Italian Cinema Icon Virna Lisi Dies at 78

Virna Lisi - H 2014
Associated Press

The award-winning actress starred opposite Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis

Italian actress Virna Lisi, who had successful careers in both Hollywood and Europe, passed away in Rome on Thursday after battling cancer. She was 78 years old.

Italian newspaper la Repubblica and other outlets reported the news on Thursday.

Born in Ancora, the screen beauty was discovered after her family moved to Rome. She started in popular Italian tearjearker films and comedies of the 1950s. She then went on to star in popular television series on Rai in the 1960s.

Lisi made her Hollywood debut in How to Murder Your Wife in 1965 as the blonde dancing seductress opposite Jack Lemmon. In an unforgettable scene, she famously emerges from a cake wearing only a white bikini. In that same year, she made waves on the cover of Esquire magazine as a woman shaving her face, a photo recreated by Jessica Simpson in 2008.

She went on to make Not with My Wife, You Don’t! with Tony Curtis, Assault on a Queen with Frank Sinatra and The Secret of Santa Vittoria and The 25th Hour with Anthony Quinn.

After years of being typecast as the blonde bombshell, and looking to spend more time with her family, she left Hollywood in search of more substantial roles. She turned down the title role in Barbarella, which then went to Jane Fonda.

Lisi gained further success in Europe, becoming one of Italy’s most beloved actresses. She starred in many top Italian films including Le Bambole, Arabella and Pietro Germi’s Palme d’or-winning film The Birds, the Bees and the Italians.

Her turn in the 1994 film Queen Margot, as Catherine de Medicis, earned her the Best Actress prize at Cannes, as well as a Cesar award for Best Supporting Actress.

Lisi had many successful roles in Italian television throughout past three decades. She’s been honored with career achievement awards at the David di Donatello awards and the Italian Golden Globes.

Il piu bel giorno della mia vita in 2002 was her last released film. She’s slated to appear in next year’s Latin Lover, from the same director, Cristina Comencini

Sky Cinema Classics in Italy will pay tribute to the actress on Friday with special screenings of some of most renowned films including Casanova 70, Sua Eccellenza Si Fermo’ and Made in Italy.

She is survived by a son, Corrado, and three grandchildren.