Gina Lollobrigida, the Italian actor once called “the most beautiful woman in the world”, has died at the age of 95. Corriere della Sera reported the news, saying she had been “hospitalised for some time”.
Through the 1950s and 60s, Lollobrigida was one of the world’s most desired performers and starred in a large number of European and American films opposite many of Hollywood’s leading men of the day.
Born in 1927 in Subiaco, in the mountains east of Rome, she was the daughter of a furniture maker. In her teenage years she did some modelling and entered beauty contests, and in 1947 placed third in the Miss Italia pageant. On her entry form for that competition, she wrote that she had a talent for acting but that she wanted to do something serious with her skills.
After a series of roles in European films, including a Bafta-winning turn in Bread, Love and Dreams, it was Lollobrigida’s performance in 1953’s Beat the Devil opposite Humphrey Bogart that brought her international fame and millions of admirers.
“La Lollo” also caught the eye of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who had spotted publicity photographs of her and invited her to Hollywood for a screen test where he repeatedly tried to seduce her, despite the fact she had married Milko Škofič, a Slovenian doctor, a year earlier.
“Time and time he tried to get me!” Lollobrigida recalled in an interview with Vanity Fair. “But he didn’t succeed … there was just too much difference between us. I said to him, ‘If you lose all your money, then perhaps I’ll marry you.’ Maybe he was surprised that there was one person who wasn’t interested in his money.”
Her commercial peak came in the mid to late 1950s, when she starred in Solomon and Sheba, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beautiful But Dangerous, the original title of which – La donna più bella del mondo – presented her as “the most beautiful woman in the world”.
Her fame was also such that in the 1960s she had a new cultivar of curly-leafed lettuce, the lollo rosso, named in her honour – although accounts vary over whether it was a reference to her tight, curly hair or the frilly petticoats she was often seen wearing.
Lollobrigida and Škofič divorced in 1971 and she largely withdrew from acting and focused on photography, publishing several collections. Her subjects included Henry Kissinger, Yuri Gagarin, Grace Kelly and many other notable people. She also secured an exclusive interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
In 1999, Lollobrigida ran unsuccessfully for the European parliament representing former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi’s Democrats, but did not seem especially enthusiastic.
“I’ve never been involved in politics,” she said at the time, “but when I got the offer I said ‘yes’ immediately … It’s only afterward that I thought about why this was a good thing. I don’t know how many votes I need. I don’t know anything.”
Lollobrigida is survived by her son, Milko, and grandson, Dimitri.