ROME — Actress Laura Antonelli, who became an Italian sex symbol in the 1970s and worked with masters Luchino Visconti, Dino Risi, and Ettore Scola, proving her true thesping talent over a career spanning 45 movies during almost four decades, died Monday at her home in Ladispoli near Rome. She was 73.

Antonelli died of a heart attack in modest housing provided by Ladispoli social services in 2009. Her career had taken a tragic turn in the 1990s after cocaine-related charges were pressed against her in 1991. She was cleared of the charges in 2006.

Born Laura Antonaz in 1941, in Pola, which is now in Croatia but was then part of Italy, Laura Antonelli grew up in Italian post-World War II refugee camps before her family subsequently relocated to Naples.

After starting out making TV commercials for soft drinks and bedsheets she landed minor roles in Italian erotic genre movies and comedies, including Mario Bava’s “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs” and Riccardo Ghione’s 1968 “La Rivoluzione Sessuale” (“The Sexual Revolution”) with a screenplay co-written by Dario Argento.

Antonelli’s big breakthrough came with the 1973 release of Salvatore Samperi’s “Malizia” (“Malicious”), in which she played a housekeeper named Angela who seduces a 14-year-old boy in order to marry his rich, widowed father. “Malizia” created a local scandal, became an Italo pop culture sensation, did boffo biz at the Italo box office and made Antonelli an Italian erotic icon. It also won her several prizes including a best actress Silver Ribbon nod awarded by Italy’s film journalists’ union.

In 1973 she also starred in Dini Risi’s episodic sex comedy “Sessomatto” (“Crazy Sex”), in which she plays an unchaste nun clad in white vestments and stockings.

Meanwhile in 1972 Antonelli had worked with French director Claude Chabrol on love triangle pic “Dr. Popaul” alongside Mia Farrow and Jean-Paul Belmondo, with whom she had a turbulent, headline-grabbing, nine-year affair. She had previously divorced from Italian publisher Enrico Piacentini.

“Laura was for me above all an adorable companion, of exceptional charm,” Belmondo, 82, told Italian news agency ANSA.

Antonelli in 1976 starred in Luchino Visconti’s last film, “The Innocent,” as the wife of a male chauvinist aristocrat played by Giancarlo Giannini; in 1981 in Ettore Scola’s “Passion of Love” she played Clara a rich young woman who betrays her husband. In 1986 she starred in Mauro Bolognini’s erotic costumer “La Venexiana,” after which she worked mostly on Italian TV series until 1991 when she starred in Samperi’s “Malizia” sequel “Malizia 2000,” which flopped, and marked her last onscreen appearance.

On the night of April 27, 1991, police broke into her villa in Cervetri, outside Rome,  subsequently charged Antonelli with possessing and dealing cocaine, and sentenced her to house arrest. That conviction was overturned in 2006 but permanently damaged her career to the point that Antonelli died destitute after refusing special Italian government aid for artists.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini paid tribute to Antonelli as an “an actress of rare beauty and a great talent of Italian cinema.”

Antonelli will be buried in Ladispoli after the arrival from Canada of her brother Claudio, who is her only survivor.