(Bloomberg) — Anita Ekberg, the Swedish actress who gained global fame dancing in Rome’s Fontana di Trevi fountain in Federico Fellini’s film “La Dolce Vita,” has died. She was 83.
The actress died at the San Raffaele Rocca di Papa Hospital, a spokeswoman for the Rome-based hospital, who did not wish to be named, said by phone today. Ekberg had been hospitalized recently following a series of illnesses, her lawyer Patrizia Ubaldi was cited by the Associated Press as saying.
Ekberg appeared in more than 40 movies and won accolades, including a Golden Globe award. The iconic scene of her dressed in a revealing black dress dancing around the cascading waters of the Trevi fountain in Fellini’s 1960 film is one of the most celebrated images in cinema history.
“She had the beauty of a young goddess,” the director said, according to U.K. film critic Ronald Bergan on the cinema website Light Sleeper. “The luminous color of her skin, her clear ice-blue eyes, golden hair, exuberance, joie de vivre, made her into a grandiose creature, extra-terrestrial and at the same time moving and irresistible.”
Ekberg appeared in several films in the 1950s, including the 1955 movie “Blood Alley” with John Wayne and Lauren Bacall, for which she won the Golden Globe award. She also acted with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda in “War and Peace” in 1956 and earned global fame with “La Dolce Vita.”
“It was I who made Fellini famous, not the other way around,” the film diva said about “La Dolce Vita,” according to Bergan.
In the film, Ekberg plays movie star Sylvia, who during a visit to Rome meets young playboy journalist Marcello, played by Marcello Mastroianni. Marcello, whose life is centered around the rich and famous, is completely taken aback by Sylvia and her beauty. The film explores the decadence of Rome’s upper classes, and was highly controversial in Italy because of its sexual content.
Ekberg became known as “Dea Nordica” or “the Nordic Goddess.” Other nicknames included “the Iceberg,” in reference both to her surname and Nordic coolness.
Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg was born on Sept. 29, 1931, in Malmo, southern Sweden, to working-class parents. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters. She won the 1951 Miss Sweden beauty pageant, which marked the beginning of her rise to fame. Unable to speak English, Ekberg traveled to the Miss Universe competition in the U.S. and was among the top six participants.
She secured a modeling contract as a result and went on a 1954 tour with comedian Bob Hope to entertain U.S. troops in Alaska. Hope introduced Ekberg as the “best thing to have come from Sweden since the smorgasbord,” and joked that her parents had won a Nobel Prize in architecture. The tour resulted in Ekberg securing a contract with John Wayne’s Batjac Productions.
Italy paid tribute to Ekberg with her own pavilion at the World Expo in Hanover in 2000 to promote Italy, alongside Ferrari cars and Renaissance inventor Leonardo da Vinci. Ekberg ranked 14th on a Playboy magazine list of the 100 sexiest women in the last century.
Following some flops in the 1970s, including the television series “Gold of the Amazon Women,” Ekberg had a successful comeback with Fellini’s “Intervista” in 1987. The film reintroduces Ekberg to Mastroianni and looks back at “La Dolce Vita.”
Ekberg never played in a Swedish film. She was assigned a role in a movie by Swedish director Bo Widerberg in 1964, before pulling out because Ekberg didn’t agree with the costume.
“Widerberg wanted me to wear pigtails and clogs, and that is not Anita Ekberg,” the glamour-loving actress later said, according to Swedish state-owned television SVT’s website.
Ekberg, also called “Anita of Sweden,” spent her later years living in seclusion with her dogs in a villa outside Rome.
She was married to British actor Anthony Steel during the 1950s and then to U.S. actor Rik van Nutter. Both relationships ended in divorce. She had no children.