Italian film, TV, and stage actress Mariangela Melato, best known internationally for her role as a rich Milanese snob shipwrecked with a leftist sailor on a desert island in Lina Wertmuller’s “Swept Away,” died on Friday in a Rome hospital. Melato was 71 and had reportedly been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Known for her radiant green eyes and deep sultry voice, Melato worked with many top Italian and European directors, including Luchino Visconti, Elio Petri and Claude Chabrol. But she made a string of pics with Wertmuller who cast her in three films opposite Giancarlo Giannini: “Swept Away,” “The Seduction of Mimi” and “Love and Anarchy.”
In 2002 Melato’s role in “Swept Away” was reprieved by Madonna in the Guy Ritchie remake, opposite Adriano Giannini, who is Giancarlo’s son.
Born in Milan, Melato studied at the Milan Theater Academy and began performing on the Milan stage in her late teens. She was soon working with Dario Fo, Luchino Visconti and Luca Ronconi, the best directors of the day.
In 1969 Melato landed her first film role in Pupi Avati’s strange chiller “Thomas and the Bewitched,” playing the costume designer of a wacky demon-infested theater troupe.
She gained recognition as a local movie star with Wertmuller’s “The Seduction of Mimi” in 1972 and two years later attained international stardom with “Swept Away.” She worked with Chabrol in 1974 political thriller “Nada.”
During the 1980s Melato pursued a career in Hollywood, where she landed a supporting role as villainess General Kala in “Flash Gordon,” in 1980 and opposite Ryan O’Neal in laffer “So Fine” in 1981.
Melato soon returned to Italy, where she went on to star in many popular TV skeins, including “Una vita in Gioco” and “Rebecca la prima moglie” and always had an active stage career, most recently in Ronconi’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” which toured Italy in 2011 and 2012.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in a statement said Italians will “remember her as one of our most popular actresses, esteemed and appreciated for her great talent, expressed until her final days with great willpower and enthusiasm.”