Sonja Henie

She glided over the ice to notch up ten consecutive world titles for Norway and became a Hollywood star. Behind the demure image was a ruthless businesswoman and sexual predator...


Sonja Henie was born in modern-day Oslo on 8 April 1912 and was the only daughter of prosperous Norwegian furrier Wilhelm Henie and his wife Selma Lochmann-Nielsen. The family were wealthy from the fur industry and her parents encouraged all their children to take up sports.

Dancer, skater and actress Sonja Henie received her first pair of ice skates for her sixth birthday. A great all-around athlete at school, Henie competed in tennis, swimming, and skiing. After studying ballet under Pavlova, she took up figure skating as her main concern. Glamorous, graceful and a technical virtuoso, she helped turn figure skating into a spectator sport. Central to her tremendous success was her inspired importing of balletic techniques into the sport.

Winning the Norwegian championship, aged ten, Henie went on to compete in her first Winter Olympics only two years later. After finishing second in the world championships in 1915, she then held the title for ten years straight, from 1927 through 1936. Along the way, she won Olympic titles in 1928, 1932 and 1936. Retiring in 1936, Henie proved adept at her second and third careers as businesswoman and performer.

She lost some of her popularity when a photo was published of Henie shaking hands with Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games, at which he was host. This meant that every competitor shook his hand but she also displayed a signed photograph of the Fuhrer in her home during the Second World War when Norway was occupied by Germany.


On 4 July 1940, she married businessman and later president of the New York Yankees Dan Topping. They divorced in 1946. Becoming a US citizen in 1941, she travelled widely with her Hollywood Ice Revue. After appearing in several Twentieth-Century-Fox films, including 'One In A Million' in 1936, she began to amass a considerable fortune. She also appeared in 'Second Fiddle' in 1939 and she maintained control over all the skating numbers in the film.

In 1949, she married second husband Winthrop Gardner but this also ended in divorce in 1956. Between 1953 and 1956, she formed a partnership with Morris Chalfen to appear in his European 'Holiday on Ice' tour, which was a major success until she started drinking heavily and couldn't keep up with the demands of the tour.

A formidable businesswoman, her personal fortune was more than $47 million on her death. She had numerous lucrative endorsement contracts and deals to market skates, clothing, jewellery and dolls, as well as other merchandise associated with her name. Retiring in 1960, she moved back to Norway with third husband Niels Onstad who she married on 6 June 1956. She became a prolific art collector, founding a museum of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

She died of leukaemia on 12 October 1969, aboard an ambulance plane in transit from Paris to Oslo.

After her death, her brother Leif with Raymond Strait published the biography 'Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows', which claimed she had a vile temper and was obsessed with money and sex.

In 1976, she was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame and in 1982, the International Women's Sport Hall of Fame.