Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida dies aged 95

Entertainment

Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida has died age 95.

She was one of the highest-profile European actresses of the 1950s and early 1960s, playing opposite Hollywood stars including Humphrey Bogart, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Frank Sinatra.

Lollobrigida with Tony Curtis in Trapeze, in 1956. Pic: Snap/Shutterstock
Image:
Lollobrigida with Tony Curtis in Trapeze, in 1956. Pic: Snap/Shutterstock

Starting out from humble beginnings, she became one of the most recognisable faces of Italian post-war cinema.

An international sex symbol thanks to her sultry Mediterranean looks – and rivalled only by fellow Italian actress Sophia Loren – Lollobrigida was one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Her agent said she died in Rome on Monday.

Known in Italy simply as “La Lollo”, she starred in films such as The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Solomon and Sheba, Beautiful But Dangerous and The World’s Most Beautiful Woman during a five-decade acting career.

Lollobrigida found success as a photographer and sculptor in later life and also ventured into politics.

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However, she failed to win a seat in parliament for Sovereign and Popular Italy (ISP), a left-wing party, during September’s elections after they failed to reach the 3% threshold.

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Gina Lollobrigida: ‘Movie is magic’

In 1975, rumours swirled about an affair with Cuban leader Fidel Castro after she secured exclusive access to him for a documentary she produced.

Lollobrigida also made headlines in 2006, at age 79, when she announced she was marrying a man 34 years her junior.

When she was 80, she said in an interview: “All my life I wanted a real love, an authentic love, but I have never had one. No one has ever truly loved me. I am a cumbersome woman”.

Lollobrigida with Yul Brynner in Solomon And Sheba, in 1959. Pic: Moviestore/Shutterstock
Image:
Lollobrigida with Yul Brynner in Solomon And Sheba, in 1959. Pic: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Lollobrigida got her break in film after finishing third in the 1947 Miss Italia contest. One of her earliest roles was playing an adulteress in 1953’s The Wayward Wife.

Leading roles followed in two Italian comedies, Bread, Love and Dreams, and Bread, Love and Jealousy.

A role opposite Humphrey Bogart in John Huston’s Beat the Devil added to her exposure.

But it was 1955 movie The World’s Most Beautiful Woman that sealed her worldwide fame and became one of her signature roles.

Despite making it in Hollywood, she preferred to work closer to home, making films throughout the 1960s with Italian directors such as Mario Bolognini.

Her last well-known film, the 1968 farce Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell – which also starred American actor Telly Savalas – earned her several award nominations.

Lollobrigida with Anthony Quinn in Hunchback Of Notre Dame in 1957. Pic: Snap/Shutterstock
Image:
Lollobrigida with Anthony Quinn in Hunchback Of Notre Dame in 1957. Pic: Snap/Shutterstock

Born Luigia Lollobrigida in July 1927, to a working-class family in Subiaco, a mountainous area east of Rome, she studied at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts before working as a model under the stage name Diana Loris.

Tempestuous and impulsive, her on-screen success was accompanied by intense interest from Italian paparazzi and gossip writers.

At one point, in a bid to guard her private life, she retreated to an isolated villa on Rome’s ancient Appian Way.

In 1950 she married a Yugoslavian doctor, Milko Skofic, who later became her manager. The couple had one son.

They separated after nearly 17 years, with Lollobrigida saying at the time that she had no intention of remarrying.

However, in 2006 she announced she would be marring close friend Javier Rigau, a Spanish man 34 years younger than her. She eventually called off the wedding, blaming the media for spoiling it.

Lollobrigida at the Beverly Hills hotel in Los Angeles in 1959. Pic: AP
Image:
Lollobrigida at the Beverly Hills hotel in Los Angeles in 1959. Pic: AP

She said in an interview that she felt responsible for Rigau’s suffering after Spanish media labelled him an opportunist. In contrast, she said she was “more used to having falsehoods written about me”.

During a later trip to the US, she asked Congress to pass stricter laws protecting the privacy of people from media intrusion.

Following her stellar acting career, Lollobrigida forged a successful second career as both a photojournalist and sculptor.

She was also a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Additionally, she published six books of her own photographs, with subjects including Italy, the Philippines and children.

Pic: Lollobrigida pictured in the 1980s. Baril Pascal/ABACA/Shutterstock
Image:
Pic: Lollobrigida pictured in the 1980s. Baril Pascal/ABACA/Shutterstock

In 1975 she made the documentary Portrait of Fidel Castro and for years was surrounded by rumours that she’d had an affair with the Cuban leader.

She also spoke in interviews of being a “great friend” of India’s first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

In her later years she threw herself into her sculpting, spending the summers living in an artists’ colony in the Tuscan city of Pietrasanta.

She had a one-woman show there in 2008 and dedicated it to her friend, the late opera singer Maria Callas.

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Exhibitions of her marble and bronze statues have been held in Paris, Moscow and America.

In 2013, when she was 85, an auction of her jewellery by Sotheby’s in Geneva fetched $4.9m (£4.1m) and set a record for a pair of diamond and pearl earrings, which sold for $2.37m (£1.9m). The proceeds went to stem cell research.

She said of the sale: “Jewels are meant to give pleasure and for many years I had enormous pleasure wearing mine.

“Selling my jewels to help raise awareness of stem cell therapy, which can cure so many illnesses, seems to me a wonderful use to which to put them.”

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