Gina Lollobrigida was an Italian actress who was called the most beautiful woman in the world in the 1950s and 60s. She was nominated for three Golden Globe awards and won one in 1961. She received a variety of other international awards, but she was perhaps best known for the incredible number of famous leading men who starred with her in movies, on television and in public appearances, including:
• In Trapeze with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis
• In The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Anthony Quinn
• In Crossed Swords with Errol Flynn
• Humphrey Bogart, who said that she “made Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple”
• Vittorio Gassman
• In Come September with Rock Hudson and Bobby Darin
• In Go Naked in the World with Ernest Borgnine and Anthony Franciosa
• Frank Sinatra in Never So Few
• In Solomon and Sheba with Tyrone Power, who died from a heart attack during filming and was replaced by Yul Brynner
• Yves Montand and Marcello Mastroianni in The Law
• Sean Connery in Woman of Straw
• Rock Hudson in Strange Bedfellows
• Alec Guinness in Hotel Paradiso
• Phil Silvers, Peter Lawford, and Telly Savalas in Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell
• Bob Hope in The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell
• David Niven in King, Queen, Knave
On January 16, 2023, she died of heart failure at age 95, after suffering a broken hip and several years of dementia.
Early Years and Career
Luigia “Gina” Lollobrigida was born near Rome in 1927. After World War II, she began modeling, came in third in a Miss Italy contest in 1947, and started getting bit parts in movies.
In 1950, Howard Hughes began to pursue her with movie contract offers. He sent her a ticket to come to America without her husband. When she arrived, she was met at the airport by Hughes’ divorce lawyers. He booked her in a luxury hotel, gave her a private secretary and chauffeur and proposed marriage. The screen test turned out to be a scene about the end of a marriage. She stayed for three months and saw him daily, and he made all sorts of offers. The press followed them everywhere they went, so they had to eat at cheap restaurants or in the back of his car. She said he was “very tall and very interesting and much more interesting than my husband.” He repeatedly proposed marriage and gave her a seven-year contract to star in his movies. She said that she signed it “because I wanted to go home.” Hughes’ lawyers continued to make marriage offers and even came to the Algerian desert where she was making a film.
Photography and Politics
Her movie career faded in the 1960s and she became involved with photography, sculpture and politics. As a photographer, she took pictures of Paul Newman, Salvador Dalí, Henry Kissinger, David Cassidy, Audrey Hepburn, Ella Fitzgerald, and the German national football team. When she went to meet President Juan Peron in Argentina, 60,000 people greeted her at the airport. In 1974 she managed to obtain an exclusive interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and spent 12 days photographing him.
She ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the European Parliament and for the Italian Senate. While still married to someone else, she had an affair with heart transplant surgeon Christian Barnard. She said that Prince Rainier of Monaco “would make passes at me in front of his wife, Grace Kelly, in their home . . . “obviously, I said no!”
In 1985, she was nominated as an officer of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her achievements in photography and sculpture. She was awarded the French Legion d’honneur by François Mitterrand. In 1999, she was nominated as a Goodwill Ambassador of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. In 2018, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She Never Found True Love
In 1949 at age 22, she married Slovenian doctor Milko Škofič and he quit practicing medicine to become her manager. They had a son, Milko Škofič, Jr. in 1957 and in 1971, they divorced. In 2006 at age 79, she announced her engagement to Spaniard Javier Rigau y Rafols, who was 34 years younger, but she quickly ended the engagement. Newspapers reported that Rafols conscripted an imposter to pretend that she was Lollobrigida and married her in a civil ceremony that was recorded as a marriage between Rafols and Lollobrigida. Lollobrigida said that she discovered her marriage by chance when she found documents on the internet. She sued but Rigau produced witnesses that Lollobrigida had agreed to marry him by proxy using a power of attorney. Even though she lost that court case, the marriage was annulled in 2019 with the consent of Pope Francis who issued a declaration of nullity.
High Death Rate After Hip Fractures
Lollobrigida’s last years were riddled with legal battles, psychiatric treatments and serious medical problems. She had gone into heart failure several times and in 2017, at age 90, she was hospitalized for heart failure. On December 10th, 2022, she fell and broke her femur, the long bone of the upper leg at her hip, which required surgery that took an hour and 15 minutes. She died on January 16, 2023, apparently of heart failure.
Hip fractures are the most serious consequence of falling in older people with osteoporosis, and 87-96 percent of hip fracture patients are 65 years of age or older (Sci Rep, Dec 10, 2019). Death risk after hip fractures at any age is three times that of the general population (BMC Musculoskeletal Disord, May 20, 2011;12:105), and the death rate from hip fractures increases significantly as people age (J. Intern. Med. 2017;281(3):300–310). The death rate three months after a hip fracture was 25 percent in older people living in care facilities (Scientific Reports, Oct 12, 2021;11:20266). This frightening increase in death rate from hip fractures in older people may be caused by clots that travel from the fracture to the lungs (Cochrane Database Syst Rev, Oct 21, 2002;2002(4):CD000305), increased risk for infections after a fracture (BMJ, 2005;331:1374-10), or heart failure in people with weak bones (J Bone Miner Res, 2003;18:2231-2237). Older people with weak bones are at the highest risk to also have also a weak heart (European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 2017;21:4386-4390). Immobility can lead to pneumonia which can be fatal in older people due to a weaker immune system.
Lessons from Gina Lollobrigida’s Death
Since aging weakens bones, older people’s bones are at increased risk for breaking with even the slightest fall. Everyone loses muscles as they age, so they become weaker and lose coordination. The person with the weakest muscles also is the one most likely to have the weakest bones and weakest heart and be at highest risk for dementia. So with aging, the person who exercises the least has the weakest muscles, strength, coordination, heart, brain, and bones, and is at the highest risk for:
• falling and breaking bones
• becoming demented
• going into heart failure and
• dying from heart failure
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com