Laura Antonelli Dies at 73; Popular, and Seductive, Italian Actress
Laura Antonelli with Giancarlo Giannini in “L’Innocente” (The Innocent) in 1976. Rizzoli Film, via Everett Collection
Laura Antonelli, who by her own account was an “ugly, clumsy” teenager before transforming herself into one of Italy’s leading and most seductive film actresses, died on Monday at her seaside home in Ladispoli, west of Rome. She was 73.
Her death, of a heart attack, was confirmed by Roberto Ussia Spinaci, the councilman in charge of social services in Ladispoli. Since 2009, he said, she had been a ward of the city, unable to take care of herself.
Beginning in the mid-1960s and continuing for almost a quarter-century, Ms. Antonelli appeared in more than 40 films. “I confess I never thought of myself as being particularly sexy,” she said in 1979, but she said she had no qualms about being considered a sex symbol or appearing nude.
“If I manage to communicate a kind of sensuality on the screen, it must mean that there is something in me that I can express,” she said. “I am proud of it. After all, sex is a reality which lives in our dreams, in our sentiments. The important thing is to use it well and never let it degrade into pornography. Naked beauty without intelligence fades quickly.”
By most accounts, Ms. Antonelli had both. The director Luchino Visconti was quoted as saying that “she has that mysterious quality which I call charm, namely beauty plus intelligence.”
And Vincent Canby, citing what he described as some of her best films, among them “Wifemistress,” “Till Marriage Do Us Part” and “The Innocent,” wrote in The New York Times in 1979:
“To those of us of a certain age Miss Antonelli, I suspect, recalls an earlier, more innocent era, before there were porn parlors in virtually every American city, when movie sex was more suggestive, being soft-core, and when European actresses (Bardot, Lollobrigida, Loren) promised more wanton delights than we were allowed in native American films. Miss Antonelli reminds us of our lost movie innocence.”
Laura Antonac (or Antonaz) was born on Nov. 28, 1941, in Pola, which was then in Istria, Italy. (It was later occupied by Yugoslavia and is now part of Croatia.) After World War II her parents fled, lived in Italian refugee camps and settled in Naples, where her father was a hospital administrator.
Ms. Antonelli hoped to become a math teacher, but her parents had other ideas, she recalled in an interview. They “hoped that I would at least develop some grace,” she said, and made her take hours of gym classes during her teens.
“They felt I was ugly, clumsy, insignificant,” she said.
She appeared in television commercials for beverages and bedsheets and worked as a TV announcer for a month before being fired because her delivery was considered wooden. But a soft-drink commercial she made attracted the attention of a film director, who was struck not least by her emerald-green eyes, alabaster skin and shapely figure.
That led to minor roles in the mid-1960s (and a name change) and subsequent fame in erotic comedies, beginning with “Malizia” (“Malicious”) in 1973, in which a young man and his widowed father seduce a housekeeper, played by Ms. Antonelli. These comedies broke box-office records in Italy.
Her marriage to Enrico Piacentini, a publisher, ended in divorce, after which she began a relationship with the French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, with whom she starred in several films. She is survived by a brother, Claudio.
Ms. Antonelli appeared in movies and on television until 1991. Around that time she was charged with possessing and dealing cocaine and sentenced to house arrest. But she challenged her conviction, and it was overturned in 2006.
“Too many people think that beauty is synonymous with stupidity,” she once complained, but that did not stop her from appearing in plots that probably would have failed on radio.
Reviewing “Wifemistress,” which also starred Marcello Mastroianni, Janet Maslin wrote in The Times in 1979: “The guiding force behind this movie is what might be called Frederick’s of Hollywood feminism, and it allows for scenes like the one in which spectacularly buxom Laura Antonelli, clad in a filmy negligee that has just about fallen off, picks up a pamphlet entitled ‘The Emancipation of Women’ and knots her pretty brow, as if she were thinking.
“Maybe she is. Maybe you will be, too. Neither one of you will be thinking about the emancipation of women, that’s for sure.”Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.