- Category : Actress
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 3
Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino; October 17, 1918 – May 14, 1987) was an American dancer and film actress who achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars. Appearing first as Rita Cansino, she agreed to change her name to Rita Hayworth and her natural dark brown hair color to dark red to attract a greater range of roles. Her appeal led to her being featured on the cover of Life magazine five times, beginning in 1940.
Hayworth appeared in a total of 61 films over 37 years. She is one of six women who have the distinction of having danced on screen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest Stars of All Time.
Hayworth was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, the oldest child of two dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, Sr., was from Castilleja de la Cuesta, a little town near Seville, Spain. Her mother, Volga Hayworth, was an American of Irish-English descent who had performed with the Ziegfeld Follies. The couple married in 1917. They also had two sons: Eduardo Jr. and Vernon Cansino.
Margarita's father wanted her to become a professional dancer, while her mother hoped she would become an actress. Her paternal grandfather, Antonio Cansino, was renowned as a Spanish classical dancer. He popularized the bolero and his dancing school in Madrid was world famous. Hayworth later recalled, "From the time I was three and a half... as soon as I could stand on my own feet, I was given dance lessons." She noted "I didn't like it very much... but I didn't have the courage to tell my father, so I began taking the lessons. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, that was my girlhood". She attended dance classes every day for a few years in a Carnegie Hall complex, where she was taught by her uncle Angel Cansino. She performed publicly from the age of six. In 1926 at the age of eight, she was featured in La Fiesta, a short film for Warner Bros.
In 1927, her father took the family to Hollywood. He believed that dancing could be featured in the movies and that his family could be part of it. He established his own dance studio, where he taught such Hollywood luminaries as James Cagney and Jean Harlow. During the Great Depression, he lost all his investments as commercial interest in his dancing classes waned. He partnered with his daughter to form "The Dancing Cansinos". Since under California law Margarita was too young to work in nightclubs and bars, her father took her with him to work across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. In the early 1930s, it was a popular tourist spot for people from Los Angeles. Due to her working Cansino never graduated from high school, but she had completed ninth grade at Hamilton High in Los Angeles.
Cansino (Hayworth) took a bit part in the film Cruz Diablo (1934) at age 16, which led to another in In Caliente (1935) with the Mexican actress, Dolores del Río. She danced with her father in such nightspots as the Foreign and the Caliente clubs. Winfield Sheehan, the head of the Fox Film Corporation, saw her dancing at the Caliente Club and quickly arranged for Hayworth to do a screen test a week later. Impressed by her screen persona, Sheehan signed her for a short-term six-month contract at Fox, under the name Rita Cansino, the first of two name changes for her film career.
During her time at Fox, Hayworth appeared in five pictures in non-notable roles. By the end of her six-month contract, Fox had merged into 20th Century Fox, with Darryl F. Zanuck serving as the executive producer. Dismissing Sheehan's interest in Hayworth, Zanuck did not renew her contract. Feeling that she had screen potential, the salesman and promoter, Edward C. Judson, whom she would marry in 1936, got her the lead roles in several independent films and arranged a screen test with Columbia Pictures. The studio head Harry Cohn signed Hayworth to a long-term contract, and cast her in small roles in Columbia features.
Often cast as the exotic foreigner, Hayworth (Cansino) appeared in several roles in 1935: in Dante's Inferno with Spencer Tracy; and Paddy O'Day, in which she played a Russian dancer. She was an Argentinian in Under the Pampas Moon and an Egyptian beauty in Charlie Chan in Egypt. In 1936, she took her first starring role as a "Latin type" in Human Cargo.
Cohn argued that Hayworth's image was too Mediterranean, which reduced her opportunities to being cast in "exotic" roles, more limited in number. With Cohn and Judson's encouragement, Hayworth changed her hair color to dark red and her name to Rita Hayworth. By using her mother's maiden name, she led people to see her British-American ancestry and became a classic "American" pin-up.
Hayworth appeared in five minor Columbia pictures and three minor independent movies in 1937. The following year she appeared in five Columbia B movies. In 1939, Cohn pressured director Howard Hawks to use Hayworth for a small but important role as a man-trap in the aviation drama Only Angels Have Wings, in which she played opposite Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. With this film's box-office success, fan mail for Hayworth began pouring into Columbia's publicity department. Cohn began to see Hayworth as his first and official new star. The studio never officially had stars under contract, except for Jean Arthur, who was trying to break with it.
Cohn began to build Hayworth up in 1940 in features such as Music in My Heart, The Lady in Question and Angels Over Broadway. That year, she was first featured in a Life magazine photo. He loaned Hayworth to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to appear in Susan and God opposite Joan Crawford. While on loan to Warner Bros., Hayworth appeared as the second female lead in The Strawberry Blonde (1941) opposite James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. As the film was a big box-office success, Hayworth's popularity rose; she immediately became one of Hollywood's hottest properties. So impressed was Warner Bros. that they tried to buy Hayworth's contract from Columbia, but Cohn refused to release her.
Her success led to a supporting role in Blood and Sand (1941) opposite Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell with Fox, the studio that had dropped her six years before. In one of her most notable screen roles, Hayworth played Doña Sol des Muire, the first of many screen sirens.
She returned in triumph to Columbia Pictures and was cast in the musical You'll Never Get Rich (1941) opposite Fred Astaire in one of the highest-budgeted films Columbia had ever made. The picture was so successful that the following year the studio produced and released another Astaire-Hayworth picture, You Were Never Lovelier. In 1942, Hayworth also appeared in two other pictures, Tales of Manhattan and My Gal Sal.
During this period, Hayworth was featured in an August 1941 Life magazine photo in which she lounged seductively in a black-lace negligee. When the United States joined World War II in December 1941, the photo made Hayworth one of the top two "pin-up girls" of the war years; the other was the blonde Betty Grable. In 2002, the satin nightgown Hayworth wore for the photo sold for $26,888.
Peak years at Columbia
In 1944, Hayworth made one of her best-known films, the Technicolor musical Cover Girl (1944) with Gene Kelly. The film established her as Columbia's top star of the 1940s. For three consecutive years, starting in 1944, Hayworth was named one of the top movie box office attractions in the world. She was adept in ballet, tap, ballroom, and Spanish routines.
Cohn continued to showcase Hayworth's dance talents; she was the first dancer featured on film to partner with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Columbia featured her in the Technicolor films: Tonight and Every Night (1945) with Lee Bowman; and Down to Earth (1947) with Larry Parks.
Her erotic appeal was most noted in Charles Vidor's black and white film noir Gilda (1946) with Glenn Ford, which caused censors some consternation. The role, in which Hayworth wore black satin and performed a legendary one-glove striptease, made her into a cultural icon as a femme fatale. While her film was still in release, extensive publicity linked her to a widely covered nuclear bomb test in the South Pacific.
Numerous reporters from hundreds of papers across the country were covering preparations in 1946 at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean's Marshall Islands for testing of the first nuclear bomb after World War II. The United States had been the first nation to use nuclear bombs, against the civilian population of Japan. Reporters publicized that young scientists had put the name of "Gilda" and Hayworth's image on the bomb, alluding to her bombshell status as a film star. Coverage varied widely at the time, but the story stuck that her image had been put on the bomb, and was repeated in her 1987 obituary in The New York Times, which readers relied on as fact. Her husband at the time, Orson Welles, issued a public statement, saying they would be pleased only if this were the last bomb test ever. Hayworth was furious to be used in this way.
Her biographer Barbara Leaming had a later interview with Welles in which he recalled,
...the angriest was when she found out that they'd put her on the atom bomb. Rita almost went insane, she was so angry. She was so shocked by it! Rita was the kind of person that kind of thing would hurt more than anybody. She wanted to go to Washington to hold a press conference, but Harry Cohn (president of Columbia Pictures) wouldn't let her because it would be unpatriotic.
Recent research documents that only the name "Gilda" was put on the bomb; no image of Hayworth was used.
A year later, Hayworth's performance in The Lady from Shanghai (1947) directed by Orson Welles was critically acclaimed. The film's failure at the box office was attributed in part to Welles' having had Hayworth's famous red hair cut short and bleached platinum blonde for the role. Cohn had not been consulted and was furious that Hayworth's image was changed.
Also in 1947, Hayworth was featured in a Life cover story by Winthrop Sargeant, which led to her nickname as "The Love Goddess". This term was adopted and used later as the title of a biopic and of a biography about her. In a 1980s interview Hayworth said, "Everybody else does nude scenes, but I don't. I never made nude movies. I didn't have to do that. I danced. I was provocative, I guess, in some things. But I was not completely exposed."
Her next film, The Loves of Carmen (1948) with Glenn Ford, was the first film co-produced by Columbia and Hayworth's production company, The Beckworth Corporation (named for Rebecca, her daughter with Welles). It was Columbia's biggest moneymaker that year. She received a percentage of the profits from this and all her subsequent films until 1954, when she dissolved Beckworth to pay off debts.
The Hollywood princess
In 1948, at the height of her fame, Hayworth traveled to Cannes and was introduced to Prince Aly Khan. They began a year-long courtship, and they were married on May 27, 1949. Hayworth left Hollywood and sailed for France, breaking her contract with Columbia.
As Hayworth was already one of the most well-known celebrities in the world, the courtship and the wedding received enormous press coverage around the world. Because she was still legally married to second husband Orson Welles, Hayworth also received some negative backlash for her courtship with the prince, causing some American fans to boycott her pictures. The wedding marked the first time a Hollywood actress became a princess. On December 27, 1949, Hayworth gave birth to the couple's only daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.
Though Hayworth was anxious to start a new life abroad away from Hollywood, Aly Khan's flamboyant lifestyle and duties proved too difficult for Hayworth. She did not get along with his friends, and she struggled to learn French. Aly Khan was also known in circles as a playboy, and it was suspected that he had been unfaithful to Hayworth during the marriage.
In 1951, Hayworth set sail with her two daughters back to New York. Although the couple did reconcile for a short time, they officially divorced by 1953.
Returning to Columbia
After the collapse of her marriage to Aly Khan, Hayworth was forced to return to Hollywood to star in her "comeback" picture, Affair in Trinidad (1952) with Glenn Ford. Director Vincent Sherman recalled that Hayworth seemed "rather frightened at the approach of doing another picture". She continued to clash with Columbia boss Harry Cohn, and was placed on suspension during filming. Nevertheless, the picture was highly publicized. The picture ended up grossing $1 million more than her previous blockbuster, Gilda (1946).
She continued to star in a string of successful pictures. In 1953, she had two films released: Salome with Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger; and Miss Sadie Thompson with José Ferrer and Aldo Ray. Her performance in the latter film won critical acclaim.
She was off the big screen for another four years, due mainly to a tumultuous marriage to the singer Dick Haymes. During her marriage to Haymes, she was involved in much negative publicity, which significantly lessened her appeal. By the time she returned to the screen for Fire Down Below (1957) with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak had become Columbia's top female star. Her last musical was Pal Joey (1957) with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. After this film, Hayworth left Columbia for good.
She received good reviews for her acting in Separate Tables (1958), with Burt Lancaster and David Niven, and The Story on Page One (1960) with Anthony Franciosa. She continued working throughout the 1960s. In 1962, her planned Broadway debut in Step on a Crack was cancelled for undisclosed health reasons. She continued to act in films until the early 1970s. She made a well-publicized 1971 television appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. Her last film was The Wrath of God (1972).
Struggles with Columbia Pictures
Hayworth had a strained relationship with Columbia Pictures for many years. In 1943, she was suspended without pay for nine weeks because she refused to appear in Once Upon a Time. (During this period in Hollywood, actors did not get to choose their films; they were on salary rather than receiving a fixed amount per picture.)
In 1947, Hayworth's new contract with Columbia provided a salary of US$250,000 plus 50% of film profits. In 1951 Columbia alleged it had $800,000 invested in properties for her, including the film she walked out on that year. She left Hollywood to marry Prince Aly Khan. She was suspended for failing to report to work on the film Affair in Trinidad.
In 1952, she refused to report for work because "she objected to the script." In 1955, she sued to get out of a contract with the studio, but asked for her $150,000 salary, alleging filming failed to start when agreed. She said,
I was in Switzerland when they sent me the script for Affair in Trinidad and I threw it across the room. But I did the picture, and Pal Joey too. I came back to Columbia because I wanted to work and first, see, I had to finish that goddamn contract, which is how Harry Cohn owned me! "Harry Cohn thought of me as one of the people he could exploit," said Hayworth, "and make a lot of money. And I did make a lot of money for him, but not much for me.
Years after her film career had ended and Cohn was dead, Hayworth still resented her treatment by him and Columbia.
I used to have to punch a time clock at Columbia ... Every day of my life. That's what it was like. I was under exclusive contract, like they owned me ... I think he had my dressing room bugged ... He was very possessive of me as a person, he didn't want me to go out with anybody, have any friends. No one can live that way. So I fought him ... You want to know what I think of Harry Cohn? He was a monster.
Hayworth resented that the studio failed to train her to sing or to encourage her to learn how to sing. Although she appeared to sing in many of her films, she was usually dubbed. As the public did not know the secret, she was embarrassed to be asked to sing by troops at USO shows. She complained that:
I wanted to study singing, but Harry Cohn kept saying, 'Who needs it?' and the studio wouldn't pay for it. They had me so intimidated that I couldn't have done it anyway. They always said, 'Oh, no, we can't let you do it. There's no time for that; it has to be done right now!' I was under contract, and that was it.
Cohn had a reputation as a taskmaster, but he had his own criticisms of Hayworth. He had invested heavily in her before she began a reckless affair with the married Aly Khan, and it could have caused a backlash against her career and Columbia's success. For instance, an article in the British periodical The People called for a boycott of Hayworth's films. It said, "Hollywood must be told its already tarnished reputation will sink to rock bottom if it restores this reckless woman to a place among its stars." Cohn expressed his frustration with Hayworth's judgment in an interview with Time magazine.
Hayworth might be worth ten million dollars today easily! She owned 25% of the profits with her own company and had hit after hit and she had to get married and had to get out of the business and took a suspension because she fell in love again! In five years, at two pictures a year, at 25%! Think of what she could have made! But she didn't make pictures! She took two or three suspensions! She got mixed up with different characters! Unpredictable!
Marriages and family
In 1941, Hayworth said she was the antithesis of the characters she played. "I naturally am very shy ... and I suffer from an inferiority complex." She once complained, "Men fell in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me." In 1970, she remarked that the only films she could watch without laughing were the dance musicals she made with Fred Astaire. "I guess the only jewels of my life," Hayworth said, "were the pictures I made with Fred Astaire."
Hayworth's two younger brothers, Vernon and Eduardo Cansino, Jr., both served in World War II. Vernon left the United States Army in 1946 with several medals, including the Purple Heart, and later married Susan Vail, a dancer. Eduardo Cansino, Jr. followed Hayworth into acting; he was also under contract with Columbia Pictures. In 1950, he made his screen debut in Magic Carpet.
Hayworth was married and divorced five times. She said, "Basically, I am a good, gentle person, but I am attracted to mean personalities."
Edward Charles Judson
In 1937, when Hayworth was 18, she married Edward Judson, an oilman turned promoter who was more than twice her age. They married in Las Vegas. He had played a major role in launching her acting career. A shrewd businessman, he was domineering and became her manager for months before he proposed. "He helped me with my career," Hayworth conceded after they divorced, "and helped himself to my money." She alleged Judson compelled her to transfer considerable property to him and promise to pay him $12,000 under threats that he would do her "great bodily harm." She filed for divorce from him on February 24, 1942, with the complaint of cruelty. She noted to the press his work took him to Oklahoma and Texas while she lived and worked in Hollywood. Judson was as old as her father, who was enraged by the marriage, which caused a rift between Hayworth and her parents until the divorce. Judson had failed to tell Hayworth before they married he had previously been twice married. When she left him, she literally had no money—she asked her friend Hermes Pan if she could eat at his home.
Hayworth married Orson Welles on September 7, 1943. None of her colleagues knew about the planned wedding (before a judge) until she announced it the day before. For the civil ceremony, she wore a beige suit, ruffled white blouse, and a veil. A few hours after they got married, they returned to work at the studio. They had a daughter, Rebecca, born December 17, 1944, died June 1, 2004, aged 59. They struggled in their marriage. Hayworth said that Welles did not want to be tied down:
During the entire period of our marriage, he showed no interest in establishing a home. When I suggested purchasing a home, he told me he didn't want the responsibility. Mr. Welles told me he never should have married in the first place; that it interfered with his freedom in his way of life.
Hayworth filed for divorce in 1948.
Prince Aly Khan
In 1948, Hayworth left her film career to marry Prince Aly Khan, a son of Sultan Mahommed Shah, Aga Khan III, the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. They were married on May 27, 1949. Her bridal trousseau had been influenced by Dior's "New Look", launched in 1947.
Aly Khan and his family were heavily involved in horse racing, owning and racing horses. Hayworth had no interest in the sport, but became a member of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club anyway. Her filly, Double Rose, won several races in France and finished second in the 1949 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
In 1951, while still married to Hayworth, Khan was spotted dancing with the actress, Joan Fontaine, in the nightclub where he and his wife had met. Hayworth threatened to divorce him in Reno, Nevada. In early May, Hayworth moved to Nevada to establish legal residence to qualify for a divorce. She stayed at Lake Tahoe with their daughter, saying there was a threat the child would be kidnapped. Hayworth filed for divorce from Khan on September 2, 1951, on the grounds of "extreme cruelty, entirely mental in nature."
Hayworth once said she might convert to Islam, but did not. During the custody fight over their daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, born December 26, 1949, the Prince said he wanted her raised as a Muslim; Hayworth (who had been raised a Roman Catholic) wanted the child to be a Christian.
Hayworth rejected his offer of $1,000,000 if she would rear Yasmin as a Muslim from age seven and allow her to go to Europe to visit with him for two or three months each year.
Nothing will make me give up Yasmin's chance to live here in America among our precious freedoms and habits," declared Hayworth. "While I respect the Muslim faith and all other faiths it is my earnest wish that my daughter be raised as a normal, healthy American girl in the Christian faith. There isn't any amount of money in the entire world for which it is worth sacrificing this child's privilege of living as a normal Christian girl here in the United States. There just isn't anything else in the world that can compare with her sacred chance to do that. And I'm going to give it to Yasmin regardless of what it costs.
When Hayworth and Dick Haymes first met, he was still married and his singing career was waning. When she showed up at the clubs, he got a larger audience. Haymes was desperate for money, as two of his former wives were taking legal action against him for unpaid child support. His financial problems were so bad he could not return to California without being arrested. On July 7, 1954, his ex-wife Nora Haymes got a bench warrant for his arrest, because he owed her $3,800 in alimony. Less than a week prior, his other ex-wife, Joanne Dru, also got a bench warrant because she said he owed $4,800 in support payments for their three children. Hayworth ended up paying most of Haymes's debts.
Haymes was born in Argentina, and did not have solid proof of American citizenship. Not long after he met Hayworth, US officials initiated proceedings to have him deported to Argentina for being an illegal alien. He hoped Hayworth could influence the government and keep him in the United States. When she assumed responsibility for his citizenship, a bond was formed that led to marriage. The two were married on September 24, 1953 at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, and their wedding procession went through the casino.
From the start of their marriage, Haymes was deeply indebted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). When Hayworth took time off from attending his comeback performances in Philadelphia, the audiences sharply declined. Haymes's $5000 weekly salary was attached by the IRS to pay a $100,000 bill, and he was unable to pay his pianist. Haymes' ex-wives demanded money while Hayworth publicly bemoaned her own lack of alimony from Aly Khan. At one point, the couple was effectively imprisoned in a hotel room for 24 hours in Manhattan at the Hotel Madison as sheriff's deputies waited outside threatening to arrest Haymes for outstanding debts. At the same time, Hayworth was fighting a severe custody battle with Khan, during which she reported death threats against their children. While living in New York, Hayworth sent the children to live with their nanny in Westchester County. They were found and photographed by a reporter from Confidential magazine.
After a tumultuous two years together, Haymes struck Hayworth in the face in 1955 in public at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles. Hayworth packed her bags, walked out, and never returned. The assault and crisis shook her, and her doctor ordered her to remain in bed for several days.
Hayworth was short of money after her marriage to Haymes. She had failed to gain child support from Aly Khan. She sued Orson Welles for back payment of child support which she claimed had never been paid. This effort was unsuccessful and added to her stress.
Hayworth began a relationship with film producer James Hill, whom she went on to marry on February 2, 1958. He put her in one of her last major films, Separate Tables. On September 1, 1961, Hayworth filed for divorce, alleging extreme mental cruelty. He later wrote Rita Hayworth: A Memoir, in which he suggested their marriage collapsed because he wanted Hayworth to continue making movies, while she wanted them both to retire from Hollywood.
In his book, In the Arena, Charlton Heston writes about Hayworth's brief marriage to Hill. One night Heston and his wife Lydia joined the couple for dinner at a restaurant in Spain with the director George Marshall and the actor Rex Harrison, Hayworth's co-star in The Happy Thieves. Heston wrote the occasion, "Turned into the single most embarrassing evening of my life," describing how Hill heaped, "Obscene abuse" on Hayworth until she was, "Reduced to a helpless flood of tears, her face buried in her hands." Heston writes how the others sat stunned, witnesses to a, "Marital massacre" and, though he was, "Strongly tempted to slug him" (Hill), he left with his wife Lydia after she stood up, almost in tears. Heston wrote, "I'm ashamed of walking away from Miss Hayworth's humiliation. I never saw her again."
Hayworth was a top glamour girl in the 1940s, a pin-up girl for military servicemen and a beauty icon for women. At 5'6" (168 cm) and 120 lb (55 kg), she was tall enough to be a concern for dancing partners such as Fred Astaire. Hayworth got her big motion picture break because she was willing to change her hair color, whereas other actresses were not. She reportedly changed her hair color eight times in eight movies.
In 1949, Hayworth's lips were voted best in the world by the Artists League of America. She had a modeling contract with Max Factor to promote its Tru-Color lipsticks and Pan-Stik make-up.
Barbara Leaming writes in her biography of Hayworth, If This Was Happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth (1989) that due to her addiction to alcohol and the stresses of her life she aged before her time. Reappearing in New York in 1956 to begin work on her first film in three years, Hayworth was described by the following: "Despite the artfully applied make-up and shoulder-length red hair, there was no concealing the ravages of drink and stress. Deep lines had crept around her eyes and mouth, and she appeared worn, exhausted, older than her thirty-eight years." Leaming wrote that during the filming of Fire Down Below, Hayworth heard a comment that she should hurry up as, "No amount of time was going to make her look any younger." In San Francisco the following year filming Pal Joey, she was signing autographs when she heard a fan say, "She looks so old."
Rita Hayworth's daughter Yasmin Aga Khan spoke of her mother's long struggle with alcohol:
I remember as a child that she had a drinking problem. She had difficulty coping with the ups and downs of the business ... As a child, I thought, 'She has a drinking problem and she's an alcoholic.' That was very clear and I thought, 'Well, there's not much I can do. I can just, sort of, stand by and watch.' It's very difficult, seeing your mother, going through her emotional problems and drinking and then behaving in that manner ... Her condition became quite bad. It worsened and she did have an alcoholic breakdown and landed in the hospital.
In 1972, Hayworth was 54 years old and wanted to retire from acting, but she needed money and so signed up for The Wrath of God. The experience exposed her poor health and worsening mental state. As she could not remember lines, they filmed her scenes one line at a time.
The following year, Hayworth agreed to do one more movie, the British Tales That Witness Madness (1973). Due to worsening health, she abandoned the movie set, and returned to the United States. She never returned to acting.
In March 1974, both her brothers died within a week of each other, which caused her great sadness and led to heavy drinking. In 1976 at London's Heathrow Airport, Hayworth was removed from a TWA flight after having an angry outburst while traveling with her agent. "Miss Hayworth had been drinking when she boarded the plane," revealed a TWA flight attendant, "and had several free drinks during the flight." The event attracted much negative publicity; a disturbing photograph was published in newspapers.
Hayworth's alcoholism hid symptoms of what was eventually understood to be Alzheimer's disease. "It was the outbursts," said her daughter. "She'd fly into a rage. I can't tell you. I thought it was alcoholism-alcoholic dementia. We all thought that. The papers picked that up, of course. You can't imagine the relief just in getting a diagnosis. We had a name at last, Alzheimer's! Of course, that didn't really come until the last seven or eight years. She wasn't diagnosed as having Alzheimer's until 1980. There were two decades of hell before that."
In July 1981, Hayworth's health had deteriorated to the point where a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that she should be placed under the care of her daughter, Princess Yasmin Khan of New York City. Hayworth lived in an apartment at The San Remo on Central Park West next to her daughter, who arranged for care for her mother through her final years.
Rita Hayworth lapsed into a semicoma in February 1987. She died at age 68 from Alzheimer's disease a few months later on May 14, 1987. A funeral service was held on May 19, 1987, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Pallbearers included actors Ricardo Montalbán, Glenn Ford, Don Ameche, agent Budd Burton Moss, and the choreographer Hermes Pan. She was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City. Her headstone includes the inscription: "To yesterday's companionship and tomorrow's reunion."
"Rita Hayworth was one of our country's most beloved stars", said President Ronald Reagan, who had been an actor at the same time as Hayworth.
Glamorous and talented, she gave us many wonderful moments on stage and screen and delighted audiences from the time she was a young girl. In her later years, Rita became known for her struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Her courage and candor, and that of her family, were a great public service in bringing worldwide attention to a disease which we all hope will soon be cured. Nancy and I are saddened by Rita's death. She was a friend who we will miss. We extend our deep sympathy to her family.
1964: Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama in Circus World (1964)
1977: National Screen Heritage Award.
Hayworth is included as one of the American Film Institute's Greatest Stars of All Time.
A fund raiser for the Alzheimer's Association is named in her honor by her daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan, who has been the hostess for these events and a major sponsor of Alzheimer's Disease charities and awareness programs.
The film I Remember Better When I Paint (2009) describes how Hayworth took up painting while struggling with Alzheimer's and produced art.
Lynda Carter portrayed Hayworth in the television movie Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess (1983).
In the movie Beat the Devil (1953), starring Humphrey Bogart, he tells the Sheik that he knows Rita Hayworth very well, and that he would introduce him to her. The Sheik has pictures of Rita Hayworth all over the wall behind him and Humphrey Bogart, and she is the Sheik's idol.
Actress Veronica Watt portrayed her in the film Hollywoodland (2006).
Hayworth's pin-up poster is portrayed in Stephen King's novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982), and was later brought to the screen in the film The Shawshank Redemption (1994) directed by Frank Darabont (which itself features a videoclip of Hayworth in Gilda, shown as a film the prisoners are watching).
Her poster was attached to the first Atomic Bomb dropped in Hiroshima