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Anita Ekberg, screen siren and 'La Dolce Vita' star, dies at 83

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ANITA EKBERG
Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Film siren Anita Ekberg, whose breakout role in the 1960 Federico Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, made her an international screen star, died Sunday in Rome. She was 83.

The Swedish star passed away from complications following a longtime illness and most recently had been hospitalized during Christmas, her attorney Patrizia Ubaldi told the Associated Press.

“She had hoped to get better, something that didn’t happen,” Ubaldi said.

Ekberg rose to international fame with her role La Dolce Vita. Cast as an American actress, the blonde bombshell became one of cinema’s most iconic sex cymbols for a scene where she sensuously waded through Rome’s Trevi Fountain in a strapless, form-fitting black dress and beckoned lead actor Marcello Mastroianni to join her.

Born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg in Malmo, Sweden on Sept. 29, 1931, Ekberg was the sixth of eight children. She earned the title of Miss Sweden at age 20, after which she competed in the Miss Universe competition in the United States. Although she didn’t win the beauty queen title, Ekberg became a model and earned the attention of Universal Studios. Ekberg filmed her first movie in 1953, playing a beguiling guard in Abbot and Costello Go to Mars. Before working for Fellini, Ekberg appeared in Blood Alley (1955) with John Wayne; acted alongside Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the comedy Hollywood or Bust (1956); appeared as Henry Fonda’s unfaithful wife in War and Peace (1956); starred in the Bob Hope-lead comedy Paris Holiday (1958) and notably changed period costumes numerous times during historical drama Sheba and the Gladiator (1959).

After appearing in La Dolce Vita—for which she earned the 1956 Golden Globe for best newcomerEkberg appeared in three other Fellini films: Boccaccio 70 (1962), The Clowns (1970) and Intervista (1987). With a career spanning five decades, Ekberg remained a working actress until 1996 with the Bigas Luna-directed dramedy Bambola.

The on-screen ingénue was reportedly romantically involved in affairs with several of the high-profile stars of her day, among them Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, Yul Brenner and Errol Flynn. She was married twice: first to English actor Anthony Steele and then to Thunderball villain Rik Van Nutter. Neither marriage resulted in children and both ended in divorce.

 

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