SHE was the star of one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, which earned rapturous applause from critics and stern condemnation from the Vatican.
Anita Ekberg, who became an international sex symbol after bathing in the Trevi fountain in La Dolce Vita, has died at the age of 83.
While co-star Marcello Mastroianni insisted on wearing a wetsuit under his clothes in order to keep warm while filming in the famous fountain in Rome in winter, Ekberg’s strapless black dress afforded no such protection – but it did make her a fantasy figure for a generation of men.
Audiences around the world may have been shocked as the water cascaded over her embonpoint but Ekberg, daughter of a Swedish harbourmaster, was unrepentant and once said: “I’m very proud of my breasts, as every woman should be. It’s not cellular obesity, it’s woman-liness.”
The film’s title in translation was “The sweet life” and while Ekberg enjoyed her share of golden days, her final years were difficult. According to several reports the actress was almost penniless at the time of her death. She had been robbed of jewellery and furniture and her villa was badly damaged in a fire, forcing her to move, temporarily, into a care home.
The actress had been in a wheelchair for several years after being knocked down by one of her pet Great Danes, breaking a hip.
Patrizia Ubaldi, her lawyer, confirmed she died in Rome yesterday morning following a series of illnesses. She had gone into hospital after Christmas. Ms Ubaldi said that in her last days Ekberg was saddened by the illness and her advancing age: “She had hoped to get better, something that didn’t happen.”
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Ekberg had long lived in Italy, the country that gave her worldwide fame thanks to the iconic dip opposite Mastroianni in Federico Fellini’s film, which was released in 1960. The scene in which the blonde bombshell, clad in a black dress, her arms wide open, calls out “Marcello” remains one of the most famous moments in film history.
Her curvaceous body and glamorous social life made Ekberg a favourite of the tabloid press in the 1950s and 1960s. Some gossip magazines called her “The Iceberg” in a nod to her Scandinavian background.
Born on 29 September 1931, in the southern city of Malmo, Ekberg grew up with seven siblings. She said her father, a harbourmaster and a strict Protestant, was “the apple of my eye”, but she later fell out with all but one of her siblings.
In 1951 she won the Miss Sweden competition, after being recommended to enter by organisers who saw her on the street, and went to the United States to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.
She did not win but became a model in Hollywood and started taking on small acting parts. Her role in La Dolce Vita – in which she played a film goddess – shot her to real-life stardom. The movie was a colossal success and came to define the wild and carefree days of the early 1960s.
On a Swedish radio programme in 2005, Ekberg recalled shooting the scene in the Trevi Fountain. She said it was filmed in February, the water was cold and Mastroianni was falling over in the fountain, drunk on vodka.
She said: “And there I was. I was freezing, They had to lift me out of the water because I couldn’t feel my legs any more. I have seen that scene a few times. Maybe too many times. I can’t stand watching it any more, but it was beautiful at the time.”
In the interview she also said she was not afraid of death.
“I’m just angry because I won’t get the chance to tell others about death, where the soul goes and if there is a life afterward. I don’t know if paradise or hell exist, but I’m sure hell is more groovy,” she said.
At 24, Ekberg married British actor Anthony Steel in Florence.
The police were called in to control the crowds, who were trying to get a glimpse of the couple, but the marriage was doomed by Steel’s heavy drinking.
“Right from the start he’d go out somewhere and not come home till the next morning,” Ekberg told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in a 2000 interview.
“On the third night I came home to find him swinging from the lights like an ape, smashed out of his mind.
“Because he was jealous he was always picking fights with any man who approached me and the last time we met he borrowed $100,000 from me, which he never paid back.”
The couple divorced in 1959. Four years later, Ekberg married Rik Van Nutter, who played CIA agent Felix Leiter in the Bond film Thunderball. That union also ended in divorce, in 1975.
A ceremony to remember Ekberg is to be held in the coming days at a Lutheran church in Rome.
The actress had specified that her remains be cremated.
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