La Dolce Vita star Anita Ekberg dies

Swedish actress shot to fame in 1960 with her role in the Frederico Fellini film about decadent high society in Rome.

The Trevi fountain scene with Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita made Ekberg an icon of cinema [AFP]

Anita Ekberg, the Swedish actress whose walk through Rome’s Trevi fountain in Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita made her an icon of cinema, has died aged 83 at a clinic near the Italian capital, according to her lawyer.

Patrizia Ubaldi said on Sunday Ekberg’s funeral will be held in the Italian capital this week, her body will be cremated and her ashes sent to Sweden.

In 2011 the Turin daily La Stampa reported that at the age of 80 Ekberg asked for financial help from the Fellini Foundation.

She lived in a residence for elderly people near Rome after breaking her hip.

Ekberg spent most of her adult life abroad, first in the US, 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 US, with hopes of becoming Miss Universe.

Popular pin-up

Although she did not win, Ekberg 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, Ekberg 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 her 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 Ekberg’s 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.

Ekberg shot to global fame in 1960 after playing the capricious actress Sylvia opposite Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life), about decadent high society in Rome.

Iconic moment

The scene of Ekberg wading into the baroque Trevi fountain in a strapless velvet black dress, calling to Mastroianni in English, “Marcello! Come here. Hurry up,” is among the most famous in cinematic history, and made her a sex symbol for a generation.

“I was freezing to death,” she later told Swedish television, recalling shooting the fountain episode.

“I thought that my legs were becoming icicles. The water in the fountain comes from the mountains and the film was made in January.”

Fellini later directed her in Boccaccio ’70 in 1962 and in Intervista in 1987.

Ekberg appeared in a number of films with some of the most famous actors of the 20th century, winning a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer that same year.

In 4 for Texas, a 1963 comedy western, she shared top billing with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

She had already appeared with the comedy tandem of Martin and Jerry Lewis in films shot in the 1950s.

Personal life

Ekberg’s many romantic liaisons reportedly included spells with Gianni Agnelli, head of the Fiat car company, as well as with Mastroianni, Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra.

Later in her life, she said that Sinatra had asked to marry her, and she had declined.

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.

Ekberg was also courted by eccentric tycoon and filmmaker Howard Hughes.

Earning a very low retirement income, Ekberg “didn’t live in luxury in the last few years, but it would be wrong to say she died in poverty”, Ubaldi, her lawyer, said on Sunday.

Ekberg still owned a large villa south of Rome, she said.

“She had many friends who were with her until the end,” Ubaldi said. Ekberg had no children.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies