Helmut Berger, the Austrian actor who became an international star through films by directors Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica and Massimo Dallamano, died today in his home city of Salzburg. He was 78.
His death was announced by his agency, Helmet Werner Management.
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“Helmut Berger was one of the greatest and most talented actors European cinema had ever seen,” the agency said in a statement. “His mentor, the Italian star director Luchino Visconti, recognized this talent immediately. With the films The Damned, Violence and Passion and Ludwig II he created an eternal monument to Helmut Berger.
The statement continued, “”No other actor after him embodied the Bavarian fairy tale king as expressively as the native of Bad Ischl [Austria], whose portrayal of Ludwig II is internationally recognized as a masterpiece.”
In addition to the Visconti films, Berger gave memorable performances in De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and Dallamano’s Dorian Gray, the latter making full use of the actor’s physical beauty and groundbreaking androgynous appeal. Decades later he would appear in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III, and the music video for Madonna’s 1992 song “Erotica.” A devoted fan of the actor, Madonna also included him in her controversial book Sex.
Openly bisexual in an era when such public declarations were a rarity, Berger had headline-making relationships with Visconti, Marisa Berenson, model Francesca Guidato, dancer Rudolf Nureyev, Tab Hunter, Ursula Andress and, allegedly, both Mick and Bianca Jagger.
“Many years ago,” his agent Werner said, “Helmut Berger told me ‘I have lived three lives. And in 4 languages! Je ne regrette rien!’ We kindly ask you to keep his memory in your reports as a brilliant actor who inspired several generations over decades.”
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