She famously dated Elvis Presley, but Ann-Margret spent 50 years married to 77 Sunset Strip actor Roger Smith. “I knew he would protect me,” she says of her late husband, whom she realized she was destined to marry on their third date. “I knew that I could depend on him.”

Three years after the death of the man who was her manager as well as her partner in life, Ann-Margret, 79, has recovered her footing. “You’re not dead when you reach a certain age,” says the actress, who recently costarred in Never Too Late with James Caan and Ellen Burstyn. “You have to keep living and not sit at home and watch TV alone. You have to participate.”

After Roger’s passing, actor Alan Arkin invited Ann-Margret to guest star on his series The Kominsky Method. “He said, ‘You’ve got to get back to work!’” she recalls. “At the very end I said to him, ‘You were right.’” She’s also made an effort to reach out to other longtime pals. “She’s still great friends with Rita Moreno, Morgan Freeman and other actors she’s known for years. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are good friends, too,” an insider tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now.

Ann-Margret and Husband Roger Photos

Although she never had children of her own, Roger’s kids from his earlier marriage have been looking out for her. “Her stepdaughter Tracey and stepsons Jordan and Dallas all adore her,” says the insider. “She is a doting grandmother to all their kids. She sees them, speaks to them and Zooms with them all frequently.”

Of course, she misses Roger every moment. “She lets herself be sad, but also cherishes the years they had together,” says the insider. “She believes he is still watching out for her.”

Reporting by Rick Egusquiza

For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.