Sonja Henie (Sonja Henie)

Sonja Henie

Olympic Figure Skater and Actress. Considered by many as one of the greatest figure skaters in history, she is probably best remembered for winning the gold medal for Women’s’ Figure Skating at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Winter Olympic Games in the Ladies’ singles category as well as winning an unprecedented ten consecutive World Championship gold medals from 1927 to 1936 and six consecutive European Championship gold medals from 1931 to 1936, all in the Ladies’ singles category. She is credited with being the first figure skater to adopt the short skirt costume, wear white boots, and make use of dance choreography. Her father was a prosperous furrier and she, along with her siblings, were strongly encouraged to take up a variety of sports at a young age. As a young girl she excelled at skiing, swimming, tennis, and equestrienne, but figure skating became her passion. Her formal schooling came to an end once she started training seriously as a figure skater and her father hired the best tutors in the world, including the famous Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina. In 1922 she won her first major skating competition and placed last in a field of 8 at the 1924 Winter Olympics. After the 1936 World Figure Skating Championships she embarked on a career as a professional performer in acting and live shows. Later that year, after a successful ice show in Los Angeles, California that was orchestrated by her father to launch her film career, she was signed to a long term contract at Twentieth Century Fox by Hollywood studio chief Darryl Zanuck, making her one of the highest paid actresses at that time. Her first film “One in a Million” (1936), cemented her film career and she became increasingly demanding in her business dealings and insisted on having total control of the skating numbers in her films. She also formed a business arrangement with Arthur Wirtz, who produced her touring ice shows under the name “Hollywood Ice Revue” and acted as her financial advisor as well. Her popularity as a film actress would attract many new fans and her skating shows became a popular new entertainment throughout the 1940s. In 1941 she became a naturalized citizen of the US. However, her connections with Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials would make her the subject of controversy before, during, and after World War II. She performed often in Germany during her amateur status and was a favorite of German audiences and of Hitler personally. When she greeted Hitler with a Nazi salute during an exhibition in Berlin some time prior to the 1936 Winter Olympics, she was strongly denounced by the Norwegian press and she did not repeat the salute at the 1936 Winter Olympic games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but did have lunch with Hitler after the games at his resort home in nearby Berchtesgaden, where he gave her an autographed photo with a lengthy inscription. After beginning her film career she kept up her Nazi connections, e.g., personally arranging with Joseph Goebbels for the release of her first film, “One in a Million,” in Germany. During the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, none of her family’s properties in Norway were confiscated or damaged by the German authorities. While she supported the U.S. war effort through the United Service Organizations and similar activities, she was very careful to avoid supporting the Norwegian resistance movement or making public statements against the Nazis. Because of this she was condemned by many Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans. She made as much as $2 million a year at the height of her fame from her shows and touring activities. Additionally she had many lucrative endorsement contracts and deals to market skates, clothing, jewelry, dolls, and other merchandise-type items with her name, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world at that time. In 1950 she broke off her arrangement with Wirtz and produced her own shows for the next three years under the name “Sonja Henie Ice Revue.” It was not all that successful, as she still had to compete with Wirtz, who controlled the best arenas and dates with new Olympic skating champion Barbara Ann Scott, leaving her to play smaller venues and markets that were saturated with other touring ice shows, like the Ice Capades. In 1953 she formed a new partnership with Morris Chalfen to appear in his European “Holiday on Ice” tour, which was a great success. However, by 1956 she became addicted to alcohol and could no longer meet the demands of touring, and she retired from skating. During her life she was married three times, to Dan Topping (part owner and president of the New York Yankees baseball team), New York socialite Winthrop Gardner Jr., and finally to Niels Onstad, a wealthy Norwegian shipping magnate and art patron. After her retirement she and Onstad settled in Oslo, Norway where they accumulated a large collection of modern art that formed the basis for the Heine-Onstad Art Center at Hovikodden, Norway. She also reportedly had a variety of love interests throughout her life, including her skating partners Jack Dunn and Stewart Reburn, celebrated boxing legend Joe Louis, and actors Tyrone Power and Van Johnson. In the mid-1960s she was diagnosed with leukemia and succumbed to the disease in 1969 on a flight from Paris to Oslo at the age of 57. At the time of her death, she was planning a comeback for a television special that would have aired in January 1970. During the height of her acting career from 1936 to 1948 she made 12 films. Her last film appearance, “Hello London,” came in 1958. In 1938 she became the youngest person made a knight first class of The Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olaf. In 1976 she was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame and in 1982 she was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (bio by: William Bjornstad)  Family links:  Spouses:  Niels Onstad (1909 – 1978)  Daniel Topping (1912 – 1974)* *Calculated relationshipCause of death: Leukemia


  • April, 08, 1912
  • Norway


  • October, 10, 1969
  • Norway

Cause of Death

  • Leukemia


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