In the past year alone, Liza Minnelli has outlived the Copacabana, Christopher Plummer, and Robert F. Kennedy’s Instagram account. She has outlived Larry King, Mary-Kate Olsen’s marriage, and the blockage of the Suez Canal. She has outlived Queen Elizabeth II’s dachshund-corgi mix, Vulcan, and the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip. She has outlived the Pacific Theatres and ArcLight Cinemas, Century 21, the search for Lady Gaga’s kidnapped French bulldogs, and the Manhattan restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, at whose now-defunct French eatery Le Cirque she once performed an impromptu version of “New York, New York,” during the birthday party of the gossip columnist Liz Smith. (Smith died in 2017, so Minnelli has outlived her, too.)
All of these testaments to Minnelli’s longevity come courtesy of a Twitter account called @LiZaOutlives, which sprang into existence, in February of 2020, with the declaration that “Liza Minnelli outlived the marriage of Jon Peters and Pamela Anderson.” I first became aware of the account a few months later, when someone I follow retweeted the update “Liza Minnelli has outlived Disney’s ‘Frozen,’ which will not reopen on Broadway.” With that news item and many others, whoever was running the account revealed themselves to be remarkably quick on the draw. They posted news of celebrity passings faster than some obituary sections and always seemed to have the scoop on divorces and bankruptcies. The updates, which came once or sometimes twice a day, could sound a bit overly triumphant at a time when thousands of Americans were dying of the coronavirus every day. Wasn’t it glib, or even ghoulish, to celebrate the survival of one woman in the face of so many casualties? On the other hand, @LiZaOutlives had a sly way of commenting on the times. It noted when Minnelli outlived the television program “Cops,” Mitch McConnell’s control of the Senate, the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, and Scott Atlas’s employment as Trump’s special adviser on COVID-19. The message was clear: old structures are crumbling, yet Liza persists, a bedazzled Energizer Bunny running on gusto and guile. The account was like a Twitter version of the famous “Follies” lyrics: “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all / And, my dear, I’m still here.”
I figured that the person behind @LiZaOutlives would be some Very Online millennial feeding social media’s appetite for the matriarch as meme—a form of homage that is dynamite for clicks but doesn’t always do its subjects justice. (See, for instance, the quippy Lucille Bluth clips that lit up the Internet after Liza outlived her “Arrested Development” co-star Jessica Walter, in March.) But when I got in touch I found someone different: Scott Gorenstein, a soft-spoken, middle-aged man who is not only a dyed-in-the-wool, lifelong Minnelli superfan but her former employee. For more than a decade, Gorenstein worked as Minnelli’s press representative, and he told me that he still can’t resist doing informal pro-bono publicity for her. “I will always consider it my duty to look out for her,” he said.
Gorenstein shares Minnelli’s compact stature and wears a studious-looking pair of round spectacles. The walls of his Jersey City apartment are covered in Liza Playbills, signed posters, and a framed copy of her 1987 Revlon campaign. He told me, by phone, that he has worshipped both Minnelli and her mother, Judy Garland, since his childhood in Philadelphia—“ ‘Judy at Carnegie,’ to me, is the Bible,” he said. In junior high, he begged his parents to take him to the Shubert Theatre to see Minnelli’s 1979 concert tour. Gorenstein knew by then that he was gay, and he did not intend to come out to his family. He bonded with a childhood friend named Scott Schecter over their shared love of all things Liza, and the pair would spend hours listening to records and watching Liza and Judy on TV.
Gorenstein moved to New York City after college, in 1988. He spent the next several decades volunteering his time with ACT UP and drifting through publicity gigs. “I never really had that great job I wanted,” he said. “Representing all these incredible stars just eluded me.” In the end, it was his old friend Scott Schecter who ended up changing his life. Schecter had gone into the professional Judy-and-Liza business, becoming a respected archivist and biographer of the mother-daughter duo. He also ran Minnelli’s Web site. In early 2009, Schecter heard that Minnelli was poking around for a new publicist to run her Tony campaign for “Liza’s at the Palace,” and he put Gorenstein up for the job. But Gorenstein demurred, worrying that he was not up to the task of securing her such a major award. Then, a few months later, he got a phone call from Minnelli’s lawyers telling him that Schecter had died, suddenly, of a heart attack, and had bequeathed Gorenstein his entire Liza-and-Judy collection.
Gorenstein was in shock, but threw himself into filling his friend’s shoes, and soon enough he realized that he’d backed into a full-time job on Team Liza. “The next thing I know, I’m picking up the phone and calling reporters, going, ‘Hi, this is Scott Gorenstein, and I’m Liza Minnelli’s . . . publicist?’ And Liza is calling me at home to ask me, like, what the schedule is for next Tuesday.” Minnelli was a demanding boss, and Gorenstein learned to revel in her requests—cancelling interviews, saying no on her behalf. “You know what happens if she’s not in USA Today?” he recalled telling one obnoxious reporter. “Liza Minnelli wakes up, and she’s still Liza Minnelli.”
Gorenstein considers it a blessing that he only started working with Minnelli later in life. He knew, by that time, that the Minnelli he had built up inside his head was a magical motivational soulmate and not the real, complex woman who employed him. “My entire life, I wanted to ride in the back of a limousine with Liza Minnelli,” he said. “It’s all I ever wanted. And then I found myself riding in the back of a limousine with Liza Minnelli and I found out we had nothing to talk about.
Minnelli and Gorenstein started to drift apart around 2015, when she moved back to Los Angeles, and he now works as a publicist for Sony Pictures Entertainment. He wasn’t sure whether Minnelli was aware of his Twitter account, so I reached out to her manager to ask. He responded with a message that he said came directly from Minnelli: “I do not support ‘LizaMinnelliOutlives’ (nor its creator Scott Gorenstein) because it is predicated on the idea that I should not be alive, which I find hurtful and offensive.”
Gorenstein called the response “a clear misunderstanding of what the Twitter account is.”
For him, there is nothing funny or disrespectful about listing all the things that Liza has outlived. He does not appreciate parodies, like Kristen Wiig’s “Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp” sketch, on “Saturday Night Live.” “Everyone expects me to laugh along with the joke—I’m never going to laugh along with the joke,” he said. When I asked if he has a plan for when the inevitable does happen—Liza can’t outlive things forever—he said, “You’re asking me something I can’t. . . .” His voice trailed off. “Since I was a child, I was, like, ‘I’m going to devote my life to you, lady.’ ” He has noticed, with dismay, that not all of the people who follow his Twitter account seem as devoted to Minnelli. On her most recent birthday, he said, “I thought I had something so clever. I wrote, ‘Liza Minnelli LIVES! Happy 75th to the one and only!’ I thought, oh my God, this tweet’s gonna go through the roof. And that got, like, maybe twenty-five hundred likes. But then I’ll do a Kim Kardashian post and that gets, like, seven thousand.”