Born in Sweden, Ann-Margret came to the United States with her parents after World War II and moved to the West Coast with her singing group around 1959.
George Burns helped launch her singing career, and she soon went on to acting, starring alongside big names such as Elvis Presley, Jack Nicholson and John Wayne, earning an Oscar nomination for Carnal Knowledge.
While performing in the lounge of the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Ann-Margret was given the opportunity to audition for Hollywood veteran George Burns. Immediately after, he invited her to perform for a 10-night engagement at the Sahara Hotel, where the 18-year-old earned rave reviews.
A succession of offers followed, including a record contract from RCA, and a seven-year film contract from 20th Century Fox.
In the early 1960s, Ann-Margret’s burgeoning career was chronicled in Life magazine, which classified her as Hollywood’s next young starlet.
She made her film debut as Bette Davis’ daughter in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961), and released her first album And Here She Is, Ann-Margret.
In 1963, she co-starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Bye Bye Birdie, alongside Dick Van Dyke. By the end of the year, she had also established herself as a recording star with two albums, and five additional hit singles that appeared on the Bye Bye Birdie soundtrack.
In addition, she was invited to serenade President John F. Kennedy at his 46th birthday party.
In 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret was noted for her performance as Presley’s love interest, a role that she was rumored to play on and offscreen. She continued to make a series of mildly successful films, including Kitten With a Whip and The Pleasure Seekers (both 1964).
Although big box-office draws, Ann-Margret’s early roles exploited her sex appeal, including her portrayal as Karl Malden’s promiscuous wife who makes a seductive play for Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid (1965).
In 1964, Ann-Margret’s romantic life also sparked when she began dating the former star of ABC’s 77 Sunset Strip, Roger Smith, whom she had first met in 1961. The couple married in May 1967. Her new husband doubled as her personal manager.
In 1968, Ann-Margret was contracted by CBS to host a number of television specials, which featured Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas, and Jack Benny. During her time with CBS, she continued to regularly perform in Vegas, where she was often referred to as “The Queen of Vegas” and “The Swedish Meatball.”
Under Smith’s influence, she attempted to shed her sex-kitten image by taking on more serious roles. She succeeded when Mike Nichols cast her as the tragic Bobbie Templeton in 1971’s Carnal Knowledge, which starred Jack Nicholson.
Ann-Margret’s supporting role was considered a breakthrough dramatic performance, establishing her as a credible actress, as well as earning her an Oscar nomination.
In November 1972, while appearing in a Lake Tahoe Casino, Ann-Margret had a brush with death. While performing an extravagant opening sequence, she plummeted from a 22-foot platform, landing face down. After a dramatic and life-saving rescue, she fell into a coma for three days suffering broken bones in her face. She was taken back to Los Angeles to recover. Shortly after, the actress lost her father to cancer.
Ann-Margret’s accident, coupled with the death of her beloved father, led to a growing dependency on alcohol. Her addiction took its toll, and before long, she spiraled into a severe depression. However, with the support of her husband, she worked to rebuild her life and career, emerging as a healthier and more vibrant woman.