The definitive femme fatale of the 1940s, Rita Hayworth, known as the "Great American Love Goddess", was the pin-up favourite of US servicemen.
Born in Brooklyn, Margarita Carmen Cansino was the daughter of Spanish dancer Eduardo Cansino and showgirl Volga Haworth.
The physically and socially mature Rita joined her father's dance act at 12. She was spotted by Fox studios three years later, and made her film debut at 16, in 'Dante’s Inferno' (1935).
With the advice of her husband and promoter Edward Judson, Rita signed a contract with Columbia Studios. She changed her name to Hayworth, dyed her black hair auburn and raised her hairline with electrolysis. The goddess played 13 minor roles, until Columbia lent her to Warner brothers, to star opposite Fred Astaire, in 'The Strawberry Blonde' (1941).
Her sensational dancing made her a star and she became a major leading lady, working again with Astaire as well as with Tyrone Power, Charles Boyer, Gene Kelly and her second husband, Orson Welles, in 'Lady from Shanghai' (1948).
Before the camera, Hayworth was a bold sumptuous character spilling over with sexual charm. In private, she was shy and unassuming, desperate for a calm and happy marriage, which was forever to allude her.
In 1948, she had an affair with Pakistani playboy Prince Aly Khan. She married him, but only for two tempestuous years. She married again, twice, but never for more than three years.
After the collapse of her marriage to Aly Khan in 1951 she returned to Hollywood with big fanfare starring in 'Affair in Trinidad' (1952) with her favourite co-star Glenn Ford, 'Salome' with Charles Loughton and Stewart Granger in 1953, and 'Miss Sadie Thompson' the same year for which she received much critical acclaim.
She took a four year break from acting due to her turbulent marriage to singer Dick Haymes. He was heavily in debt to the government due to unpaid taxes and unpaid child support to his two ex wives. Hayworth ended up paying most of his debts but after he struck her in 1955, she left and never went back.
Hayworth returned to films in 'Fire Down Below' with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon in 1957 followed by her last musical 'Pal Joey' with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak the same year.
In 1958, she left her film studio Columbia, married film producer James Hill and went on to star in 'Separate Tables' the same year and 'The Story on Page One' in 1960. She filed for divorce from Hill in 1961 on grounds of extreme mental cruelty.
Suspected of severe alcoholism and prone to erratic behaviour, Hayworth's career dwindled in the 1950s and failed in the 1960s. In 1962 her planned Broadway debut in 'Step on a Crack' was cancelled due to undisclosed health reasons.
She was, in fact, suffering the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, that went undiagnosed until 1980. Hayworth made her last film 'The Wrath of God' in 1972.
In the last decade of her life, almost helpless, Hayworth was cared for by her daughter, Princess Yasmin Khan. Hayworth's death in 1987 was heavily publicised, drawing public attention and funding to the degenerative disease.
One of the major fundraisers for the Alzheimer's Association is the annual Rita Hayworth Gala held in New York City and hosted by Hayworth's daughter Yasmin.
Since 1985, these galas have raised $45 million for the charity.