Monica Vitti, 20th century Italian screen legend, dies in Rome at 90

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Pope John Paul II greets Italian actor Vittorio Gassman (C) and actress Monica Vitti as they arrive for a private meeting in the Vatican, November 6, 1997. (Reuters)/File Photo

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ROME, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Monica Vitti, one of the most beloved, versatile and accomplished stars of Italy's golden years of cinema in the mid-20th century, died on Tuesday. She was 90.

Her death was announced on Twitter by Walter Veltroni, a filmmaker and former Rome mayor, who was given the news by Vitti's husband, Roberto Russo.

Italian media said Vitti is believed to have died of complications from Alzheimer's disease, from which she had been suffering for more than a decade.

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Prime Minister Mario Draghi called her "a woman of great irony and extraordinary talent who conquered generations of Italians with her spirit, her talent and her beauty. She gave radiance to Italian cinema in the world".

"A great actress has gone," said fellow cinema diva Sophia Loren, 87. "Her death is a great loss not just for cinema but for all of us."

Vitti shot to international fame in 1960 when she was not yet 30 with a leading role in L'Avventura (The Adventure) by famed Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni.

Shot in black and white and with relatively little dialogue, long silences and many close-ups of the blonde Vitti, it tells the story of love, jealousy, boredom and betrayal among a group of rich friends on a boating trip around the Aeolian islands.

The first part of Antonioni's trilogy on the theme of "modernity and its discontents," L'Avventura won the jury prize at the Cannes festival in 1960 and Vitti won the Golden Globe for Best Breakthrough Actress the following year.

She went on to star with some of Italy's most famous actors, including Marcello Mastroianni, Alberto Sordi, and Vittorio Gassman, as well as foreigners such as Michael Caine, Alain Delon and Dirk Bogarde.

Born Maria Luisa Ceciarelli in Rome in 1931, she lived through World War Two as an adolescent, graduated from the National Academy of Dramatic Arts and began getting bit roles.

Vitti did several comedy roles before meeting Antonioni and joining his Teatro Nuovo theatre company in Milan before the making of L'Avventura.

In the 1970s, she made a series of highly successful romantic comedies with directors such as Ettore Scola.

With Sordi as both director and lead actor, she starred in Polvere di Stelle (Stardust), a comic song-and-dance film about a husband and wife team who stage shows to entertain U.S. soldiers moving through the countryside during World War Two.

She won the David di Donatello award for best actress for that film in 1974.

In 1990 Vitti tried her hand at directing, starring with Elliott Gould in Scandalo Segreto, but the film was not successful.

She made numerous television appearances before she became ill and spent the last years of her life privately at home, taken care of by her husband.

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Reporting by Philip Pullella Editing by Mark Heinrich

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