In the town of Varese in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, Ileana Caravati was born on 23rd September 1956 to a successful family of local merchants. With her lustrous dark hair, flawless olive skin and athletic physique, Ileana’s stunning looks and the fact that the region’s capital Milan was one of the world’s most fashionable cities, prompted her to go into modelling. At the age of 18, she entered the Miss Italia contest, where she won second place and earned the title ‘Miss Elegance.’
As a result of the competition, Ileana caught the eye of film producer Franco Cristaldi, whose company Vides Cinematografica had produced numerous successful Italian documentaries and films since its formation in 1946. In 1975, after changing her name to Lilli Carati, Ileana appeared in her first film Di che segno sei? Similar erotically charged offerings such as La professoressa di scienze naturali and L’avvocato della mala followed.
It was the 1978 film Avere vent’anni directed by Ferdinando Di Leo, and her raunchy performance alongside fellow Italian starlet, Gloria Guida, which made Carati a national sex symbol. In Avere vent’anni, Carati and Guida played two young women who leave home to seek adventure and sexual freedom, hitchhiking to Rome to join a Hippie commune before descending into a dark world of prostitution and gang violence. The film was heavily censored before its release in cinemas across Europe due to its explicit scenes, including a brief carnal encounter between the two lead actresses.
Above: A scene from Avere vent’anni (1978)
A year later, Carati starred in Il corpo della ragassa, a tale that can perhaps be described as an X-rated Pygmalion, which was directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile and based on a novel by the journalist Gianni Brera. While the film proved to be popular with Italian audiences, Carati’s acting was panned by critics; with some claiming she was only given the role in the first place because of her affair with Campanile.
A car accident in Arona in July 1981 left Carati badly injured and further damaged her career as she was unable to work. The accident also led to Carati dabbling with hard drugs, and this soon escalated into a full-blown addiction to heroin; to fund her habit, she began appearing in pornographic magazines, including Playmen and Blitz. In the 1984 film Il momento magico, her first in three years, Carati played a down on her luck stripper; a somewhat accurate reflection of her reality at that time. A part in a big budget picture about an Aztec princess, due to start filming in the Amazon in September 1984 fell through after Carati was considered to be too drug dependent to proceed with shooting.
However, that same year, Carati met Joe D’Amato, one of Italy’s most prolific film directors. In spite of her drugs problem, D’Amato was impressed by Carati and cast her in four of his forthcoming films, L’alcova (1985), Il piacere (1985), Lussuria (1986) and Voglia di guardare (1986). Subsequently, Carati turned to more hard-core adult entertainment to pay for heroin, making straight to video releases such as Lilli Carati’s Dreams (1987), and even performing with porn star Rocco Siffredi.
Drugs continued to dominate Carati’s life and in May 1988, she was stopped by the police whilst driving near around her home town of Varese; four grams of heroin were found in her car and she was arrested. Carati was sentenced to five months in prison and, having reached her lowest point, she attempted suicide twice. In 1989, another attempt to resurrect her public profile with a role in The Whore (1989) directed by Alex de Renzy floundered after the film was a commercial flop. It was to be Carati’s final film and by 1990, with her family’s help, she entered rehabilitation.
Yet the beautiful actress who had embodied the carefree abandon of the 1970s, continued to fascinate, and Carati regularly appeared on television warning others about the dangers of addiction. In February 1994, she appeared in the Italian television special Lilli Carati: Una Vita da Eroina.
Above: Lilli Carati: Una Vita da Eroina – Part I (1994)
Above: Lilli Carati: Una Vita da Eroina – Part II (1994)
After the documentary was aired, Carati returned to a relatively quiet and drugs free existence with her mother and sister in Varese, but occasionally gave interviews to the press. In 2012, she planned to return to acting, claiming that now she was clean, ‘more conscious’ and ‘more real,’ but was forced to pull out of an upcoming film after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Carati died on 21st October 2014. In 2008, she had spoken to the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera about her hopes for the future and how she refused to regret her troubled past, accepting it as ‘part of life.’