Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, known for one of cinema’s most sensual performances in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film “La Dolce Vita”, has died in Italy at the age of 83.
The voluptuous actress, immortalised by her performance as the dream woman who tempts Marcello Mastroianni in the Fellini classic, died on Sunday in hospital outside the Italian capital, according to reports.
Ekberg, who was born and brought up in Sweden, had reportedly been in a wheelchair for several years after being knocked over by one of her pet Great Danes and breaking her hip.
She spent most of her adult life abroad, first in the United States, where she quickly emerged as one of a 1950s generation of pin-ups and starlets, and then in Italy.
The sixth of eight children, Ekberg was born in 1931 in the Swedish port of Malmo where her father was a docker.
She first attracted attention as a teenager, winning a beauty contest to become “Miss Sweden” in 1950.
Both her mother and her friends had encouraged her to enter beauty contests, and her success quickly took her to the United States, with hopes of becoming Miss Universe.
Although she did not win, she was noticed by, among others, the cult film director Russ Meyer, the eccentric millionaire businessman and producer Howard Hughes and the actor-producer John Wayne.
In addition to becoming a pin-up for magazines such as “Confidential” and “Playboy”, she appeared in a series of comedy films including “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars” (1953), “Artists and Models” (1955) and “Hollywood or Bust” (1956).
In each case Ekberg’s spectacular physique was made part of the plot, often to comic effect.
When in 1954 she visited a US base in Greenland with the actor William Holden and the comedian Bob Hope, the latter quipped that her parents had been given the Nobel Prize for architecture.
It was for the director King Vidor that Ekberg first arrived in Italy, to act in his 1956 film of “War and Peace” along with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.
She was then noticed by Fellini, known for having an eye for beautiful women.
In the famous scene in “La Dolce Vita”, she cavorted in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, exhibiting her curvaceous charms to an urbane Mastroianni.
The film won Fellini the Golden Palm award at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival of the same year, and the fountain scene rapidly became one of the most famous images in cinema history.
Ekberg was to star in several other major Italian films, including “Boccacio 70,” (1962), co-directed by Fellini and Vittorio De Sica and also starring Sophia Loren, plus Fellini’s circus film “I Clowns” (1970) and his “Intervista” (1987), also featuring Mastroianni.
In 2011 the Turin daily La Stampa reported that at the age of 80 the former star asked for financial help from the Fellini Foundation. She lived in a residence for elderly people near to Rome after breaking her hip.
Her many romantic liaisons reportedly included spells with Gianni Agnelli, head of the Fiat auto company, as well as with Mastroianni, Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra.
Ekberg was married twice, firstly to the British actor Anthony Steel between 1956 and 1959 and then to the American actor Rik Van Nutter between 1963 and 1975. Both marriages ended in divorce and there were no children.