Ann-Margret was born in Valsjöbyn, Jämtland County, Sweden, the daughter of Anna Regina (née Aronsson) and Carl Gustav Olsson, a native of Örnsköldsvik. She later described Valsjöbyn as a small town "of lumberjacks and farmers high up near the Arctic Circle". Her father worked in the United States during his youth and moved there again in 1942, working with the Johnson Electrical Company, while his wife and daughter stayed behind.
Ann-Margret and her mother moved to the United States in November 1946, and her father took her to Radio City Music Hall on the day they arrived. They settled just outside Chicago, in Wilmette, Illinois. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1949 and took her first dance lessons at the Marjorie Young School of Dance, showing natural ability from the start, easily mimicking all the steps. Her parents were supportive; her mother handmade all her costumes. Ann-Margret's mother became a funeral parlor receptionist after her husband suffered a severe injury on his job. While a teenager, Ann-Margret appeared on the Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour, Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, and Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.
While she attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, she continued to star in theatricals. In 1959, she enrolled at Northwestern University, where she was a member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, but did not graduate. As part of a group known as the Suttletones, she performed at the Mist, a Chicago nightclub, and went to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a promised club date which fell through after the group arrived. They then moved on to Los Angeles, and through agent Georgia Lund, secured club dates in Newport Beach and Reno, Nevada.
The group finally arrived at the Dunes in Las Vegas, which also headlined Tony Bennett and Al Hirt at that time. George Burns heard of her performance, and she auditioned for his annual holiday show, in which Burns and she performed a softshoe routine. Variety proclaimed, "George Burns has a gold mine in Ann-Margret ... she has a definite style of her own, which can easily guide her to star status."
Ann-Margret began recording for RCA Victor in 1961. Her first RCA Victor recording was "Lost Love" from her debut album And Here She Is: Ann-Margret, produced in Nashville with Chet Atkins on guitar, the Jordanaires (Elvis Presley's backup singers), and the Anita Kerr Singers, with liner notes by mentor George Burns. She had a sexy, throaty singing voice, and RCA Victor attempted to capitalize on the 'female Elvis' comparison by having her record a version of "Heartbreak Hotel" and other songs stylistically similar to Presley's. She scored the minor hit "I Just Don't Understand" (from her second LP), which entered the Billboard Top 40 in the third week of August 1961 and stayed six weeks, peaking at number 17. The song was later covered in live performances by The Beatles and was recorded during a live performance at the BBC. Her only charting album was The Beauty and the Beard (1964), on which she was accompanied by trumpeter Al Hirt. Ann-Margret appeared on The Jack Benny Program in 1961 (season 11, episode 24). She also sang at the Academy Awards presentation in 1962, singing the Oscar-nominated song "Theme from Bachelor in Paradise." Her contract with RCA Victor ended in 1966.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she had hits on the dance charts, the most successful being 1979's "Love Rush," which peaked at number eight on the disco/dance charts.
In 2001, working with Art Greenhaw, she recorded the album God Is Love: The Gospel Sessions. The album went on to earn a Grammy nomination and a Dove nomination for best album of the year in a gospel category. Her album Ann-Margret's Christmas Carol Collection, also produced and arranged by Greenhaw, was recorded in 2004.
In 1961, she filmed a screen test at 20th Century Fox and was signed to a seven-year contract. Ann-Margret made her film debut in a loan-out to United Artists in Pocketful of Miracles, with Bette Davis. It was a remake of the 1933 movie Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.
Then came a 1962 remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical State Fair, playing the "bad girl" role of Emily opposite Bobby Darin and Pat Boone. She had tested for the part of Margie, the "good girl", but seemed too seductive to the studio bosses, who decided on the switch. The two roles represented two sides of her real-life personality — shy and reserved offstage, but wildly exuberant and sensuous onstage. In her autobiography, the actress wrote that she changed "from Little Miss Lollipop to Sexpot-Banshee" once the music began.
Her next starring role, as the all-American teenager Kim from Sweet Apple, Ohio, in Bye Bye Birdie (1963), made her a major star. The premiere at Radio City Music Hall, 16 years after her first visit to the famed theater, was a smash hit: the highest first-week grossing film to date at the Music Hall. Life put her on the cover for the second time and announced that the "torrid dancing almost replaces the central heating in the theater." She was then asked to sing "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" at President John F. Kennedy's private birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria, one year after Marilyn Monroe's famous "Happy Birthday".
Ann-Margret met Elvis Presley on the MGM soundstage when the two filmed Viva Las Vegas (1964). She recorded three duets with Presley for the film: "The Lady Loves Me", "You're The Boss", and a duet version [with Presley] of his song, "Today, Tomorrow, and Forever"; only "The Lady Loves Me" made it into the final film and none of them were commercially released until years after Presley's death, due to concerns by Colonel Tom Parker that Ann-Margret's presence threatened to overshadow Elvis. Ann-Margret introduced Presley to David Winters, whom she recommended as a choreographer for their film. Viva Las Vegas was Winters' first feature film choreography job and was his first of four movies with Presley, and his first of five films, including Kitten with a Whip (1964), Bus Riley's Back in Town (1965), Made in Paris (1966), and The Swinger (1966), and two TV specials with Ann-Margret. Winters was nominated for the 1970 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for his CBS Television Special: Ann-Margret: From Hollywood with Love (1969)
In 1963, Ann-Margret guest-starred in a popular episode of the animated TV series The Flintstones, voicing Ann-Margrock, an animated version of herself. She sang the ballad "The Littlest Lamb" as a lullaby and the (literally) rocking song, "Ain't Gonna Be a Fool". Decades later, she recorded the theme song, a modified version of the Viva Las Vegas theme, to the live-action film The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, in character as Ann-Margrock.
While working on the film Once a Thief (1965), she met future husband Roger Smith, who after his successful run on the private-eye television series 77 Sunset Strip, was performing a live club show at the Hungry i on a bill with Bill Cosby and Don Adams. That meeting began their courtship, which met with resistance from her parents.
Ann-Margret starred in The Cincinnati Kid in 1965 opposite Steve McQueen. She also co-starred along with friend Dean Martin in the spy spoof Murderers' Row (1966). Finally, she starred as the lead in The Swinger in 1966 with Tony Franciosa.
Her red hair color (she is a "natural brunette") was the idea of Sydney Guilaroff, a hairdresser who changed the hair color of other famous actresses such as Lucille Ball.
She was offered the title role in Cat Ballou (1965), but her manager turned it down without telling her. In March 1966, Ann-Margret and entertainers Chuck Day and Mickey Jones teamed up for a USO tour to entertain U.S. servicemen in remote parts of Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. She still has great affection for the veterans and refers to them as "my gentlemen". Ann-Margret, Day, and Jones reunited in November 2005 for an encore of this tour for veterans and troops at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
During a lull in her film career in July 1967, Ann-Margret gave her first live performance in Las Vegas, with her husband Roger Smith (whom she had married in 1967) taking over as her manager after that engagement. Elvis Presley and his entourage came to see her during the show's five-week run and to celebrate backstage. From thereon until his death, Presley sent her a guitar-shaped floral arrangement for each of her Vegas openings. After the first Vegas run ended, she followed up with a CBS television special The Ann-Margret Show, produced and directed by David Winters on December 1, 1968, with guest-stars Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Danny Thomas, and Carol Burnett. Then, she went back to Saigon as part of Hope's Christmas show. A second CBS television special followed, Ann-Margret: From Hollywood With Love, directed and choreographed by David Winters and produced and distributed by Winters' company Winters-Rosen, with guest-stars Dean Martin and Lucille Ball. David Winters and the show were nominated for a Primetime Emmy in Outstanding Choreography.
In 1970, she returned to films with R. P. M., where she starred alongside Anthony Quinn, and C.C. and Company which had Joe Namath as a biker and Ann-Margret playing a fashion journalist.
In 1971, she starred in Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge, playing the over-loving girlfriend of a viciously abusive Jack Nicholson and garnering a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
On the set of The Train Robbers in Durango, Mexico, in June 1972, she told Nancy Anderson of Copley News Service that she had been on the "grapefruit diet" and had lost almost twenty pounds (134 to 115) eating unsweetened citrus.
On Sunday, September 10, 1972, while performing at Lake Tahoe, she fell 22 feet from an elevated platform to the stage and suffered injuries including a broken left arm, cheekbone, and jawbone. Husband Roger Smith flew a stolen plane from Burbank, California, to Lake Tahoe to get his wife to the surgeons at the medical center at UCLA for treatment. She required meticulous facial reconstructive surgery that required wiring her mouth shut and putting her on a liquid diet. Unable to work for 10 weeks, she ultimately returned to the stage almost back to normal.
For her contribution to motion pictures, during the summer of 1973, Ann-Margret was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Throughout the 1970s, Ann-Margret balanced her live musical performances with a string of dramatic film roles that played against her glamorous image. In 1973, she starred with John Wayne in The Train Robbers. Then came the musical Tommy in 1975, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. In addition, she has been nominated for 10 Golden Globe Awards and has won five, including her Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Tommy. On August 17, 1977, Ann-Margret and Roger Smith traveled to Memphis to attend Elvis Presley's funeral. Three months later, she hosted Memories Of Elvis featuring abridged versions of the Elvis 1968 TV and Aloha from Hawaii specials. In 1978, she co-starred with Anthony Hopkins in the horror/suspense thriller Magic.
In 1982, Ann-Margret co-starred with Walter Matthau and Dinah Manoff in the film version of Neil Simon's play I Ought to Be in Pictures. That same year, she appeared with a six-year-old Angelina Jolie in Lookin' to Get Out, playing Jolie's mother. To round out 1982, she appeared alongside Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson, and Julie Christie in the film adaptation of The Return of the Soldier. She also starred in the TV movies Who Will Love My Children? (1983) and a remake of A Streetcar Named Desire (1984). These performances collectively won her two Golden Globe Awards and two Emmy nominations. She appeared as the wife of Roy Scheider's character in the 1986 crime thriller 52 Pick-Up.
In 1989, an illustration was done of Oprah Winfrey that was on the cover of TV Guide, and although the head was Oprah's, the body was referenced from a 1979 publicity shot of Ann-Margret. The illustration was rendered so tightly in color pencil by freelance artist Chris Notarile that most people thought it was a composite photograph.
In 1991, she starred in the groundbreaking Our Sons opposite Julie Andrews as mothers of sons who are lovers, one of whom is dying of AIDS. In 1992, she co-starred with Robert Duvall and Christian Bale in the Disney musical, Newsies. In 1993, Ann-Margret starred in the hit comedy Grumpy Old Men reuniting with Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Her character returned for Grumpier Old Men (1995), the equally successful sequel which this time co-starred Sophia Loren.
Ann-Margret published an autobiography in 1994 titled Ann-Margret: My Story, in which she publicly acknowledged her battle with and ongoing recovery from alcoholism. In 1995, she was chosen by Empire as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history; she ranked 10th.
She also filmed Any Given Sunday (1999) for director Oliver Stone, portraying the mother of football team owner Cameron Diaz. She filmed a cameo appearance for The Limey, but her performance was cut from the movie.
Ann-Margret also starred in several TV movies, including Queen: The Story of an American Family (1993) and Life of the Party (1999), the latter of which she received nominations for an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
She made guest appearances on the television shows Touched by an Angel in 2000 and three episodes of Third Watch in 2003. In 2001, she made her first appearance in a stage musical, playing the character of brothel owner Mona Stangley in a new touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The production co-starred Gary Sandy and Ed Dixon. She played Jimmy Fallon's mother in the 2004 comedy Taxi, co-starring Queen Latifah. In 2001, Ann-Margret worked with Art Greenhaw on the album God Is Love: The Gospel Sessions. The critically acclaimed project resulted in her first Grammy Award nomination and first Dove Award nomination for Best Album of the Year in a Gospel category. They teamed up again in 2004 for the album Ann-Margret's Christmas Carol Collection. She performed material from the album at two auditorium church services at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, and broadcast worldwide on the program Hour of Power.
In 2006, Ann-Margret had supporting roles in the box-office hits The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, and The Santa Clause 3 with Tim Allen. She also starred in several independent films, such as Memory (2006) with Billy Zane and Dennis Hopper. In 2009, she appeared in the comedy Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams.
Ann-Margret guest-starred in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, "Bedtime", which first aired on March 31, 2010 on NBC. She received her sixth Emmy nomination for her performance. She also appeared in the Lifetime series, Army Wives, in the episode "Guns and Roses" (season four, episode five), which originally aired May 9, 2010. On August 29, 2010, she won an Emmy Award for Guest Performance by an Actress for her SVU performance. It was the first Emmy win of her career, and she received a standing ovation from the Emmy venue audience as she approached the stage to receive her award.
On October 14, 2010, Ann-Margret appeared on CBS' CSI.
In 2014, she began appearing in a recurring role in the Showtime original series Ray Donovan.
She was married to Roger Smith from May 8, 1967 until his death on June 4, 2017; he was an actor who later became her manager. Prior to this, she was romantically linked to Elvis Presley during the filming of Viva Las Vegas. She does not have children.
She rode a 500 cc Triumph T100C Tiger motorcycle in The Swinger (1966) and used the same model, fitted with a nonstandard electric starter, in her stage show and her TV specials. A keen motorcyclist, she was featured in Triumph Motorcycles' official advertisements in the 1960s. She suffered three broken ribs and a fractured shoulder when she was thrown off a motorcycle she was riding in rural Minnesota, in 2000.
The 2005 CBS miniseries Elvis includes the story of her affair with Elvis Presley during the filming of Viva Las Vegas. She was portrayed by actress Rose McGowan.
For two years Ann-Margret was voted by movie exhibitors as being among the most popular actors in the United States:1964 – 8th1965 – 17th"I Just Don't Understand" (1961)"It Do Me So Good" (1961)"Bye Bye Birdie" (1963)"What Am I Supposed To Do" (1962)"Sleep in the Grass" (1969)"Love Rush" (1979)"Midnight Message" (1980)"Everybody Needs Somebody Sometimes" (1981)"Everybody Needs Somebody Sometimes" (single, reissue) (2007)And Here She Is...Ann-Margret (1961)Side 1: I Just Don't Understand/I Don't Hurt AnymoreSide 2: Teach Me Tonight/Kansas CityMore and More American Hits (compilation) (1962)Side 2: What Am I Supposed To DoAnd Here She Is...Ann-Margret (1961)On the Way Up (1962)The Vivacious One (1962)Bachelor's Paradise (1963)Beauty and the Beard (1964) (with Al Hirt)David Merrick Presents Hits from His Broadway Hits (1964) (with David Merrick)Songs from "The Swinger" (And Other Swingin' Songs) (1966)The Cowboy and the Lady (1969) (with Lee Hazlewood)Ann-Margret (1979)God Is Love: The Gospel Sessions (2001)Today, Tomorrow and Forever: Box Set (2002) (with Elvis Presley)Ann-Margret's Christmas Carol Collection (2004)Love Rush (reissue of Ann-Margret) (2007)God is Love: The Gospel Sessions 2' ' (2011)State Fair (1962)Bye Bye Birdie (1963)The Pleasure Seekers (1965)Tommy (1975)Newsies (1992)The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000)Viva Las Vegas (LP reissue of Viva Las Vegas EP) (2007) (with Elvis Presley)Love Letters, with Burt ReynoldsThe Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (2001, touring production) Commander of the Royal Order of the Polar Star (KNO) (2 December 1988)