Anita Ekberg, the Swedish-born actress and sex-symbol of the 1950s and ’60s, who was immortalized bathing in the Trevi fountain in La Dolce Vita, has died. She was 83. Ekberg’s lawyer Patrizia Ubaldi confirmed that she died in Rome Sunday morning, following a series of illnesses. She had been hospitalized most recently after Christmas. Ubaldi said that in her last days, Ekberg was saddened by the illness and her advancing age.
“She had hoped to get better, something that didn’t happen,” she said.
Ekberg had long lived in Italy, the country that gave her worldwide fame, thanks to the iconic dip opposite Marcello Mastroianni. The scene where the blond bombshell, clad in a black dress, her arms wide open, calls out “Marcello”, remains one of the most famous images in film history.
Her curvaceous body and glamorous social life made her a favorite of the tabloid press in the 1950s and 1960s. She married twice, but never had children – a fact she came to regret later in her life. Some gossip magazines called her “The Iceberg”, in a nod to her Scandinavian background. But even as she became one of Sweden’s most famous exports, Ekberg maintained a problematic relation with her native country. She never starred in a Swedish film, and was often at odds with Swedish journalists, who criticized her for leaving the country and ridiculed her for adopting an American accent.
Born on September 29, 1931, in the southern city of Malmo, Ekberg grew up with seven siblings. In 1951, she won the Miss Sweden competition, after being recommended to enter by organizers who saw her on the street, and went to the United States to compete for the Miss Universe title. She didn’t win, but became a model in Hollywood, and later started taking on small acting roles.
Her role in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, where she played a movie star, shot her to stardom. The movie was a colossal success, and came to define the wild and carefree days of the early 1960s. Hosting a Swedish radio program in 2005, Ekberg recalled shooting the scene in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. She said that it was shot in February, the water in the fountain was cold, and Mastroianni was falling over in the fountain, drunk on vodka.
“And there I was. I was freezing,” she said. “They had to lift me out of the water because I couldn’t feel my legs anymore.”
“I have seen that scene a few times. Maybe too many times. I can’t stand watching it anymore, but it was beautiful at the time,” she said.
Ekberg remained in Italy for years, appearing in scores of movies, many forgettable. She returned in two Fellini movies: Clowns and Intervista. Ekberg married Briton Anthony Steel in 1956, but divorced him four years later. In 1963, she married again, this time it was actor Rik van Nutter, but that marriage also failed.
In an interview with Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet in 2006, Ekberg said that her only regret in life was never having children. “I would have liked to have a child, preferably a son,” she was quoted as saying. “It didn’t turn out that way. That’s life; you just have to accept it.”
In the interview, published in connection with Ekberg’s 75th birthday, she also said she wasn’t afraid of death. “I’m just angry because I won’t get the chance to tell others about death, where the soul goes, and if there is a life afterwards,” she was quoted as saying.
“I don’t know if paradise or hell exists, but I’m sure hell is more groovy,” the actress had said.
Ubaldi said that a ceremony would be held in the coming days, at a Lutheran church in Rome, and that Ekberg had specified that her remains be cremated.