Walter Chiari (Walter Annicchiarico)

Walter Chiari

Born in Verona, Walter Chiari achieved a certain degree of international success in films such as The Little Hut (1957), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Chimes at Midnight (1966), and The Valachi Papers (1972). He appeared opposite Anna Magnani in Luchino Visconti’s film Bellissima (1951). In the late 1950s and ’60s he was one of the main protagonists of the “Dolce Vita”, the glitzy and glamorous Italian jet-set scene, centered in Rome and especially focused on the booming cinema industry with which he was so at ease. During the making of The Little Hut he met Ava Gardner (still formally married to Frank Sinatra but already estranged from him), and he started a passionate and tumultuous relationship with the American superstar. Unlike many Italian actors of the time he had a full and fluent command of English that he put to good use in his Broadway spell, which in 1961 saw him performing in The Gay Life (a musical comedy inspired by a Schnitzler piece) for 113 shows. He starred in They’re a Weird Mob (1966), the last of the Powell and Pressburger films, based on a popular Australian novel by John O’Grady. He also appeared in the Australian film Squeeze a Flower in 1970. In 1970 he was arrested and jailed in Rome on suspicion of cocaine possession and trafficking, with 70 days passing before he was bailed. Despite being known in show business as a cocaine user, Chiari enjoyed for years the de facto impunity often accorded to members of his trade (provided he kept his addiction private). The willingness of authorities to prosecute him, mounting a nationwide scandal, was seen by some as an attempt to distract public opinion from the fruitless search for the culprits of the Piazza Fontana bombing, which precipitated Italy in fear.

After his release and partial acquittal (he was deemed not guilty of the trafficking count and received a lenient sentence for the charge of drug possession for personal use) his career never recovered. The Italian state television was off-limits for him, and all he could aspire to were bit parts in low-key comedies and local television appearances, such as on Antenna 3 Lombardia. He concentrated on theatre as a mean to escape the downward spiral and, while never regaining his former fame, he gave some brilliant performances in plays such as Sheridan’s The Critic, Marc Terrier’s Six heures plus tard and Beckett’s Endgame. Chiari died of a sudden heart attack in Milan, at home, on 21 December 1991. On that same day he had undertaken a complete, positive medical check-up. Not showing up at a dinner with a theatre manager where he should have discussed his involvement in a new production, he was found by his host (who reached the residence where he was living at the time) sitting in an armchair, in front of a functioning television. His gravestone carries the line he once mentioned to director Dino Risi as his favorite choice for an epitaph: “Don’t worry, I’m merely catching up with sleep”. The grave is inside Civico Mausoleo Palanti in Cimitero Monumentale di Milano.

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  • March, 02, 1924
  • Verona, Italy


  • December, 20, 1991
  • Milan, Italy

Cause of Death

  • heart attack


  • Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
  • Milan, Italy

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