Helmut Berger

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Helmut Berger
Berger at his home in Rome in 1972
Helmut Steinberger

(1944-05-29)29 May 1944
Bad Ischl, Austria
Died18 May 2023(2023-05-18) (aged 78)
Salzburg, Austria
Alma materUniversità per Stranieri di Perugia
Years active1964–2019
Francesca Guidato
(m. 1994; sep. 2010)
PartnerLuchino Visconti (1964–1976)

Helmut Berger (German pronunciation: [ˈhɛlmuːt ˈbɛʁɡɐ] ; Steinberger; 29 May 1944 – 18 May 2023) was an Austrian actor, known for his portrayal of narcissistic and sexually ambiguous characters. He was one of the stars of European cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s, and is regarded as a sex symbol and pop icon of that period.[1]

He is most famous for his work with Luchino Visconti, particularly in his performance as King Ludwig II of Bavaria in Ludwig, for which he received a special David di Donatello award, and his performance in The Damned for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

Early life and education[edit]

Berger was born in Bad Ischl, Austria, into a family of hoteliers. After receiving his Matura, Berger trained and worked in this field, though he had no interest in gastronomy or the hospitality industry. At age eighteen, he moved to London where he did odd jobs while taking acting classes.[2] After studying languages at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia in Italy,[3] Berger moved to Rome.


1964 to 1976[edit]

Berger in 1973
Berger at his home in Rome in 1974

He met the film director Luchino Visconti in 1964. Visconti gave him his first acting role in the film Le streghe (The Witches, 1967) (in the episode "La Strega Bruciata Viva"). He gained international prominence as Martin von Essenbeck in Visconti's The Damned (1969). In that film, in what is perhaps his best-known scene, he pretends to be Marlene Dietrich as she appeared in the film The Blue Angel (1930). He then performed the title role in the Oscar Wilde adaption Dorian Gray (1970) and a leading role in the Oscar-winning Italian drama film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). In Visconti's Ludwig (1972), Berger portrays Ludwig II of Bavaria from his youth to his dissolute final years. Romy Schneider starred alongside him. This performance earned him a David di Donatello award. In 1974, Berger starred with Burt Lancaster in Visconti's Conversation Piece. The story of Conversation Piece is often considered an allegory of the personal relationship between Berger and Visconti. On several occasions Berger mentioned this film as his favorite.

He then played leading roles in such international productions as Ash Wednesday (1973) alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Fonda and The Romantic Englishwoman (1975) alongside Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson. He also appeared in Tinto Brass's controversial film Salon Kitty with Ingrid Thulin in 1976. Well-known photographers including Helmut Newton, Mary Ellen Mark, and David Bailey published a series of pictures of him. Andy Warhol made Polaroids of him and produced serigraphs. Berger was also, in 1970, alongside his girlfriend Marisa Berenson, the first man photographed for the cover of Vogue.[4]

1976 to 1999[edit]

The death of Luchino Visconti in 1976 plunged him into a personal crisis. Exactly one year after Visconti died, Berger tried to commit suicide but was found in time to be saved.[5] Drug and alcohol abuse began to shadow his acting career. In 1980 Berger was cast by Claude Chabrol as Fantômas before he went to the United States to work in television in the role of Peter De Vilbis in nine episodes (1983–1984) of the U.S. prime time soap opera Dynasty, which he said he did only for money. He later said he was "crying on the way to the set but laughing on the way to the bank".[citation needed] This was his last appearance in a long-running television series. He continued working in the U.S. on various projects, most notably starring in Code Name: Emerald in 1985. In Europe, he acted in the TV-miniseries The Betrothed in 1989.

In 1990, Berger appeared in The Godfather Part III as corrupt banker Frederick Keinszig. He later appeared in the music video of Madonna's song "Erotica" in 1992 and appeared in Madonna's book Sex.[6] In 1993, Berger reprised his role as King Ludwig II in the critically acclaimed film Ludwig 1881. Throughout the second half of the 1990s, he concentrated mainly on European productions, acting in films directed by Christoph Schlingensief, Yves Boisset, and many others.

In 1997, Quentin Tarantino included some archival footage of the film Beast with a Gun in his film Jackie Brown and thanked Berger in the closing credits for his performance.

2000s to 2023[edit]

Berger (right) and Alexander Tuschinski on the set of Timeless (2015)

From the early 2000s to 2009, Berger largely withdrew from the acting world, moving to Salzburg to care for his mother, who died in 2009.[7][8] He then returned to acting in bigger production films.

In 2012, Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag published Helmut Berger – A Life in Pictures, a coffee table book about his life, featuring many previously unreleased photographs plus essays in German, English, Italian, and French. The book was well received by the reviewers.[9]

In the thriller film Iron Cross (2009), Berger played Shrager, an aging character believed to be an old SS commander responsible for murdering Jews during World War II. In the early 2010s, Berger starred in two films directed by Peter Kern, Blutsfreundschaft (shown at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival (2010)) and Mörderschwestern (2011). In 2014, Berger appeared in Saint Laurent as the older Yves Saint Laurent for which he was "celebrated" at the Cannes Film Festival.[10] The short film Art!, in which Berger had a starring role, had its world premiere at the Paris Independent Film Festival 2015. He starred in the role of Professor Martin in the 2016 film Timeless directed by Alexander Tuschinski.

In 2015, Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath released a feature-length documentary about Berger called Helmut Berger, Actor. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. In the magazine Artforum, American film director John Waters chose Helmut Berger, Actor as the 'Best Motion Picture of the year 2015'.[11] Berger later filed a lawsuit against Horvath.

On 22 February 2018, the premiere of Albert Serra's play, Liberté, starring Berger and Ingrid Caven was performed at the Volksbühne theatre in Berlin. It was the first stage role in Berger's career.[12][13][14] In 2019, another documentary film Helmut Berger, meine Mutter und ich was released, dealing with his personality and an attempted comeback.[15]

After suffering several bouts of pneumonia, Berger announced his retirement from acting in November 2019 and stated that he wanted to spend his remaining years away from the public eye.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Berger was openly bisexual.[17] He was in relationships with his director and mentor Luchino Visconti and actress Marisa Berenson. Berger married Italian writer and model Francesca Guidato on 19 November 1994. After 2010 they lived separately.[18] Berger lived for many years in Rome, but returned to Salzburg in the 2000s to take care of his elderly mother.[17]

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Berger was seen as the "it boy of the European jet set".[1] According to his 1998 autobiography Ich. Die Autobiographie, the actor's affairs included flings with Rudolf Nureyev, Britt Ekland, Ursula Andress, Nathalie Delon, Tab Hunter, Florinda Bolkan, Linda Blair, Marisa Mell, Anita Pallenberg, Marilù Tolo, Jerry Hall, and both Bianca and Mick Jagger. Miguel Bosé writes about his affair with Berger in his autobiography.[19]

From the 1980s on, Berger's private life was also in the news for his struggles with alcohol and drugs, which sometimes resulted in eccentric and controversial television appearances.[20][21][22] In 2013, Berger appeared on Ich bin ein Star – Holt mich hier raus!, the German version of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!. He had to leave for health reasons after only two days.[23]


Berger died on 18 May 2023, at the age of 78.[24]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1969, Berger was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his role in The Damned, and in 1973 he won a David di Donatello – the Italian equivalent of an Academy Award – for his performance in Ludwig.

In 2007, he received a special Teddy Award at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival (2007) for his overall professional achievements.[25]

In 2010, Berger received two Prix Lumières at the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon and also the "golden key" of the city.

In 2011, he received a Kristián Award, awarded at the Czech film festival Febiofest "for Contributions to World Cinema".[26]


Except for Helmut Berger, there are no interesting women today.

— Billy Wilder, referring to Berger's drag performance as Marlene Dietrich's The Blue Angel in The Damned (1969), [27]

Helmut Berger is what I consider a perfect artist – very serious in his craft, intelligent in his thoughts, without any time or patience for "bullshit" or empty phrases that litter many people's everyday lives, conversations and relationships.

— Alexander Tuschinski, article about working with Berger on the film Timeless in 2015.[28]

I think it's androgyny, whether it's David Bowie or Helmut Berger, that has really really influenced my work more than anything.

— Madonna, interviewed by Vince Aletti in 1999.[29]

I think he's wonderful. A man who says what he thinks.

— Nena, interview about filming her music video "Besser geht's nicht".[30]

He's one of those who leave nobody indifferent.

— Spiegel TV, report about Helmut Berger 1997.[31]


(director in parentheses; all films except as noted)

See also[edit]


  • Coriando, Paola-Ludovika (March 2006). "La poesia del volto: ritratto di Helmut Berger attore viscontiano". Cineforum, Issue #452.
  • Berger, Helmut, with Heuer, Holde: Ich, Die Autobiographie. Ullstein, Berlin 1998, ISBN 978-3-550-06969-7.
  • Coriando, Paola-Ludovika: Helmut Berger – Ein Leben in Bildern. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf,[32] Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-89602-872-3.
  • Berger, Helmut, with Heuer, Holde: Helmut Berger, autoportrait. Seguier, 2015, ISBN 978-2-84049-691-5


  1. ^ a b "Doku "Helmut Berger, meine Mutter und ich" | rbbKultur". www.rbb-online.de. Archived from the original on 7 May 2019. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  2. ^ "Who is Who: Official Website - Biography about Berger (in German)". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  3. ^ "ARD - Mediathek: TV show with Helmut Berger, with biographical information about him studying at University of Perugia". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  4. ^ "5 favorites: iconic vintage magazine covers". michellephan.com. 10 October 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  5. ^ "Spiegel TV official website: Interview with Helmut Berger from 1997". Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  6. ^ "Corriere delle Serra: Article about Madonna's book (in Italian)". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  7. ^ "Who Is Who.de - Article from the time when Berger moved to his mother". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  8. ^ "Welt.de - article about Berger". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  9. ^ Der Liebling der Götter. Zeit.de, 23 August 2015
  10. ^ "Frankfurter Rundschau: Article about Berger in Cannes (in German)". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  11. ^ John Waters: Best of 2015: Film https://artforum.com/inprint/issue=201510&id=56221
  12. ^ "Liberté - Programme - Volksbühne Berlin". www.volksbuehne.berlin.
  13. ^ SPIEGEL, Wolfgang Höbel, DER (23 February 2018). ""Liberté" an der Volksbühne: Sommernachtssex im dunklen Wald - DER SPIEGEL - Kultur". Der Spiegel.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Cronk, Jordan (8 March 2018). "Filmmaker Albert Serra's Operatic Stage Debut".
  15. ^ "Vom Jetsetter zum Pflegefall". Der Tagesspiegel Online. 24 May 2019.
  16. ^ "Helmut Berger beendet Karriere mit 75 Jahren". www.t-online.de. 26 November 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Helmut Berger: "Ich habe alles erlebt"". GALA. 6 November 2012.
  18. ^ "Das merkwürdige Phänomen Helmut Berger". Die Welt. 5 April 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  19. ^ Bosé, M. (2021). El hijo del Capitán Trueno [Captain Trueno's Son]. Barcelona/Mexico: Planeta. pp. 371-394. ISBN 978-84-670-6424-7 ISBN 978-607-07-8069-1
  20. ^ "Helmut Berger genießt sein Leben ohne Alkohol". Die Welt. 12 March 2018 – via www.welt.de.
  21. ^ "Helmut Berger bepöbelt Gäste in Lanz-Talkshow". www.t-online.de. November 2012.
  22. ^ "Skandal-Auftritt: Helmut Berger total betrunken bei Gottschalk". Die Welt. 3 April 2010 – via www.welt.de.
  23. ^ SPIEGEL, Peter Hell, DER (13 January 2013). "Dschungelcamp: Helmut Berger - Aufstieg und Fall eines Weltstars - DER SPIEGEL - Kultur". Der Spiegel.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ "Schauspiellegende Helmut Berger ist tot" (in German). 18 May 2023.
  25. ^ Schupp, Karin (17 February 2007). "Teddy Today". Teddy Award. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
  26. ^ Staff writer (30 March 2011). "Festival Diary: Wednesday 30th" Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Febiofest. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
  27. ^ "So kaputt ist der ehemalige Weltstar". Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  28. ^ "Alexander Tuschinski – Article about filming Helmut Berger from August 2015" (PDF). Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  29. ^ Aletti, Vince (12 December 1999). "Ray of light: Madonna and her love affair with the lens". The Guardian.
  30. ^ "Abendzeitung München: Article about Nene's new music video, featuring the quote. Original quote in German: "Ich finde ihn herrlich. Der Mann sagt, was er denkt"". Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  31. ^ "Spiegel TV official website. Original quote in German: "Er gehört zu denen die niemanden gleichgültig lassen."". Retrieved 8 August 2015.

External links[edit]