Ann-Margret calls Closer from her longtime home high in the Hollywood hills — and she is not alone. “That meow you hear is my little baby Harley, who’s 19 years old,” she says. “My kitty is here and also my dog, Miss Mona. I named her after the character I portrayed [on stage] in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

At 82, the actress, singer and dancer describes her life as “serene,” but anyone else might call it busier than ever. Ann-Margret recently released a self-titled fragrance whose profits will support the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. In April, she put out her first album of rock covers, Born to Be Wild. “I love performing,” she says. “I love seeing people happy.”

Bye Bye Birdie Actress Ann Margret's Surprising Facts

Many of Ann-Margret Olsson’s memories from her early childhood in Sweden are musical. “My first musical memory was the sounds of an accordion,” she says, explaining that her Uncle Calle used to play. Before long, she joined in. “Ever since I was 4 years old, I would get up and harmonize with my mother on Swedish songs.”

Immigrating with her family to the U.S. in 1946, Ann-Margret took dance lessons and began singing in talent competitions. She was performing with a group called the Suttletones in Las Vegas when vaudeville veteran George Burns hired her to do a dance routine with him at his annual holiday show. But success didn’t come overnight. Ann-Margret paid her dues for several additional years until Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles, her first film, won her a Golden Globe for best newcomer in 1962. 

A year later, Bye Bye Birdie made her an international star and sex symbol. Looking back, she confesses she had no idea that film would change her life. “Not at all! I was just happy to remember my lines and the words to the songs,” she says. “If anything, I was just happy to do it.”

It’s hardly a surprise that Ann-Margret had many fans among America’s armed forces serving in Vietnam. “I received a letter signed by 3,000 servicemen that said they wanted me to go over and entertain. I was so taken, I wanted to go the next day,” recalls the performer, who eventually did three tours in Southeast Asia beginning in 1966. “I wanted to look very glamorous, but I didn’t realize it would be 100 degrees there,” Ann-Margret confides. “I put on two sets of eyelashes, hoping the glue would hold even though I was perspiring so much.”

Once she got on stage, she stopped worrying. “I remember looking out and seeing all of those smiling faces. We were about the same age at the time,” she recalls. “They were out there risking everything, so I felt like singing and dancing was something I could finally do for them. I still feel the same way after all these years.”

Ann-Margret was also inspired by the past for her album Born to Be Wild, which features rock songs from the 1950s and ’60s. “I did ‘Splish Splash’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.’ They’re both Bobby Darin. He and I were good friends,” she says. “And with ‘Volare,’ I was honoring [Bye Bye Birdie costar] Bobby Rydell. We were such great friends all through the years.”

One old friend whose songs are conspicuously missing is Ann-Margret’s Viva Las Vegas costar Elvis Presley. The pair reportedly dated prior to her marriage to Roger Smith and remained friends until Elvis’ passing. “I decided not to,” she says of singing the songs Elvis made famous. “Everyone knows how I felt about him and the friendship that we had all these years. It was very, very private.”

Ann-Margret, Elvis Presley: 'Very Private' Friendship

Today, Ann-Margret prefers to look forward rather than back. “I’ve got some dear friends whom I’ve had for 60 years,” says the star, who often meets her pals for long outdoor walks. “These are my former singers and dancers, former hairdressers and makeup people — we are quite a group!”

In addition, she works out two or three times a week with a trainer. “It’s an hour, but it feels like two hours,” she says of the regimen she began 20 years ago. “I told him in the beginning that he has to make me feel it, and I do. The next day, too!”

She lost Roger, her husband of 50 years, in 2017 and still misses him “every single day,” but she’s largely content. “I’m in my home that we bought back in 1968,” she says of the estate that once belonged to actress Hedy Lamarr and, later, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Ann-Margret has made the place her own the longest. “The sun is shining and I’m looking out over the pool,” she says. “I’m actually very happy.”