Sex symbol who starred in a string of Italian 'soft-core' comedies and fell in love with Jean-Paul Belmondo
Laura Antonelli, who has died aged 73, was an Italian actress who worked with Luchino Visconti and Marcello Mastroianni but was best-known as a sex symbol and the lover of Jean-Paul Belmondo.
From the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, Laura Antonelli appeared in more than 40 films. Her career particularly flourished, however, during the 1970s when there was an Italian craze for "soft-core" sex comedies. Their titles alluded to their content: Devil in the Flesh (1969), The Divine Nymph (1975) and Tigers in Lipstick (1979). The American film director Quentin Tarantino noted: "Back in those days that was what foreign films had. They had sex; they were selling Laura Antonelli."
A sultry brunette with soft green eyes and a curvaceous figure that she was happy to expose for the camera, Antonelli possessed an incongruously sweet and innocent voice. "If I manage to communicate a kind of sensuality on the screen," she once observed, "it must mean that there is something in me that I can express." Her breakthrough role was in Salvatore Samperi's sexually charged Malizia (Malice, 1973). As Angela, a put-upon housemaid who battles the advances of her employer, Ignazio, and one of his teenage sons, she held a mirror up to the sexual mores of the Italian bourgeoisie.
The film was a smash hit. One critic likened her to "a Madonna by Caravaggio" and Italian opinion polls frequently called her the nation's sexiest woman. Angelo Frontoni, a photographer and friend of the actress, noted that she "always had a bit of the Marilyn Monroe syndrome about her. Even in the early days, she was convinced that everyone wanted to exploit and use her as a sexual object - whether they were film directors or would-be lovers."
It was perhaps inevitable that she would attract the attentions of Jean-Paul Belmondo, her co-star in Jean-Paul Rappeneau's The Scoundrel (1971) and Claude Chabrol's Docteur Popaul (1972), whose previous girlfriends included Ursula Andress and Brigitte Bardot.
"Laura was for me above all an adorable companion, exceptionally charming," Belmondo said. For almost a decade, until their split in 1980, the couple were lit up by the flashbulbs of the paparazzi in Cannes, Rome and Monaco.
She was born Laura Antonaz on November 28, 1941, in Pola in what was the Italian region of Istria, now part of Croatia. After World War II the family left and resettled in Naples.
Laura Antonelli (she changed her name in the 1960s) claimed that her parents considered her to be an "ugly, clumsy, insignificant" child. She excelled, however, at maths and gymnastics and qualified as a gym instructor. In the early-1960s, while working in a school in Rome, she began taking modelling jobs for advertisements .
Just as her acting career was taking off she had a short-lived marriage to the Italian publisher Enrico Piacentini. She made her international screen debut in 1966 as the love interest in a spy spoof starring Vincent Price, Dr Goldfoot & the Girl Bombs (Meet the girls with the thermonuclear navels).
It set the tone for most of her work. In 1976 she played against type, however, for Luchino Visconti's final film, L'Innocent, playing the beautiful but meek wife of an aristocrat who is upstaged by her husband's mistress but, despite having worked with the celebrated director of The Leopard and Death in Venice, the roles she was offered were still limited in range.
The following year she starred opposite Marcello Mastroianni in Wifemistress (1977), as a landowner's sexually adventurous wife. Her other films include Sexual Revolution (1968), Passion of Love (1981) and The Venetian Woman (1986).
In 1991 Laura Antonelli was reunited with Samperi for Malizia 2000 (1991), a feeble return visit to the story of Ignazio and Angela, and her final screen appearance. Her career imploded when that same year she was charged with dealing cocaine. The ensuing legal battle ran into the next decade; her initial conviction was eventually overturned and in 2006 she received compensation from the Italian Court of Appeals.
Laura Antonelli disappeared from the public eye, living her final years in the seaside town of Ladispoli, near Rome. She suffered depression, and an allergic reaction to cosmetic surgery. In 2010 the Italian government announced that she was to become a beneficiary of the "Bacchelli law", which provides financial assistance for artists who have fallen on hard times. "I think I gave the best of myself in what I did," she reflected in 1979, "but, of course, the situation was limited and now I'm tired." Laura Antonelli died on June 22.