Helmut Berger lived as a character created by Luchino Visconti, who would be surrounded by excess, hedonism, volatility. Born in 1944 to a wealthy Austrian family, he ran away from Marist boarding school as a teenager and went to live in London. It was the ’60s and with sporadic jobs as a model, a small-time actor (or whatever) perfectly squeezed a night out on the town.
At the age of 20, she met Visconti, who was then 38 years her senior. They became instant lovers and from that moment on the director guided her career and her life. With him she worked on iconic films that became an erotic myth for men and women alike. They worked together in ‘The Witches’ (1967), but stardom came to him with ‘The Fall of the Gods’ (1969), where he played a perverted pedophile Nazi dressed as Merlin Dietrich and which earned him a Globe nomination. Gould was then born an icon of European cinema of the time, working with the Italian filmmaker repeatedly on ‘Louis II of Bavaria’ (1973) and ‘Confidence’ (1974). He also shot with Vittorio De Sica in ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Contini’ (1970) and ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1970) with Massimo Delmano. I have also been a part of major Hollywood productions like ‘Ash Wednesday’ (Larry Pierce, 1973) with Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Fonda and Burt Lancaster.
At the same time as he was rising as a star, he also became a myth of the excesses of a social life with drugs, colossal drunkenness and passionate scandals, already labeled the most handsome man in the world. The magazines kept at it. He competed in this with Alain Delon, and much more. He himself told in his biography how he slept with his then partner Romy Schneider and later his wife Nathalie Barthélemy. In his autobiography titled ‘Yo Berger’, published in 1998, he admitted to having had sexual relationships with dozens of celebrities of the time, including Rudolf Nureyev, Ursula Andress, Bianca and Mick Jagger or Jerry Hall.
Life of excess
The death in 1978 of Luchino Visconti, with whom she had a long and stormy relationship, devastated her. He always considered himself a widower and in his later years he made suicide attempts and drifted excessively with alcohol and drugs, which cut short his acting career.
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During the 80s he collaborated with his Spanish directors: Antoni Ribas in the trilogy ‘Victoria! (1983) and Jesús Franco in ‘Night Predators’ (1988). Francis Ford Coppola later cast him as one of the corrupt bankers in ‘The Godfather III’ (1990) and Bertrand Bonello turned him into the most decadent and aged version of the French fashion designer in ‘Saint Laurent’ (2014) . At that time he came to German television to participate in reality shows like ‘Survivors’.
Director Albert Serra trusted her for the theatrical production ‘Liberte’ in Berlin in 2018. He was part of the cast when he took the text to the cinema the following year. ‘Liberte’ (2019) was Helmut Berger’s last work. According to his representative when his death was announced, aged 79, the actor admitted: “I have lived three lives in four languages (I speak German, English, French and Italian). No regrets.”
Laura Perez went to see ‘ET’ the first time they took her to the movies