Gina Lollobrigida, known as the face of the Italian movie, dies

Gina Lollobrigida, a high-spirited actress who had dual careers in Hollywood and Europe, has died but may be most famous in her native Italy for starting an era of celebration and indulgence after years of war and repression. She was 95 years old.

The Italian news agency La Presse, quoting the governor of Tuscany, Eugenio Gianni, said Lollobrigida was forever loved in Rome. Lollobrigida was an honorary citizen of Tuscany.

The Associated Press reported that her agent, Paula Comin, confirmed her death but gave no details.

Lollobrigida underwent surgery in September for a broken femur after a fall. She came home and said she resumed walking quickly.

Lollobrigida’s rise to stardom has been rapid. She made films in Europe and the US, signed a long-term Hollywood contract with Howard Hughes, starred alongside Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra and Rock Hudson, kept company with Salvador Dali, Fidel Castro and pioneering cardiac surgeon Christian Barnard, and went on a run. Drama festival with compatriot Sophia Loren, a fierce rival who wondered if there was enough oxygen in Italy for them.

“I am fire. I am a volcano. All the things I do, I do with passion and fire and strength,” she said in a 1994 interview with The Times. “That’s who I am.”

Born in Subiaco, Italy, in 1927 (although the actress sometimes claimed it was 1928), Lollobrigida was the second of four daughters of Giovanni and Giuseppina Lollobrigida. When Allied air attacks destroyed their home in the early days of World War II, the family fled to the urban heart of Rome.

She was studying sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome when a talented agent spotted her and offered her a modeling and acting contract. When she was called to the studios of Cinecitta, the center of Italian cinema, she was offered a signature of 1,000 lire.

“I told them the price I asked was 1 million lire,” Lollobrigida told Vanity Fair in 2015, “thinking that would put an end to everything. But they said yes!”

Lollobrigida was cast in several films shot in Italy, including several that received no credit, before filming “Alina”, a melodrama in which Lollobrigida uses her beauty as her main weapon in a dangerous smuggling operation. Among other things, she catches the eye of Hughes, an eccentric businessman, aviator and maverick movie mogul.

He brought her to Hollywood and signed her to a seven-year deal, an agreement that prevented her from working with any American movie studio. She never made a movie with Hughes, and tired of his advances and erratic behaviour, she returned to Italy where her career blossomed.

In 1953, she returned to Hollywood and partnered with Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, and others.

As Hollywood movie offers slowed down, Lollobrigida returned to Italian cinema, though in 1984 she picked up a role in the 1984 prime-time soap opera “Falcon Crest” and made a mandatory appearance in “The Love Boat.”

Although she was often in the company of rich and famous men, she was married only once. Or so she claimed.

In 2010, a man more than three decades her junior claimed they got married in Barcelona. She challenged the claim, suing in Italy and Spain and vowing to launch an “international investigation”. The truth, wherever it may be found, has been quickly swallowed up in legal disputes.

Lollobrigida is survived by her son, Milko Skovic Jr.

Billy Wilder with Gina Lollobrigida backstage at the 1960 Academy Awards.

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Gina Lollobrigida signing autographs during the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.

Gina Lollobrigida signing autographs during the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.

(Anonymous/AP)

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