Tragic Stars


French actress Irène Tunc had a promising acting career that was cut short at the height of her fame when she died in a car accident in 1972, in the city of Versailles. She only starred in two PEPLUM films, APHRODITE GODDESS OF LOVE (1958), and CONQUEROR OF THE ORIENT (1960), with APHRODITE being her best role/work in the genre.

At the time of the accident she was married famed director Alain Cavalier. In fact, she had made her first film with Cavalier prior to the accident. Devastated by the loss of his wife, Cavalier didn't work for eight years. Irène also had starred in other prestigious films by directors such as Francois Truffaut and Alain Resnais.

Above and below: Irène had a starring role in this excellent PEPLUM. She was beautiful and convincing as a scheming courtesan.

Irèn's second PEPLUM movie was a lesser effort but she still shone through. A low budget movie to be exact but her glamorous look made it look less cheap.

Irène in LA CHAMADE (1968), directed by her husband Alain Cavalier


Soledad Miranda made a couple of PEPLUM films including THE MIGHTY URSUS (1961, above). She was 18 years old when she made that film. By the time she was 27, with over 35 films to her credits, Soledad died in a car accident on a highway in Portugal in 1970. The Spanish actress was becoming a star in  Eurocult films such as SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY and VAMIROS LESBOS. Today she has a fervent cult following amongst fans of that genre.


Dorian Gray, born Maria Luisa Mangini, died on February 16, 2011. Gray committed suicide by gunshot at her home in Torcegno. She was 83 years old (while 'officially' she was 75 years old). Dorian appeared in a couple of PEPLUM films, including COLOSSUS & THE AMAZONS and THE QUEEN OF SHEBA. Her career lasted 14 years, from 1951 to 1965. She retired from acting in 1965 and disappeared from the public eye as well (like several PEPLUM stars). Even though she seemingly lived a full life killing oneself at any age is always tragic.




Maria Montez, the Queen of Technicolor in the 1940s and star of many Sword and Sandal films, including ARABIAN NIGHTS, ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES and COBRA WOMAN, among others, died after she had a heart attack in a bathtub and drown. She was only 39 years old. She was survived by her husband Jean-Pierre Aumont and daughter Tina Aumont. What a sad and terrible way to die.

Maria is the Queen of Atlantis in SIREN OF ATLANTIS


French actor Henri Vidal, who appeared in a couple of high profile PEPLUM films such as FABIOLA (below) and ATTILA (above), died at the age of 40 from a heart attack in 1959. Henri was still popular and whose career was still thriving when he unexpectedly died. He was married to Michèle Morgan, also in FABIOLA in the picture below. He died just as the PEPLUM explosion started and one can only wonder what films he would have made in the 1960s.


Bella Darvi starred in THE EGYPTIAN as Nefer. This was her only second film. She starred in 3 films for 20th Century Fox before her career in Hollywood was effectively over. It is well known that Darvi was Darryl F. Zanuck's mistress, brought from Europe to Los Angeles because she slept with the studio boss. When Zanuck's wife realized this she sent Darvi packing and back to Europe.

There were production problems for THE EGYPTIAN before cameras started shooting. Marlon Brando was set to star as Sinuhe, the lead role, but Brando disliked Darvi so much that he decided to leave the project at the very last minute. Edmund Purdom replaced Brando. Here's some behind-the-scenes details about THE EGYPTIAN:

"Marlon Brando was originally scheduled to appear opposite Darvi in the Technicolor epic THE EGYPTIAN (1954). During the script read-through before filming began, the pair disliked each other at first sight. Bella, cast as the courtesan Nefer, was also jeered by more experienced star Jean Simmons who laughed with other cast members that Darvi was "an actress who 'nefer' was." Just as filming was to start, Brando refused to make the film, his agent telling studio head Darryl F. Zanuck: "He doesn't like the director, he doesn't like the role. And he can't stand Bella Darvi!" Edmund Purdom was cast in the role."

It's pretty obvious that Darvi was miscast as Nefer. I won't go into details why I think so but she only got the role because she was a mistress not an actress. Once back in Europe she continued acting from time to time but her gambling debts were too big for what little she got paid as an actress (or anything else) and she kept on asking Zanuck to help her financially. He did help her up until the early 1970s. After he refused to help her financially, Bella killed herself by turning on the gas stove in her apartment. She was only 42.



A familiar face of the PEPLUM genre, who probably made more films than any other actor during the PEPLUM explosion, Livio Lorenzon died in a car accident a few days before Christmas, on December 23 in 1971. Livio was only 48 years old. A life cut way too short. One can only think how many other memorable roles he would have had if he hadn't died.

Livio starred in some of the best films alongside the biggest stars of the genre, including Steve Reeves, Mark Forest and Richard Harrison. A part of the PEPLUM genre died when he died tragically.

Livio in Pontius Pilate


French actress Michèle Girardon started her career in the 1950s playing roles for young girls (she was 18 years old when she made her first film) and by 1971 roles had dried up and the then despondent actress killed herself 4 years later. She was 36 years old. Michèle made several films by well known directors in the early 1960s, right after starring in her most famous role in HATARI, a John Wayne vehicle. She also appeared in a couple of PEPLUM films, including ANTHAR THE INVINCIBLE in 1964 starring Kirk Morris (above).


Belinda Lee was an up and coming British-born star who started making films in Britain before doing films almost strictly in Europe, including a good number of films from the PEPLUM  genre. Her life was cut short when at the age of 26 she died in a car accident near San Bernardino, California, on her way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. This happened in March 1961. Her last two films, released posthumously, were PEPLUM films: CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS (December 1961) and JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (1962). Few people remember her today. She had the potential of becoming a big star.

Top photo and above photo, with Jacques Sernas, are from GODDESS OF LOVE


Todd Armstrong is known for his role as Jason in Ray Harryhausen's JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. This would be his only major leading role, appearing in supporting roles afterwards on multiple TV series. His last acting job was in 1982 and Todd killed himself at the age of 55 in 1992. Little is known about him. There are some speculations written about him at his IMDb message board (link) but I can't confirm it. His voice was apparently dubbed for Jason without his knowledge which saddened him.


Wandisa Guida and Ettore Manni in REVOLT OF THE SLAVES

Ettore Manni was a regular face in PEPLUM films; if you saw some Italian Sword & Sandal films then you definitely saw him at one point. He was one of the best actors of the much maligned genre; every time he was on screen he almost always stole the show. He was often used as a strong supporting actor if the main American actor happened to have little thespian skills: if the (often beefy) actor wasn't capable of conveying something, Ettore was there to do it for them.

In July 1979, Ettore was found dead, by shotgun. The circumstances over his death are still a mystery; he was killed while cleaning a rifle: was it an accident or a suicide? No one knows. His last film was Fellini's CITY OF WOMEN.

Ettore in AMAZONS OF ROME (talking to Sylvia Syms) 


Emimmo Salvi signing Steve Reeves for GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS

Producer, writer and director Emimmo Salvi was the first to sign Steve Reeves after the success. From then on, Emimmo made a dozen or so PEPLUM films, including THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS and THE SEVEN REVENGES. He was producing a film called ZEUS (see here) when he killed himself with a gun (that was never found!?!) after he learned he was diabetic. His input to the PEPLUM genre is important simply by having Steve sign that lucrative contract.


Raf Mattioli and Alessandra Panaro in THE BACCHANTES

Raf made 10 films, including the John Derek adventure PIRATE OF THE HALF MOON, before dying at the age of 23 in 1960. THE BACCHANTES was his last film and was released posthumously in 1961. The circumstances of his tragic death are unknown to me.

Addendum: Thanks to some information provided by readers, there's an Italian Wiki page about the actor and it says he died from a heart attack. The Wiki page erroneously say he was 24 years old but he was actually 23, he died just one week before his birthday. 


Michael O'Sullivan said...

Marvellous. I discovered Raf Mattioli last year, in a long unseen 1959 film LE LOI (The Law) - its on Amazon, by Jules Dassin, with a great cast: Gina Lollobrigida, Melina Mercouri, Marcello Mastroianni, Yves Montand and Raf Mattioli as his son, its quite a big part. I wondered who this stranger to me was and checked the info on IMDB. He died of a heart attack aged 23!

Another tragic peplum star is French actor Henri Vidal who died in 1959 aged 40; Gerard Philipe also died that year at a young age - and of course Belinda Lee in 1961 - it was she, not Jayne Mansfield, who was practically decapitated in an automobile accident.

PEPLUM cinema said...

Even at 23 Raf had a pretty good career,

Yes, there's a lot of them in the PEPLUM genre.

Nick Wale said...

ESTELLA BLAIN looks like another good contender, she committed suicide at age 51 by shooting herself in the head

Anonymous said...

dan vadis should be on this list

stonesmasher said...

The beautiful Daniela Rocca should be on the list as well.

pdgregg said...

I agree with stonesmasher...Daniela should be on the list. As should Sylvia Lopez, who died from leukemia in November 1959, at the peak of her career and stunning beauty.

PEPLUM TV said...

The list is on-going...this is not a complete list