Sonja Henie, blonde Norwegian figure skater who dominated the rink for a decade and then skated her way to a second fabulous career in films, died Sunday of leukemia. She was 57.
Miss Henie, ill for the past nine months, died aboard an ambulance plane from Paris to her native Oslo, only minutes before landing.
With her was her third husband, Norwegian shipping magnate Niels Onstad.
“While we were in Paris she suddenly became much worse and she was examined by a doctor,” he said. “On his advice, I arranged an ambulance plane to take her home to Oslo. We had been flying for only an hour and she just slipped away.”
Until shortly before her death, Miss Henie had remained socially active and continued to direct the activities of the $3.5 million art museum she and her husband had presented to Norway.
Born April 8, 1912, Miss Henie began her world-famed skating career after she received a pair of ice skates for Christmas when she was eight years old. A year later she won Oslo’s junior skating championship. At 11 she won the national championship—and also entered her first Olympics, in which she placed last.
In 1927, she won her first world figure skating championship in Oslo, and retained the title for the next nine years.
She was the champion in the Olympics in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
In 1936, Miss Henie decided to turn professional, stating simply, “I want to go into pictures, and I want to skate in them. But the minute I skate in them I become a professional, so why shouldn’t I go on tour?”
She organized her own ice shows, which became immensely popular throughout the world.
In 1937, she made her motion picture debut in “One in a Million,” followed by “Thin Ice,” “My Lucky Star” and “Sun Valley Serenade.”
Her wide, dimpled smile, pixie eyes and blonde Nordic good looks made her a great favorite of audiences during the years of World War II.
They also made her wealthy. Said to have had a keen business sense, she early acquired the nickname “Little Miss Moneybags” for her habit of prudent investments.
In 1940 she married millionaire-sportsman Dan Topping, from whom she was divorced in 1946. Three years later she married socialite Winthrop Gardner Jr., who divorced her in 1956.
She married Onstad that same year—by which time her film career was largely behind her—and embarked on an avocation of art collecting which resulted in one of the finest collections of paintings in Hollywood.
At the time of her third marriage, Miss Henie was an admirer of Renoir and Gainsborough, but under her husband’s influence became as avid purchaser of modern works.
In 1968, the Onstads donated 250 of their paintings, plus $3.5 million for a fan-shaped stone-and-glass museum near Oslo.