Pier Angeli was so much more than her incredible looks or even legendary romance with a Hollywood icon. She faced disturbing childhood, doomed romances, countless scandals, and a mysterious end. These are the secrets of a star who burned out too soon.
Born Anna Maria Pierangeli on June 19, 1932, in Italy, Pier and twin sister Marisa enjoyed an idyllic middle-class childhood…until their world went up in flames. WWII, especially Germany's bombardment of Rome, ruined their cushy lives. In an instant, Pier went from living a sheltered life to hiding in shelters. To make matters worse, her parents took terrifying risks to feed their starving family.
As a result, Pier often couldn’t sleep, uncertain if her parents were coming home. Tragically, this trauma stuck with her—and only multiplied.
A random meeting and a single glance changed everything. One day, a director spotted the 16-year-old student in Rome and immediately asked her: “I am looking for a face like yours. Would you like to be in movies?” One look at Pier’s face sold him. And what a face it was! He was one of the countless men she would bewitch with her breathtaking beauty.
Pier was gorgeous, even by Hollywood standards. In a sea of stunning starlets, Pier still stood out. Barely five feet, delicate, and doe-eyed, she exemplified angelicness, innocence, and purity. Men stood no chance against such beauty. Yet, despite her breathtaking looks and that director’s offer, Pier remained hesitant. It didn’t matter. Her mother Enrichetta recognized this opportunity and pounced.
Pier wasn’t just a daughter to Enrichetta: She was also an object to live vicariously through. Enrichetta always dreamed of acting, but never got to follow her dreams. Pier’s life became a playground for Enrichetta, who became a total stage mom. Unfortunately, for poor Pier, her mom’s meddling was only beginning. Eventually, it would lose her the love of her life.
Even poor Marisa couldn’t escape from their mother’s tight clutch.
Twin sisters Pier and Marisa both became famous actresses. Despite their shared experiences, however, they never got along. Childhood fights turned into adult ones. Marisa deeply envied Pier’s near instant stardom. Her success was much slower and paled in comparison. The twins competed for roles–and even men. But Pier’s shinier success came with many pitfalls—and led her down a darker path.
This is why you should always read the fine print! Pier and Enrichetta were ecstatic: the teenager snagged a five-year deal with MGM. They thought it was an amazing deal. Turns out, they signed a deal with the devil. By signing that contract, they gave up control over every day of her life and every inch of her appearance to the movie studio.
Yet MGM weren't the only ones who saw Angeli as their property—Enrichetta did too.
Pier Angeli’s life was not what it seemed. In no time, She became a star with money, fame, beauty, and dreamy suitors. She was living the dream! But behind the glitz and the glam, she lacked the freedom to enjoy any of it. You see, Enrichetta was beyond controlling. She forbade Pier from going out without a chaperone and enforced a curfew. At the same time, she pocketed most of young Pier’s earnings.
And yet, it could still get so much worse. Soon, a tragedy left poor her at the mercy of Enrichetta.
One morning, Angeli's world turned upside down. She was on set, away from home, and preparing to act in a scene where her character didn’t survive. Then, devastating news blindsided her: Her father Luigi passed from a stroke. He was only 44. The loss shattered this daddy's girl. After learning the news, Angeli did something that shocked everyone.
When news of her father's passing spread, everyone expected Angeli to be too devastated to continue. But hours after learning about Luigi’s passing, Pier went straight back to work. This apparent heartlessness shocked everyone. How could she be so cold? Secretly, Pier was barely holding herself together. But she concealed her grief and forced herself to finish the movie.
Unfortunately, even more tragedies were in store.
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Poor Pier just couldn’t catch a break! Angeli loved all animals, but none more than her beloved dog Bacio. She had no choice but to leave him behind to work—totally unaware she would never see her pooch again. Shortly after losing Luigi, a truck ran over little Bacio, and he didn't survive. Pier fell into a deep depression. She didn’t eat for days and couldn’t stop sobbing.
Getting over these two back-to-back losses took years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first or last devastating blow Pier Angeli faced. Others she would NEVER recover from.
On the set of The Story of Three Loves, sparks flew between Pier and her costar Kirk Douglas. Their whirlwind romance resulted in a top-secret engagement. She was 21. He was 37. Pier didn’t care about anyone's objections–least of all her mother's. She was too infatuated to care. Who could blame her? The famous movie star was handsome and charming. However, he secretly hid darker intentions.
Did the mismatched couple ever stand a chance? Pier was barely an adult. And thanks to Enrichetta’s authoritarianism, she was also shockingly innocent and inexperienced–a rarity in debauched Hollywood. In comparison, Kirk was 16 years her senior, a divorcee, and a father. It was lust at first sight for him. Kirk described her as a “child that I could mold into the image I wanted.”
Not very romantic! But he found out the hard way there was more to Pier than beauty.
Kirk was so nervous. His fiance was acting really, really weird. Concerned, Kirk surprised Pier with a last-minute visit. He was relieved: She proudly displayed their romantic photos. So he was worried for nothing! Well, not quite. Right before he arrived, Pier frantically hid photos of her with the younger Italian boy she’d flirted with all summer long. But the betrayal was mutual.
Kirk and Pier made a stunning couple–but appearances can be deceiving. Likewise, blonde, tough, and blue-eyed Kirk seemed like her own Prince Charming come to life. However, Pier and his many other partners learned the hard way that he was more philanderer than prince. Kirk betrayed Angeli multiple times with multiple women during their engagement. This relationship raced towards its expiration date.
Opposites attract…until they don’t. The odds were never in Kirk and Pier’s favor: They were too different, they spent too much time apart, and they lacked Enrichetta’s approval. When Kirk tried to talk to Pier about his concerns, she returned his engagement ring. The magic of their whirlwind romance dissipated. Even though she dumped him, Pier couldn’t help but react horribly after she discovered what Kirk did afterward.
Pier Angeli was “completely hysterical” and “out of control”–and it was all thanks to Kirk! Turns out, her ex-fiance eloped with Anne Buydens–one of the women he cheated on her with. Angeli put on a brave face and told the press she was happy for them. She even insisted they were all great friends and that Kirk was a wonderful man. Despite her devastation over Kirk, Pier found someone even better.
In fact, her first love paled in comparison to her most legendary–and tragic–romance.
If sparks flew between Pier and Kirk…James Dean sparked a wildfire. Pier and James met thanks to their neighboring movie sets. Once again, opposites attract. But James couldn’t have been any more different than Kirk. He was exciting, volatile, and unpredictable. She was calm, sheltered, and peaceful. James wasn’t a legend yet: it was only his first movie, after all.
Pier was too in love to care. But love wasn’t enough–not when the most important person in Angeli's life had it out for him.
James Dean ruined everything–for Enrichetta. Her objection went far beyond religion. Yes, James wasn’t Catholic. But he was also messy, unkept, and a heavy drinker: basically, a total deadbeat. The actor was everything Enrichetta despised. To make matters worse, he encouraged Angeli to rebel against her mother. One day, Enrichetta had had enough—and she flipped out.
Enrichetta hated James, but she also hated scandal. So, she hid her fury from nosy Hollywood...at first. But scandalous gossip pushed Enrichetta past her limit. Specifically, there were rumors that Angeli spent time with James unchaperoned and unsupervised. Even worse, they were lovers. The rumors weren’t just damaging—they were true. This infuriated Enrichetta so much, she went crazy.
Enrichetta raced to the Warner Bros. headquarters, beelined straight to Jack Warner’s office, and flipped out. She demanded the mogul keep the rebel away from her angelic daughter. He actually agreed! Now, it wasn’t just Enrichetta who wanted the romance to end: movie studios got involved. Careers were on the line. Pier and James became a real-life Romeo and Juliet–with a tragic end to match.
Thanks to Enrichetta, the couple faced enormous obstacles. For one, Pier couldn’t even leave her house! Nevertheless, the young lovers refused to give up. With the help of Hollywood friends turned cupids, they shared secret meetings, letters, and phone calls. Secretly, these friends doubted the seriousness and longevity of their relationship. Unfortunately, they turned out to be right...
Their house of cards began crumbling. James was Pier’s total opposite; that was part of his original allure. Eventually, they couldn’t reconcile these differences. Angeli yearned for marriage, while commitment-phobic James did not. His demons–insecurity and indecisiveness–really contributed to their breakup. Without commitment, Pier Angeli simply couldn’t be a rebel without a cause.
Eventually, Pier faced an impossible choice—one that no young girl should ever have to make. One day, Enrichetta forced her to choose between James and everything else. Enrichetta vowed that if she chose James, she would lose everything else. This included her family, career, and home. Pier Angeli didn’t choose James. That day, she broke two hearts. Neither one could ever recover from this heartbreak.
Could this have changed everything? Turns out, James probably wanted to marry Pier Angeli–but it was too late. After his tragic death, people made a shocking discovery in his house. He had wedding paperwork and filled out Angeli's name. In another universe, perhaps the star-crossed lovers ended up together. It might’ve spared Angeli from the further heartbreaks that would follow.
James Dean wasn’t Angeli's first love, but he was her true love. She admitted, "He is the only man I ever loved deeply as a woman should love a man." While Angeli had future lovers and husbands, there was only one James. She never truly recovered from their break-up, nor his tragic passing. Still, Pier Angeli desperately searched for that love again and again in countless doomed relationships.
Pier was heartbroken, but she wasn’t slow. Singer Vic Damone quickly became her rebound. Soon, he became her husband in 1954. This relationship, like her previous two, was another whirlwind romance. At least she made it to the aisle this time! But, as she walked down the aisle to her future husband, she may have been hiding a dark secret.
There’s a reason James Dean and Pier Angeli’s relationship is still a Hollywood legend. They just couldn’t stay away from each other! The pair allegedly continued their tryst in secret, even after they had broken up. In particular, the star-crossed lovers might’ve had one secret meeting that went totally wrong—and it happened at the worst possible time.
According to James’ rumored confessions, one of his illicit rendezvous with Pier Angeli ended in disaster. And it was entirely his fault! A few days before Angeli's wedding–to another man–the lovers secretly met up. Whatever they said to each other must have been bad, because it ended with Dean beating her. The tale of James and Pier may be a legend and love story, but it was also a nightmare.
Afterward, James had the audacity to interrupt her wedding day.
On Angeli's wedding day, James lived up to his rebel reputation and caused a commotion. He drove his motorcycle to the venue and watched the wedding from outside. Then, he took it even further. During the ceremony, he revved the engine. Loudly. James denied doing this, but multiple guests caught him red-handed. This was the beginning of Pier and Vic’s messy marriage.
An ordinary plane ride once turned into a month-long nightmare for Pier Angeli. The smooth trip turned into “the worst flight in the world” when passengers suddenly experienced extreme turbulence. It flung a pregnant Angeli to the ceiling. This incident resulted in serious injuries: cuts, bruises, and blood. It got even worse after Pier raced to a hospital.
X-rays revealed she had fractured her pelvis. Would the baby survive? To increase the chances, Pier had to do something hellish.
Faced with the possibility of losing her firstborn, Pier was willing to do anything. This included what the doctors recommended: no movement. At all. For a month, the anxious and desperate Angeli remained bedridden. This was almost impossible for the restless actress. Luckily, Pier and the baby both made it. Her marriage, on the other hand, was not as fortunate.
From day one, Vic Damone made it clear he was the alpha. He wanted control of everything and everyone. He pressured an unwilling Angeli into cutting her hair short. Despite her reluctance–she knew it would look bad–she wanted to please him and be obedient. After all, she’d spent her entire life obeying Enrichetta. It was a huge mistake: her short hair was deeply unflattering. It was the first and last time she cut her hair short.
Pier Angeli traded a controlling relationship with her mom for one with Vic. No wonder this relationship fell apart spectacularly.
Pier Angeli’s whirlwind romance was falling apart. Does this story sound similar? Maybe if Pier and Vic hadn’t rushed into marriage, they would’ve realized something important: they were incompatible. Seriously incompatible. Pier was a natural flirt. As you can imagine, men loved this gorgeous star lavishing attention and flirtation onto them. On the other, Vic, was a very jealous person. Did this marriage even stand a chance?
Vic Damone’s jealousy drove him to insanity and paranoia. He crossed countless lines. When they went out, he forbade Angeli from looking above her food. Why? He didn't want her to see the dozens of admirers she attracted whenever she went out. He even refused to watch her movies due to her male costars. In his eyes, Pier’s beauty and career became a double-edged sword.
When they were apart–which happened often–he even had her followed. She couldn’t escape his jealousy!
On September 30, 1955, Pier Angeli received the worst phone call of her life. At only 24, James Dean lost his life in a horrible car crash. Angeli's reaction, however, was shocking. She didn’t shed a single tear. Was she that unbothered and heartless? Hardly. Behind her collected facade was a heartbroken young woman who never got over her one true love. Soon after, a movie poured salt into these wounds.
Most critics hail Somebody Up There Likes Me as one of Pier Angeli’s best films. She definitely didn’t share this sentiment! Paul Newman, her co-star and love interest, was an excruciating reminder of her latest tragedy. In his defense, it wasn’t his fault at all: James Dean was supposed to have played Newman's part. The movie was meant to be a reunion for these soulmates.
Tragically, the universe had other plans. It also had even more tragedy in store for poor Pier.
After a long day, Angeli and Damone once came back to their hotel room, only to find found a horrific sight. Someone had broken in and swiped all of Pier’s jewels. Everything. It was a massive financial loss–never mind the emotional cost. To this day, this theft remains unsolved. The woman who’d lost so much faced yet another hefty loss—but soon, those jewels would be the last thing on her mind.
Jealousy wasn’t this couple's only marital woe. Distance–thanks to their globetrotting careers–was also a huge problem. As a result, Angeli spent a lot of time apart from her husband and son. They missed many important milestones and holidays together as a young family. Damone would even be absent during one of the worst events in Angeli's life.
Bliss quickly transformed into grief. Newspapers shared Vic and Pier’s joyful news: they were expecting their second child! Three weeks later, it went horribly wrong. Angeli lost her baby. To make matters worse, both her husband and mother–the two most important people in her life–were away. In Pier’s short life, she’d already dealt with so much loss–but fate still wasn't finished with her just yet.
Pier Angeli and Vic Damone's whirlwind romance ended in flames. Specifically, an extremely public and bitter custody battle. It was more dramatic than any of her movies. Angeli sobbed in court as she shared the miserable truth of their marriage: Damone's jealousy, harassment, money problems, and control. The judge believed her. Angeli received custody and alimony. However, the worst battle was yet to come.
Pier, depressed after her divorce, discovered the cure: get out of Hollywood. She decided to move to England—but her ex didn’t exactly approve. While Angeli had primary custody of their son Perry, Vic was allowed visits on Sundays. This move would change that. Damone and his lawyer sprung into action. They took her to court and won. This time, the judge sided with Damone and approved a restraining order banning Angeli from taking their son out of the country.
She defied it and took him anyways. It resulted in an arrest warrant and court showing–which she refused to attend. Somehow, thanks to her mom and a lot of bad publicity against her ex-husband, Angeli emerged on top. Damone lost this battle, but he'd get his revenge.
Pier Angeli’s reputation was the victim of Damone's revenge. He went to the media and informed them that Angeli threatened to slit her wrists. Apparently, rumors that he was remarrying upset her that much. Vic took it even further and sent officers to her home. When the officers raced there, they found out the actress was fine. But Damone knew what he was doing.
Afterward, Pier had a reputation for being hysterical and unstable. It didn’t exactly help her withering career.
Even Angeli's beauty couldn’t save her from Hollywood’s curse on aging women. Lackluster roles defined Pier’s later career. She never landed a part worthy of her talents. Her personal life wasn’t any better. She horrified friends and family by transforming into a scandalous woman to nab jobs and shady lovers. Her next move alarmed them even more.
Pier Angeli found herself in another headlong romance. Despite her string of failed whirlwind romances, she believed composer Armando Trovajoli was the one. Pier insisted to her concerned family and friends that the older man would provide her with the stability and peace past partners failed to. They married only six months after meeting. Oh boy, here we go again.
Turns out, Pier traded one miserable marriage for another. Armando was incredibly jealous and controlling towards his younger, flirtier wife. Doesn’t this sound familiar? He managed to be hot and cold at the same time. Armando was jealous, but also extremely inattentive. He neglected his loving wife in favor of work. She may have been blessed with beauty, but she was utterly cursed in love.
As a Hollywood star, Pier was no stranger to rumors. Even crazy ones. So when a journalist asked for a comment on the rumor that Armando was leaving her, she dismissed it. After all, this was the first time she’d heard about it. Turns out, it was completely true. Armando told the media about his plans to divorce her before his own wife. Ouch.
Pier lost her children to her own mother! The actress loved her children, but as we’ve learned from her story, love often isn’t enough. Her career, lifestyle, and messiness seriously compromised their welfare. Enrichetta asked a court and Pier for custody. Eventually, she agreed. Angeli broke her own heart again–but this may have saved her children. Afterward, she barely saw her kids as her life spiraled.
This was rock bottom: Pier Angeli was a shell of her former self. She was broke, physically sick, depressed, popping pills, and drinking too much. After two divorces, a broken engagement, and a deceased soulmate, Pier couldn’t break her love curse. She found herself in yet more doomed relationships with twisted men. Pier asked her doctor for medication to help her cope. It was a deadly mistake.
Tragedy always hit Pier Angeli at the worst times. Despite her misfortune, she was optimistic. She was ready to get her life back on track. Unfortunately, the medication that was supposed to help her feel better ended her life. On September 10, 1971, a friend found her deceased in her home from an overdose. She was only 39. Myths about her end persist to this day.
Many still believe Pier Angeli intentionally took too much medication. After all, her life was a mess and she feared aging–specifically turning 40. However, many disagree. By all accounts from her closest friends, Angeli wasn’t depressed before her passing. She was actually optimistic about the future. So her end remains mysterious and contentious.
Pier Angeli took the truth with her. What we certainly know is the life of this star was tragic–even by Hollywood standards.
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