Elena Anna Staller was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 26 November 1951. She came from a middle-class family, which, despite the communist regime, lacked nothing. She had two brothers (Ladislao and Attila), and a sister (Valeria). Her mother was an obstetrician while her father worked in the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior. According to Ilona, her father "Was very tall, one metre ninety centimetres. He was good looking and always surrounded by women. My mother suffered terribly because of his infidelities. Sometimes she would leave the house at night in search of him." Although she later claimed that her father died of cancer, it appears that in reality he abandoned the family when she was three.
Ilona was a gifted student both academically and musically. She began taking violin lessons, but apparently her teacher molested her when she was 10. Ilona was too frightened to tell her mother, but nevertheless quit the music lessons. In 1965 her mother replied to a modelling advertisement and signed her daughter to the MTI Modelling Agency, which handled 50 of the country's top models. The first photo-shoot for thirteen year-old Ilona entailed her splashing about naked in a bath full of bubbles. By this point she had begun to discover her sexuality and masturbated regularly, but was completely inexperienced when it came to boys. The first boy she ever kissed was a friend of her sisters when she was sixteen. Soon after she had her first sexual experience with a boy from school. The two of them went on a bicycle ride to the country where they began reading an erotic book that he had with him. The day ended with Ilona masturbating the boy and tasting sperm for the first time. She eventually lost her virginity to another boy in her class that got carried away as she was masturbating him, and eventually raped her. He was the first of an estimated 2,300 men she has allegedly had sex with.
When she was seventeen Ilona started working as a bar waitress in order to supplement her income. A few months later she met a Russian patron named Boris, and began a casual relationship with him. Apparently he soon began prostituting her to various other clients at the bar. In 1969 she went to university in Budapest and began studying to be an obstetrician like her mother. She never completed the course, however, as she soon switched to archaeology. In-between studying and modelling, Elena worked as a waitress at the Intercontinental Hotel in Budapest. It was here that, in 1970, three Warsaw Pact undercover agents offered her the equivalent of 20 times her weekly salary, to seduce prominent Western guests and obtain information from them. "I didn't come from a rich family", she later stated. "They were offering £75 for each piece of information. For anyone my age, that was an amazing amount of money back then."
Working under the codename 'Ladybird' Elena spent the next decade passing bits of information on to the intelligence forces. "The people I was seducing were very important figures from all the major Western countries. American senators, German and French politicians. My handlers always told me whom I should talk to… I would tempt and tempt and eventually we would go to dinner and if necessary, to bed. My employers were interested in industrial secrets or political information. It was all good fun."
Ilona was still modelling at this point and entered the Miss Hungary competition - which she won. Her career took her to Denmark in 1970, and to Italy. While in Italy she appeared in a couple of sexploitation comedies, but was unable to remain in the country. In 1972 she met and married an Italian named Salvatore Mercuries, who ran a travel agency in Milan. For Ilona it was a marriage of convenience so that she could acquire an Italian passport. Ilona dreamt of being an actress while her husband wanted a housewife and a family. Her sex appeal and exhibitionist nature caused further friction and her husband soon became extremely jealous. The marriage finally ended when Ilona posed nude in Playmen using the name Elena Mercuri.
Ilona decided to move down to Rome where she shared an apartment with some Italian friends. She continued appearing in films although her roles were always minor, at times even uncredited and almost always included nudity. In order to supplement her meagre income she began posing for more and more men's magazines. In 1973 she met, and fell in love with, Riccardo Schicchi, a former architecture and photography student. He was working as a photographer at the time and during a soft-core boy/girl shoot managed to persuade Ilona to have sex with the male model. This was her first hard-core shoot.
Ilona provided the perfect vehicle through which Riccardo hoped to confront all the social taboos inherent within Italian society at the time. Illona's modelling past and exhibitionist tendencies were perfectly suited to achieving this. In the summer of 1973 she began hosting a radio show entitled 'Radio Luna'. From midnight until 2am every night she would give sexual advice to callers. "Originally I called my listeners Ciccin. It didn't sound right though so I changed it to Cicciolini. The genital organs became Cicciolini and Ciccioline in order to avoid the censors." The name Cicciolina apparently resulted from an error in a newspaper review of the show. Ilona adopted the name and persona of her radio creation. "When I was on air… I spoke to people as Cicciolina. I created the term for my listeners. I became, in fact Cicciolina, speaking 'ini-ini-ini', with all diminutives. I had this way of talking, of acting; I was Illona Staller, yet at the same time Cicciolina. I remember in 1978 I was begged to give up the name Cicciolina and just call myself Illona Staller… I decided not to… I felt I couldn't separate the Cicciolina character from Illona Staller. It would have been like giving up part of myself."
Radio Luna turned Cicciolina into a national celebrity. She continued appearing in low budget sexploitation films and in 1976 she appeared in Paolo Poeti's 'Inhibition', along with French hardcore porn star Claudine Beccarie. To promote her further, Schicchi and Cicciolina organised nightclub tours of Italy. "I sing, I dance and I'm naked, and people love me… I must convey all the feelings and sexiness I have into the audience. But I never act! I'm spontaneous, I'm true… People feel when a person is true." They set up the company Diva Futura, and Cicciolina began criss-crossing the country, appearing live in various forms of undress, singing seductive songs before an enraptured audience. In 1979 she appeared live on Italian national television and shocked the audience by exposing her breasts, while later the same year she starred in the sexploitation movie 'Cicciolina, Amore Mio'.
'Cicciolina, Amore Mio' was not a success. It was too soft for the adult circuit, and too hard for the mainstream. Nevertheless, censorship laws in Italy at the time meant that the film earned Cicciolina a three-month suspended sentence. Cicciolina and Schicchi, however, decided to take matters one step further and challenge accepted codes of conduct by becoming involved in pornography - which was, at this point in time, illegal in Italy. She posed for hard-core photo shoots while the live shows became ever more explicit. By now Cicciolina was having sex on stage with plastic animals while also using an assortment of toys.
In 1984 Schicchi directed, and Cicciolina stared, in 'Orgia Atomica'. It was her first hardcore porn film, and was followed a year later by 'Porno Poker'. Over the next couple of years they released a string of porn films tailor made to shock and challenge the nation's sensibilities. 'Banane Al Cioccolato' (1985) showed Cicciolina shitting on a man's chest; 'Racconti Sensuali Di Cicciolina' (1985) involved extensive scenes of sado-masochism, rape and Cicciolina urinating in front of a car; 'Cicciolina Number One' (1986) showed a woman giving blowjobs to various animals, before having sex with a horse. Throughout this period Cicciolina continued to appear in numerous hard-core porn magazines where she would not only have sex with men and women, but also snakes, and was even photographed masturbating a dog. In 1987 she starred in what became her most famous porn film 'Carne Bolente'. It included a host of big US porn stars such as Amber Lynn, Tracey Adams and John Holmes. Tailored more for the American market than the European one, a lot of the excesses evident in the earlier films were avoided, although it did include a scene in which Cicciolina and John Holmes urinate over a woman lying a bathtub. Nevertheless, by this point in time the Cicciolina-Schicchi team were merely repeating themselves. The legalisation of pornography in Italy, and the growth of the industry throughout Europe had rendered their previous shock-tactics meaningless. As a result, Cicciolina decided to stand for parliament.
Cicciolina had helped found the Italian Green party in 1979. For her, the move from confronting society through pornography to confronting it through politics was a natural step. In 1987 she aligned herself with the Radicals and won 2.6% of the vote, thereby securing a seat in the national parliament. She had always considered herself to be a socialist, something she emphasised by exposing her left breast thereby distracting other politicians. The press often ridiculed Cicciolina's role in Italian politics, and her success was dismissed as a protest vote. They argued that by electing a porn star to parliament the Italian people were placing the country's political elite on the same level as a woman that had sex in front of the camera for money. Nevertheless, her platform was similar to that of many left-wing politicians. She was against nuclear arms and censorship, while promoting sex education, AIDS research and the legalisation of prostitution. Although a number of women's groups supported her, the fact that she was a porn star, and continued to make hard-core movies while still in parliament, meant that no one took her seriously.
Nevertheless, the Italian political elite flocked to her. Bettino Craxi, one of the countries leading political figures apparently became her lover. Former Italian Prime Minister Andreotti invited her to his parties. The future Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, allegedly went on holiday with her to the Greek islands. Schicchi even claimed to have a tape of Cicciolina and Berlusconi having sex.
In 1991 she fell in love and quickly married the American artist Jeff Koons. Although it began as a fairy tale romance, the marriage soon began to disintegrate. For Koons, the affair was simply a public relations escapade that raised his profile. Cicciolina was forced to sign a prenuptial agreement that stated she was not eligible for any earnings from Koons's work, and that should there be any child from the marriage, he was not responsible for maintenance payments. Soon after the marriage Koons produced a number of sculptures and pictures depicting him and Cicciolina having sex. They were as explicit as anything she had done in her porn films, and the exhibition was opened in New York under the title 'Made In Heaven'. This predictably caused an uproar and began a debate over whether it should be considered art or pornography. Koons, in the meantime, began selling his work for as much as $250,000 a piece.
In 1992 Cicciolina quit the Radical Party, and created the Party Of Love with fellow Italian porn star Moana Pozzi. This time, however, she failed to repeat her previous success and only polled 1% in the ensuing elections. Her political career had ended.
Meanwhile her marriage had turned into a nightmare. Having already profited from her fame as a porn star, Koons soon insisted that she stop making films, stop socialising, and allow her signature peroxide hair to return to its normal colour. She later recalled how she would spend all her time watching videos and talking to her dog for company, while Koons ignored her. By late 1992 they had divorced.
In 1993, however, Cicciolina and Koons hit the headlines once again because of their custody battle over their only son Ludwig. Although originally leaving the child with Cicciolina, in 1993 he kidnapped Ludwig and took him back to New York. In 1994 she visited New York and smuggled her son back to Italy. The affair eventually ended up in court.
By this point Cicciolina had stopped making porn films, but continued to appear in erotic shows all over Europe. In 1997 she was cast in the popular Brazilian soap opera 'Xica Da Silva', and moved to Rio De Janeiro for a while. Once there, she immediately made her presence felt, carrying out her first interview for the Brazilian press on top of a conference table while wearing a long transparent pink gown with no underwear. "I love to be here" she announced, "This place is paradise on earth. The people interest me. I've heard the men are real bullfighters and the women wear tanga bikinis that show the bum."
In 1998, the courts decided that Cicciolina was an unfit mother and that her son, who had lived with her in Rome since 1994, should return to his father. Cicciolina was obviously devastated. "Had I known that my success would be used against me I would never have had a child with Koons. I have no regret about my choice of career… I think he [Koons] never loved me… He tried to discredit me as a mother. His only interest in me was only ever to gain publicity. To put it vulgarly, he has made a lot of money from my tits and ass by selling very explicit photos of us having sex, and this has allowed him to hire top American lawyers in this custody battle." To make matters worse, although the court stated that she could see her son seven days a month, she realised this would be almost impossible as she was barred from entering the US. "I'm on the blacklist there for 15 years. Ever since I took my baby away illegally I haven't been able to go to the States… They want to take away my son because I'm a porn star. I know this is the reason."
Since 1998 Cicciolina has avoided the limelight. She occasionally appears as a guest of honour at various European Adult Film Awards, and continues appearing in strip clubs, but she no longer attracts the media attention she did ten years ago. In January 2002 Cicciolina decided to run for the Hungarian Parliamentary elections. She would stand as an independent in Budapest's Kobanya district. She announced to The Associated Press "I hope to bring bravery, sincerity and outspokenness to Hungarian politics and take the people's problems to parliament. My campaign is for real and I plan to make my parliamentary mandate a successful and genuine one… I'm not going into parliament as a porn star, but I can't erase my past." Her platform included helping the poor, improving education and promoting better sex education in schools. Her candidacy, however, split public opinion in Hungary. Some believed it would enliven the elections and appeal to women. Others considered her an irrelevance, who, although grew up in Hungary, no longer understood the country's problems. Cicciolina dismissed her critics by stating: "I am not here showing my breasts. Now I am speaking about poor people so it is not necessary, not because I don't have beautiful breasts even now. But it is not necessary to show people because poor people have no interest in my breasts." Unfortunately she failed to gather the required 750 recommendation cards needed in order to register for the elections.
Later that year she also ran for mayor in the Italian town of Monza, near Milan. Once again she lost, but didn't give up hope, and two years later, in August 2004 ran for mayor of Milan itself. She announced to the press that she hoped to make Italy's financial capitol "an exciting place." "Exciting is an ambiguous word, I know," she said in an interview to The Associated Press, "that's why people like it. I want to open a casino in the Sforzesco Castle so City Hall can have more money." At the moment the 15th century castle is a tourist attraction that hosts cultural programs in the heart of Milan.
Cicciolina is one of the most intriguing women ever to have entered the porn industry. Although she was never more than a curiosity in the US, in Europe, and especially in Italy, she became a national icon. In Europe her name is the most recognised of any porn star. Ever! Not only did she become an adult actress, politician and media celebrity, but also the subject of comic books and songs. Her attitude concerning social taboos in Italy during the late 1970's and early 1980's may seem naïve today, but her outspokenness and idealism definitely influenced the way people viewed matters. Cicciolina was a product of her times. She was an idealist that made porn films not for the money, as most do today, but to educate and confront others while simultaneously exploring her own sexuality. She believed in the merit of what she was doing and never expressed any shame or regret. Unfortunately her idealism and love of sex often led to her being exploited by others. Her Russian boyfriend Boris prostituted her when she was a teenager in Hungary, Schicchi used her to create a porn empire in the 1980's, the Radical Party supported her merely to demean the established political elite in Italy, and Koons married her to raise his own public profile and profit from selling images of her having sex. On the other hand Cicciolina exploited others as she herself was exploited. Each step raised her profile, providing a greater platform from which she could argue her libertine beliefs. "I'm afraid of nothing because for me it's important to exist. Some people die without ever having existed… I'm not afraid of tomorrow for a simple reason: We all grow old… Some are already old at twenty, some at thirty, some at eighty. I think I'll die and grow old when I will have nothing more to say to people."
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