‘I’m a courageous and free-thinking woman’

No stranger to headlines, the porn-star-turned-politician known as 'La Cicciolina' once offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace. This week, at the age of 61, she announced her return to politics – which is why she’s our Italian Face of the Week.

'I’m a courageous and free-thinking woman'
File photo of Ilona Staller with ex-husband Jeff Koons: EPA / AFP

Who is Cicciolina?

She was born in Hungary, moved to Italy as a young woman, and her real name is Ilona Staller. In her time, she's been a model, porn star and politician.

Why is she in the news this week?

On Thursday she announced she'd be standing in Rome’s city council elections at the end of May, as a candidate for Italy’s Liberal Party.

How did she end up as a politician?

Staller started out as a model in Hungary and later developed her career as a porn actress in Italy. In the early 70s, she met the pornographer Riccardo Schicchi with whom she later co-hosted a radio show. It was called Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?, and featured live calls from listeners about sexual matters. And it was on this show that Staller acquired the name “La Cicciolina” – which translates as “the little chubby one”.

She and Schicchi then co-founded Diva Futura, a pornography and erotica film studio. During the 70s, Ciccoliona not only starred in porn films but also made several television appearances – the most infamous of which was in 1978, when she bared her breasts live on air in the show C’era due Volte.

Entering politics a year later, she first ran for parliament as a candidate for Italy’s first Green party, the Lista del Sole – but lost. In the meantime, Staller continued to star in and produce porn films, the most famous being ‘The Red Telephone’, which she co-produced with Schicchi in 1983.

In 1987, she finally won a seat in the Italian parliament as a member of the Radical Party – having polled 20,000 votes. Afterwards, she championed human rights and supported campaigns against nuclear energy and NATO membership.

Four years later, she abandoned the Radicals to set up her own protest party, the ‘Party of Love’, with another porn star.

That same year, she married the controversial American artist Jeff Koons, with whom she had a son.

What did her husband think of her career?

Well, by all accounts he appeared to embrace it. Together the couple made art history in 1991 when Koons produced a series of erotic sculptures and photographs of them both, which appeared in an exhibition entitled “Made in Heaven”.

‘Heaven’ was not to last, however, and in 1992, the couple announced they were going to file for divorce. In a statement Koons, then 36, said: ''The differences between our cultural and social standings are too great.”

And that wasn’t the end of it. In 2008, Staller sued her ex-husband, claiming he owed her $2.3 million (£1.15 million) in child support.

Has she had any other men in her life?

"In her life" is perhaps a stretch but even Staller herself claims to have lost count of the number of men she's slept with. When the question was put to her in an interview with Italian radio station Radio 24, she said: “I’ve never counted them. More than 2,000, perhaps even 3,000 or 4,000 – I don’t know!”    

Didn’t she record a few songs?

Yes, but if you'd asked any Italian about Cicciolina's pop career before the invention of the internet, then they'd probably have looked at you blankly.

The lyrics to her songs were often so explicit that they were banned it Italy. Among these was her most famous song ‘Muscolo Rosso’, which was dedicated to the penis – which went on to become a hit in France.

In 1990, the star famously featured in a music video for the song ‘Touched by the hand of Cicciolina’ by the British alternative rock band Pop Will Eat Itself. You can see the video below.

Tell me an interesting fact about her.

How about two? During her first job in the Italian parliament she reportedly offered to have sex with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to prevent the Gulf War. Needless to say, the offer was not taken up, and she lost her seat at the end of her term in 1991. But that didn’t stop her making the offer a second time in 2002.

Staller is also famed for delivering her political speeches with one breast exposed. Will she be doing so again? No one yet knows…

What does she plan to do if she gets elected?

When she announced her candidacy Staller said that she would be supporting “liberal, libertarian and environmentalist" issues. In addition, she wants to campaign to legalize prostitution, to decriminalize cannabis for medicinal use and to introduce a law in support of same-sex marriages.

What do people think of her in Italy?

While her supporters – or "Cicciolini" as she fondly calls them – often praise her for both her liberal views and her daring foray into the masculine world of Italian politics, Staller is unsurprisingly no stranger to controversy.

In 2011, she attracted many a raised eyebrow when it was revealed she would be receiving a yearly pension of €30,000 courtesy of the Italian state for five-year office in parliament.

Will she continue to star in porn films?

If recent reports are to be believed, the porno diva has changed her ways. In an interview with the Italian news website Today, she confided that she hadn’t had sex for two years.

But far from regretting her controversial career, she recently told Italian radio station Radio 24 that her only regret was “not having expanded my sexual knowledge” as a porn star.

What else does she have to say for herself?

Recently she was quoted by Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, as saying: “Even Grillo [the leader of the protest party, the Five Star Movement] supports issues that I supported in 1989. He’s even put one of my speeches on the web, a sign that I was ahead of the times.

“I’m a courageous woman and free-thinking,” she added. “That’s why I decided to join the Liberal Party.”

Editor's Note: The Local's Italian Face of the Week is someone in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Italian of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.