Anita Ekberg, the Swedish actress featured in one of cinema’s most iconic scenes—the Trevi Fountain sequence from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita—has died following a long illness. She was 83.
Ekberg was one of the most prominent sex symbols of the 1950s, parlaying her title of Miss Sweden 1950 into a career in Hollywood. Six years later, she received a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for her role in the John Wayne/Lauren Bacall film Blood Alley, but most of Ekberg’s film and TV roles focused on her natural endowments rather than her acting talent. She appeared with Bob Hope on several TV specials, in the films Paris Holiday (1958) and Call Me Bwana (1962), and on a USO tour with the comedian, who called her “the greatest thing to come out of Sweden since smorgasbord.” Ekberg accepted these “blonde bombshell” roles but found her image limiting, telling Entertainment Weekly in 1999, “When you’re born beautiful, it helps you start in the business. But then it becomes a handicap.”
Ekberg became an international star with 1960’s La Dolce Vita, where she played Sylvia, the sensual Swedish-American starlet who accompanies Marcello Mastroianni on a nighttime tour of Rome. Director Federico Fellini cast her again as a billboard who comes to life in his segment of the anthology film Boccaccio ’70 (1962), and she appeared as herself in Fellini’s autobiographical documentaries I Clowns (1970) and Intervista (1987).
In total, Ekberg appeared in more than 50 feature films, including Vittorio de Sica’s Woman Times Seven (1967) with Shirley MacLaine, the Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin comedy 4 For Texas (1963), and King Vidor’s 1956 adaptation of War And Peace. Her last feature film role was as an aging opera star in Le Nain Rouge (The Red Dwarf) (1999). Ekberg rarely made public appearances during the last decade of her life, and was reportedly living in an Italian nursing home as of December 2011.