Gina Lollobrigida, Italian film icon, dies at 95

Gina Lollobrigida, actress and post-war international sex symbol once declared the "most beautiful woman in the world," has died. She was 95.

Lollobrigida's death was confirmed on social media by Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy's culture minister, confirmed Ms. Lollobrigida's death on social media. No cause of death has been given at this time.

Humphrey Bogart once said of Lollobrigida: "She makes Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple." The Italian film star rose to prominence in post-war cinema ranging from epics like Solomon and Sheba to dramas like Trapeze to outright comedies like Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell and Come September. She was also a gifted artist, photojournalist, and sculptor.

Gina Lollobrigida on February 15, 1965 in New York
Gina Lollobrigida on February 15, 1965 in New York

Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Throughout her career, she starred opposite the likes of Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn, Tony Curtis, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, and Rock Hudson. She was part of a famous onscreen love triangle in 1956's Trapeze, a film that required her to do her own stunts. She trained for six months on a trapeze in her home to prepare for the film and performed the majority of her own trapeze work onscreen.

Though she began her career in sumptuous dramas, in the 1960s she became known for her comedic chops, starring in sex farces like Come September (1961) that drew on her skills as a physical comedian. In 1968's Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, she portrays an Italian woman who collects child support from three different American men, played by Phil Silvers, Telly Savalas, and Peter Lawford. She knew them as GIs during the war and is unsure which is actually her daughter's father. The film loosely inspired the plot of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia. 

Luigina Lollobrigida was born July 4, 1927 in Subiaco, a hill town just outside of Rome. She was a teenager during World War II, narrowly avoiding the bombs that tore apart the countryside around Rome. When cinema began to boom outside at Rome's Cinecittà Studios, she was discovered by a talent scout while studying drawing and sculpture at Rome's Academy of Fine Arts. She began her career in Italy as an extra in films, a means of supporting her family who had lost everything during World War II.

Informal snapshot in her dressing room again reveals Gina in her glory
Informal snapshot in her dressing room again reveals Gina in her glory

Getty Images

Lollobrigida was reluctant to join the film industry and demanded one million lire for her first leading role, a sum she assumed would be rejected. Her offer was met and her career began.

She continued to buck convention, declining an offer of a seven-year contract from Howard Hughes to continue working in Italy. She worked regularly in Italian film, most famously in Vittorio De Sica's 1953 film Bread, Love and Dreams. She quickly rose to prominence for her distinctive beauty and became one of the first screen stars of the post-war era (followed by the likes of Sophia Loren) to land an American contract and work in American-European co-productions like her breakout film, Beat the Devil, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart. Throughout that time, she built her international reputation as a screen star in numerous American co-productions, such as Never So Few, Swords Crossed, Beat the Devil, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more. She finally relocated to Hollywood in 1959.

Once in Hollywood, she broadened her range, taking on comedies like Buono Sera, Mrs. Campbell, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. In later years, she also turned to television, earning a Golden Globe nomination for her work on primetime soap Falcon Crest and guest starring on The Love Boat. 

In the 1960s, Lollobrigida also returned to her love of the visual arts, cultivating a career as a photographer and photojournalist. She studied cameras and photography on movie sets, photographing the likes of Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn, Salvador Dali, and Henry Kissinger. In 1972, she secured an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro via her photography skills. She produced, directed, and wrote a documentary short titled Ritratto di Fidel, making the most of her rare access to a notoriously reclusive political figure.

Gina Lollobrigida attends the Nations Award 2019 cocktail
Gina Lollobrigida attends the Nations Award 2019 cocktail

Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

She officially retired from acting in 1997, but remained an active public figure, returning to her first loves of painting and sculpting and even making an unsuccessful run for European Parliament in 1999. Her art has been displayed all over the world and she won numerous accolades, including the "Legion of Honor" as "artiste de valeur" from France.

Throughout her life, she also remained committed to activism and charity. In 2013, she sold her jewelry collection for $5 million and donated all of the money to stem cell research. In 2018, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In her later years, she was embroiled in a legal battle with Javier Rigos y Rafois over what she deemed a "proxy marriage" involving an imposter. She lost her court action against him in 2017, but vowed to appeal.

Earlier this year, she announced her plans to run for Senate. "I was just tired of hearing politicians arguing with each other without ever getting to the point," Lollobrigida said in August. "I will fight for the people to decide, from health to justice. Italy is in bad shape, I want to do something good and positive." Her run was spirited, but unsuccessful.

Lollobrigida is survived by her only son from her first marriage, Andrea Milko Škofič.

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