Laura Antonelli: Iconic 70s Actress and Her Turbulent Journey
Laura Antonelli, born Laura Antonaz in Pola on November 28, 1941, and passing away in Ladispoli on June 22, 2015, was a celebrated Italian actress. Her career reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, spanning a diverse array of cinematic genres including light erotic comedies, dramas, escape cinema, and auteur films. Antonelli rose to fame and acclaim as the sensual lead in Salvatore Samperi’s cult film “Malizia.”
Born to Mario Antonaz and Gioconda Bresciani in Pola, an Istrian city under Italian jurisdiction at the time, Laura Antonelli was among the notable actresses like Femi Benussi, Alida Valli, and Sylva Koscina, belonging to the group referred to as “the beautiful four” from Dalmatia and Istria. Following Italy’s defeat in World War II and the consequent loss of Istria, Antonelli, a refugee during the Istrian exodus, relocated with her family to Naples. There, after completing her secondary education, she graduated from the Vincenzo Cuoco Institute. Later moving to Rome, she initially worked as a physical education teacher at the Ripetta Artistic Lyceum before embarking on her acting career.
Antonelli’s film debut was marked by small roles in various movies, starting with Antonio Pietrangeli’s “Il magnifico cornuto” in 1964 and Luigi Petrini’s “Le sedicenni” in 1965, following her stints in advertising for Coca Cola and posing for numerous photo-romances that gained international circulation.
Her significant break in cinema came in 1969 when director Massimo Dallamano cast her as the lead in “Venere in pelliccia,” a film inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel. However, the opportunity faded due to stringent censorship that delayed the film’s release, eventually reemerging six years later as “Le malizie di Venere.”
Antonelli achieved breakthrough success in 1971 with her role as a cellist’s wife in “Il merlo maschio,” the first among many erotic films she starred in. The film, directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile and co-starring Lando Buzzanca, catapulted her to fame.
In 1973, she portrayed a sensual maid in Salvatore Samperi’s “Malizia,” alongside Turi Ferro and the young Alessandro Momo. The film, grossing 6 billion lire, became a cult movie, securing Antonelli’s status as an Italian “sexy icon.” Her performance earned her the Nastro d’Argento for Best Lead Actress from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists and the Golden Globe for Best Breakthrough Actress from the foreign press.
Following this success, Antonelli’s fee skyrocketed from 4 to 100 million lire per film. She then balanced roles in auteur films like Claude Chabrol’s “Trappola per un lupo” with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Dino Risi‘s “Sessomatto,” and Luigi Comencini‘s “Mio Dio, come sono caduta in basso!” (winning her a second Golden Globe) with films specifically written for her, like “Peccato veniale” by Salvatore Samperi and “Divina creatura” by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, in which she performed a seven-minute full nude scene, a record for that era.
From 1976, Antonelli worked with directors who revealed her personal side previously overshadowed by her physicality, notably in Luchino Visconti‘s “L’innocente” (1977), Mauro Bolognini’s “Gran bollito,” and Ettore Scola‘s “Passione d’amore” (1981), for which she received the David di Donatello for Best Supporting Actress.
Subsequently, Antonelli mainly featured in comedies like “Il Malato immaginario” and “L’Avaro,” both by Tonino Cervi with Alberto Sordi, and continued erotic roles, directed by Samperi, in “Casta e pura” (1981) alongside Massimo Ranieri.
Throughout the 1980s, Antonelli appeared in comedic and erotic films, including “Grandi magazzini” by Castellano and Pipolo and Carlo Vanzina‘s “Viuuulentemente mia” alongside Diego Abatantuono. In 1985, she starred in “La Venexiana,” inspired by a 16th-century comedy, with Monica Guerritore and Jason Connery, son of the Scottish actor Sean Connery. Toward the end of the decade, she ventured into television with two moderately successful miniseries: “Gli indifferenti” (1988) and “Disperatamente Giulia” (1989), directed by Mauro Bolognini and Enrico Maria Salerno, respectively.
On the night of April 27, 1991, 36 grams of cocaine were found in her villa in Cerveteri. She was initially sentenced to three years and six months in prison for drug trafficking. However, nine years later, in 2000, she was acquitted by the Rome Court of Appeals, which recognized her as a habitual drug user but not a dealer. By then, Italian drug laws had changed, and substance use for personal consumption was no longer a criminal offense.
Antonelli returned to cinema in 1991 with “Malizia 2mila,” a sequel to the film that made her famous, again directed by Salvatore Samperi and produced by Silvio Clementelli. During filming, she underwent cosmetic surgery to hide age-related imperfections. Concurrently, she experienced adverse reactions, which she attributed to the cosmetic treatments. The ensuing legal battle, seeking substantial compensation, lasted thirteen years and concluded with the rejection of Antonelli’s claims, as the alleged effects were attributed to Quincke’s edema, not the treatments.
Following this incident, Antonelli suffered severe depression, leading to multiple admissions to the mental hygiene center in Civitavecchia. Her lawyers subsequently sued the Ministry of Justice, seeking appropriate compensation. In 2003, she was awarded a meager 10,000 euros in damages, which was deemed insufficient to offset the health and image damages she suffered. In 2006, on appeal, the compensation was raised to 108,000 euros plus interest, a decision upheld by the Court of Cassation in 2007.
From the 2000s, Antonelli experienced a profound economic and psychological crisis, leading her to refuse even friends’ assistance. This included Simone Cristicchi’s intention to perform a song titled “Laura” at the 2013 Sanremo Festival, dedicated to her forgotten life. However, Antonelli’s desire to remain in obscurity led to the abandonment of this plan. In 2009, the municipality of Ladispoli took measures to protect her from exploitation, appointing a lawyer as her guardian, along with a social worker and a caregiver.
On June 3, 2010, actor and friend Lino Banfi appealed through Corriere della Sera to then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities, Sandro Bondi, for financial support for Antonelli, who was living on a mere 500 euros a month pension. Although the minister was receptive, proposing the application of the Bacchelli Law to support artists, Antonelli refused the aid, stating her disinterest in worldly life and preferring to be forgotten. She granted one last interview to the local free-press periodical L’Ortica in March 2012, in which she criticized the frivolous and value-lacking entertainment industry, deeming it harmful to youth. “It may seem paradoxical, but one day you look in the mirror, see that you are beautiful, rich, and famous, but realize there’s a void inside. That leads to wrong choices, a fall into the abyss, and only through faith have I overcome many adversities.”
Laura Antonelli died of a heart attack in her home in Ladispoli on the morning of June 22, 2015, at the age of 73. Her funeral, held on June 26 at the Santa Maria del Rosario church in Ladispoli, which she frequented after rediscovering her faith, was attended by hundreds, including friends like Lino Banfi, Claudia Koll, Simone Cristicchi, and Enrico Montesano. She was buried in the city’s cemetery.
At 24, Antonelli married antique dealer Enrico Piacentini, but the marriage was short-lived and childless. After a relationship with humorist Mario Marenco, a colleague of Renzo Arbore in the radio show “Alto gradimento,” she had an intense eight-year love affair (from 1972 to 1980) with French star Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose grandparents were Italian.
On July 6, 2023, Rai 3 premiered “Senza Malizia,” a documentary by Bernard Bédarida and Nello Correale on Laura Antonelli’s life. The film, featuring interviews with the photographer who launched her career, directors, actors, cinema workers, and friends who knew her, including Jean Paul Belmondo, with whom she had a long relationship, chronicles her journey from her early days in Pola, her adolescence in Naples, her graduation in Physical Education, and her move to Rome, where she began her modeling career before transitioning to acting.