Italian Actress Laura Antonelli Dies at 73

Laura Antonelli - H 2015

Laura Antonelli - H 2015

The former sex symbol was one of Italy's most famous actresses.

Laura Antonelli, an icon of Italian cinema, died at her home in Ladispoli, Italy, from a heart attack. She was found by her housekeeper Monday morning. Antonelli was 73.

The actress was born Laura Antonaz in Pula, Croatia. She fled to Italy as a child, where she excelled in gymnastics, before moving to Rome to pursue a modeling career.

Antonelli had a breakthrough role in Mario Bava's cult comedy Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs in 1966. She gained early success in cinema, starring in Salvatore Sampieri's Malice, a performance that won her a Nastro d'Argento award in 1974.

In 1975, she played a seven-minute scene nude in The Divine Nymph, which was unheard of at that time. She then went on to take on prestige roles as Giuliana in Luchino Visconti's The Innocent and Clara in Ettore Scola's Passion of Love.

Though most of her career was spent working in Italy, she did a handful of films in the U.S., including A Man Called Sledge and Swashbuckler.

In the '80s she starred in erotic films and comedies, eventually landing on television miniseries. She appeared in more than 40 films throughout her career, starring opposite such actors as Terence Stamp and Marcello Mastroianni.

Her life took a tragic turn in 1991 when she was arrested for cocaine in her home in Cerveteri, Italy. She was sentenced to prison for drug dealing, but was acquitted nine years later. She faced further trauma when a botched cosmetic surgery left her face disfigured. A lengthy court trail for damages left her emotionally scarred.

In recent years, she sued her son and housekeeper for misappropriating funds. In 2010, her friend actor Lino Banfi appealed unsuccessfully to the state to help relieve her economic troubles. She then withdrew from public life entirely, issuing a statement: "Earthly life no longer interests me."

Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini said of the passing, "I express sincere condolences for the death of Laura Antonelli, an actress of rare beauty and a great talent of Italian cinema."