per week in Las Vegas, as much as superstars Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand. Frank Sinatra, at the time, didn't get more than $100,000 per week.

Ann-Margret, of course, jumped at the opportunity.

In September 1972, she opened her show at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe. The start was sensational. Ann-Margret stood in 4 steel wires high on a platform above the stage. There was a rail that she could catch if she fell. The platform was lowered slowly, while the orchestra played the opening number. Rehearsals had gone perfect, and so did the first ten performances. But the eleventh, a Sunday night, disaster struck. One of the wires got stuck, the platform fell over and Ann-Margret fell against the stage.

She was seriously injured, broke an arm, had a big wound in a leg, had her cheek crushed... and lost conscience. The curtain wasn't yet raised - the audience just heard a big bang - when they were told tonight's show was cancelled.

Roger, an excellent pilot, was normally always present when his wife performed, but tonight was different. He had gone home earlier in the day to be with Tracy, his 14 year old daughter, who the day after was starting in a new school.

Late that Sunday night he was told his wife was seriously injured. he tried to get a commercial flight from L.A. to Tahoe, but was told tha last one was already in the air. He then tried to rent a plane, but all offices were closed. It was 1 o'clock at night, and only one thought went through his mind: to somehow get to Tahoe to be with his wife.

Finally, he decided to steal a small plane at a small air field close by. He drove there, jumped the fence, and ran from one plane to another. At last he found a 2-engined Cessna 337, whose door wasn't locked, and that he knew that he could start without a key.

The weather was lousy, foggy and rainy, but he actually managed to fly to Tahoe in the stolen plane in 1 hour and 40 minutes, and then by car to Ann-Margret's hospital.

Doctors were about to operate, but Roger vetoed. Instead, he knew the best plastic surgeon in the U.S., Dr. Franklin Ashley, was in L.A., and decided to give him a call.

He succeeded even though it was late. Dr. Ashley believed it would be possible to operate on Ann-Margret through her mouth, instead of cutting her cheeks open, and yes, he would do the job. An ambulance now took the unconscious Ann-Margret to the airport. Roger made room for her in the stolen Cessna and flew her back to L.A. where Dr. Ashley was waiting.

It probably saved her looks, and therefor also her career. The fact is, almost everyone never believed she would ever be on stage again, or be in fron of a camera. But only 10 weeks later, she made her come back, with one of her arms still in plaster. Apart from that, you couldn't tell she had been in hospital for 8 weeks, with her teeth and cheeks sewn together, and that she could eat only fluid food.

During her convalescence, Ann-Margret was depressed. Partly because of her father's illness - everyone knew he wouldn't live long, and he died in the beginning of 1973. But partly also because of her own situation. She didn't know what her own future would look like.

Roger was by her side the whole time.

"She became so depressed", he has told, "that she almost didn't want to go on living. She didn't even want to eat, I fed her through a straw. I was desperate to make her feel good again, anything. I went to the bank and withdrew all my money and asked a jeweller to make the biggest diamond ring possible to make".

The ring did wonders. Not only did it make her feel better, she also realized how much Roger loved her, and what he meant to her. Since that day, their marital problems are over, and Ann-Margret always wears that ring as a symbol of their love.

Today, their relationship is considered Hollywood's most solid - after all, they have been married for 22 years - and happiest.

Ann-Margret has said: "We try to be honest with each other in every situation, We never argue about money, we don't flirt, or threaten the other with divorce if something is bad. We never critisize each other in public and we accept each other as we are".

"It may sound like a clichˆ©, but we're actually best friends. Roger Has accepted me as I am. He doesn't care that I can't cook, while he's great in the kitchen, he does fantastic spicy Mexican dishes. And when I want traditional Swedish food, my mother Anna does it. She does a traditional Swedish smorgasbord every Christmas".

Ann-Margret's and Roger's marriage has been under pressure many times since the accident in Tahoe. It has only made them tighter than ever before.

One problem has been children. At the beginning of their marriage, they didn't want children, they thought that they could always get them later. After the accident, Ann-Margret's biggest wish, is a child of her own. For a time, she was willing to sacrice almost everything to become a mother. Even though she consulted several medical experts, even Swedish, her dream never came through. Now she's 48, and has given up hope.

An even bigger problem, might be the disease that hit Roger around 1980. He was diagnozed with Myasthena Gravis, an incurable muscle disease. The most famous victim of it, is Ari Onassis. It results, sooner or later, in death, and Roger knows what he's in for, he just doesn't know when.

He's thrown between optimism and hopelessness. At the beginning of the eighties, doctors said he might have 10 years left, but he might also die the very next day. Now, almost 10 years have passed...

Ann-Margret and Roger have made the best of the situation. They try to live a normal life. That means she's working less to take care of her husband.

"I was devastated when I found out how serious his illness is", Ann-Margret has said. "It's terrible to see the one you love the most, in so much pain. I feel helpless. There's nothing I can do, except making sure he takes it easy. He gets a lot worse under stress. Sometimes he's so bad, he can't get out of bed.

"His illness has made us realize every new day is special, and everything we do, we have to do quickly", she has said. "We can never make any plans for tomorrow, because we never know how he feels. Sometimes he's paralyzed from pain.

"When his attacks come, my head becomes fuzzy", Roger has said. "I can't think clearly, and only concentrate on one thing at a time".

Still, he is the one taking care of the family's business. He has invested Ann-Margret's income in various projects, like hotels and property. Of course they are so well off, they will never have economical worries. But apart from the odd luxury trip to Hawaii and a bungalow by the Pacific Ocean, they live a simple life.

In the middle of the seventies, Ann-Margret bought her mother Anna, a new house. It's just a short drive from her own house in Benedict Canyon. She and Anna are very close, and they see each other practically every day.

"She's the one I have to thank for all my success I've had as an artist", Ann-Margret says.

"But really, I'm just an ordinary girl, who has been very lucky..."

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By Ann-Mari Kjellander

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