Pier Angeli: Suicide, Beauty, And Timeless Photos

Icons | October 13, 2019

Italian ingenue Pier Angeli appeared in dozens of films over 20 years, and even won a Golden Globe in her short time in the spotlight. Her winning smile and coquettish demeanor made filmgoers and her costars alike fall absolutely head over heels for her in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Angeli’s onscreen career is overshadowed by her many romances with her co-stars; actors like Kirk Douglas, James Dean, and Vic Damone (whom she married) were all obsessed with her. Another classic Hollywood tale of tragedy, Angeli overdosed in her Beverly Hills home in 1971. 

Angeli learned to act from her mother

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Angeli was born Anna Maria Pierangeli in 1932, in Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea. Her father was a construction worker and her mother an amateur actress. Along with that of her twin sister Maria, Angeli’s talent was cultivated by her mother to make sure the two girls were able to make a living from the silver screen. Angeli made her film debut in Domani é troppo Tardi (Tomorrow is Too Late) in 1949 after she was seen by director Léonide Moguy, the Russian born French film director. It wasn’t long before American producers took notice and brought her stateside. 

“Teresa” made her a star

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Two years after her film debut Angeli starred in Teresa, a film that follows a young man just out of World War II who marries sweet and naive young woman (played by Angeli) who helps bring hope to the veteran’s life. Angeli won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the young Italian woman and was quickly brought into the fold at MGM where she starred in films like The Devil Makes Three and Flame and the Flesh by day while Hollywood heartthrobs courted her in the evening. After meeting on the set of The Story of Three Loves, she and Kirk Douglas began a whirlwind romance and were even engaged for a short period of time. 

Hollywood was infatuated with Angeli

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After breaking things off with Douglas, Angeli began a brief affair with James Dean, all the while the rest of Hollywood lusted after her. Even though Angeli and Dean were a great pair, her mother forced her to break things off with the stone faced actor because he wasn’t Catholic. After ending their relationship, Angeli quickly married singer and actor Vic Damone on November 24, 1954.

Dean was reportedly so upset by the union that he waited outside the church on his motorcycle, waiting until the service was over. When the couple stepped outside the church he peeled away from the curb as loudly and quickly as possible. 

After separating from MGM she went back to Europe

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What should have been the happiest time of Angeli’s life was full of dreadfully low personal moments. After giving birth to her son Perry she starred in films like Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Vintage, but her marriage to Damone was falling apart. After four short years her marriage to the singer ended in 1958 and her contract with MGM was finished.

Angeli went back to Europe after her final MGM picture and continued to work on films like Musketeers of the Sea, and Estoril y Sus Fiestas. Her films may have grown more obscure, but she continued to be adored by people across the globe and she once again married, this time with composer Armando Trovajoli in 1962. 

Her final years didn’t go so well

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Living and working in Europe didn’t sit as well with Angeli as she thought even as she continued to garner excellent reviews and BAFTA nominations. In 1965 she divorced Trovajoli and went back to the states to try and get back in with the studio system. However, by the late ‘60s the star system was a shell of what it once was. She acted in a few more European films before starring in Octaman, a film about a mutant octopus in 1970. Unfortunately this was her last role. In 1971 the 39 year old actress was discovered at her home in Beverly Hills, dead from a barbiturate overdose. Her body was taken back to Europe and interred at the Cimetière des Bulvis in Rueil-Malmaison, Hauts-de-Seine, France.

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.