Moana Pozzi

Gone but not forgotten


20 years ago with her usual good manners, she left the scene

Moana the gone but not forgotten icon who incarnated an epoch and whose untimely death at the age of 33 shook the nation. Pozzi’s charisma has been compared by some in Italy to that of Marilyn Monroe, who also died young at 36.

What remains mystifying, however, is Italy’s obsession with an actress whose roles called for more sighing and groaning throatily than memorizing lines.

Pozzi was — and remains — Italy’s most revered porn star. Stunningly beautiful with a razor-sharp mind, Pozzi created a public persona that in just a few years became as popular with hormonally charged young men as with devout grandmothers.

“She wasn’t vulgar,” Angela Branduini, a grandmother in her 60s, said of her regard for the star of films like “Moana’s Transsexual Vices,” and “Euroflesh — Sex Crazy” (neither of which Branduini has seen).

Indeed, even while Pozzi was performing in erotic cabarets and filming cheesy porn flicks, she lived a parallel life as a respected pundit on television talk shows, philosophizing about sexual freedom or holding forth on gay rights or denouncing the Mafia. She was well enough known to have a famous Italian actress, Sabina Guzzanti, impersonate her on a weekly comedy show, poking fun at Pozzi’s schoolmarmy desire to instruct Italians — who had only legalized abortion and divorce in the previous decade — on matters of the bed. It was an impersonation that hit so close to home that Pozzi despised it.

When Moana — named after a Hawaiian island that means “the point where the sea is deepest” — died in a French hospital 2 decades ago, the news was on the front pages of nearly every major Italian newspaper. And a homily given a few days later by Cardinal Michele Giordano, the archbishop of Naples, admiring Pozzi for her faith in God (she reportedly died with a pink rosary in her hand) gave birth to a public beatification of the porn star as a modern-day Mary Magdalene.

“It’s a simple mythology, that of the redeemed whore,” said Marco Giusti, the author of a book about Pozzi that was published  by Mondadori. But the image, he said, was misguided. “She always said she didn’t regret anything.” In his book Giusti posits that part of Pozzi’s allure, even today, derives from her embodiment of “the golden world” that was Italy in the 1980s, a free-wheeling era that crumbled with the Tangentopoli investigation into corruption that overturned Italian politics at the beginning of the 1990s.

Her embodiment of the times was ascribed to her affairs with some of the era’s top celebrities, including actors, designers, soccer players and intellectuals, and her suspected (never denied) affair with Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist prime minister who died in exile in Tunisia, where he fled to escape corruption charges in 1994.

As with Monroe — an actress Pozzi admired and emulated in a cover shot for the newsweekly Panorama (mimicking Monroe’s famously nude calendar photo) — part of Italy’s fascination with the porn star has to do with the captivating blend of sex and death.

“She lived these mysteries with honesty, like classical heroes did,” said Mauro Biuzzi, president of the Moana Pozzi Association, which recently started a Web site,

Biuzzi, who is also the secretary of the “Party of Love,” the political movement that sponsored Pozzi in her unsuccessful bid to become Rome’s mayor in 1993, said that the porn star was above all a diva.

She was a clone of the Hollywood Diva, Biuzzi said from his home in Umbria, she was “both kitsch and Baroque, and she painstakingly built up this image.” At the same time, he added, she was unmistakably Italian, and so became a popular national symbol. Indeed, apart from a few films shot with the American porn star and director Gerard Damiano, Pozzi’s career was almost exclusively homegrown.

Those who knew Pozzi agree that she took to creating her persona with single-minded determination. Unsatisfied with the supporting roles that came her way (she found small parts in a number of forgettable comedies), she saw porn as a way out of anonymity and into celebrity, as a way to construct an image of a woman who was both sensual and smart. She was financially shrewd as well, building a personal sex industry that included video distribution, a sex hotline and various gadgets.

The photographer Pigi Cipelli recounted his futile attempts more than 2 decade ago to get Pozzi to change expressions during a photo shoot. “She had this image she wanted to present and she wouldn’t budge from it,” he said.

“She built it up day after day,” Guisti went on. And because she spoke “perfect Italian” and “never said anything banal,” he said, she managed adeptly to pair her porn persona with that of a television pundit “acclaimed and accepted” by intellectuals and opinion leaders.

Pozzi’s death in Lyon was secretive enough to give rise to a number of conspiracy theories. Alongside rumors that the actress died of AIDS, reports have persisted that Pozzi faked her own death to escape an overwhelming public persona.

Last week, Brunetto Fantauzzi, a journalist who worked with Pozzi, called on a Roman court to clear up the doubts about Pozzi’s death.

“There are increasingly insistent voices about the porn star’s decision to burn the bridges with her past by faking a death as sudden as it was mysterious,” Fantauzzi was quoted as saying in the Rome daily Il Messaggero.

Fantauzzi raised a number of doubts surrounding Pozzi’s death, including the decision to keep it a secret for 48 hours and only release the news after the actress was cremated, “making any attempts at identification impossible.”

But Biuzzi dismissed such notions as nonsense: “She left Italy to die because of privacy, she was preparing herself for death.” He was the executor of her will and confirmed reports that she died of liver cancer.


Pozzi’s death at the height of her sinful splendor was a stroke of fate so clearly in tune with the traditional imagery that it sent shivers of emotion through the whole country. The single monument she set up for herself has the mixture of kitsch and generosity that characterized her work the continuation of her sex talk line, with the proceeds to be donated to cancer research. After that, with her usual good manners, she left the scene.

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