In archival footage from a 1987 political conference in Greece, a busty blonde woman in a sparkly, pink dress and matching, elbow-length gloves sits behind a press desk. A stuffed unicorn toy to her left-hand side, she giggles and whispers mischievously to the suited-up politician on her right. As she’s passed the mic, she begins chattering in Italian, but the cameraman is distracted. All he can do is zoom in on her tits, which are slowly but surely making a bid for freedom.
This charismatic scene-stealer, Ilona Staller, better known by her porn pseudonym La Cicciolina, has long challenged the stereotype of the stuffy, boring politician. Whether straddling her artist ex-husband Jeff Koons in a series of raunchy lithographs or giving impassioned, leftist speeches for the Italian Radical Party with one perky tit exposed, this platinum-blonde provocateur has blazed a trail for sex workers in politics for decades. Now 70, Staller is still going strong. In fact, just this week, she was announced as a contestant on the upcoming season of Isola dei Famosi, a trashy Italian reality show that dumps celebrities on an abandoned island and lets chaos ensue.
It’s a welcome return to the limelight for this chaotically horny heroine, and as good an excuse as any to dig deep into the zaniest moments of her career.
Despite being born and raised in Hungary, things kicked off for Staller when she moved to Italy in the late 1960s. Just a few years later, she met famed pornographer Riccardo Schicchi, who fell in love with her charisma and quick, filthy wit. In the early 1970s, the duo began hosting a kinky radio show that took a tongue-in-cheek, no-frills approach to discussing sex. It wasn’t wildly popular, but the premise was simple: Guys would call Staller to dirty talk live on air, and she would happily oblige, using pet names like ciccio — a slang term for adorable babies, which loosely translates to “little chubby one” — to refer to her randy callers. Depending on the region and context, ciccio also means “cute” and “fat” — just like Staller’s self-proclaimed pussy. Following this logic, she adopted La Cicciolina as her nickname.
From that point on, Staller cycled through various careers: porn star, talk show hostess, even pop star. A dive into La Cicciolina’s discography is a particularly wild ride — in 1988, she released Musculo Rosso, a campy, disco ode to good dick. In her breathy, angelic voice, she sings Italian lyrics that loosely translate to: “I want the dick / Harder than the wall / The dick that will break through me / It will squirt together with me.” The song was banned from Italian radio, but was a moderate hit in France.
Staller’s live performances were equally memorable. In a three-minute rendition of a track called Benihana, Cicciolina writhes around in a giant, glass bowl of goo, rubbing herself down for the camera. Before long, she’s inexplicably drenched in milk by a guy dressed as some kind of spangly, ice-skating genie.
These all turned out to be bizarre pit stops on the road to Staller’s true calling, however: left-wing politics. In 1985, she became the lead candidate for Italy’s Radical Party. Two years later she became an official MP (member of parliament), winning 20,000 votes. The trick to her success? Almost every political speech was given with one bare breast exposed.
Although she wasn’t re-elected for a second term, Cicciolina founded the “Love Party” in 1991 with fellow porn star Moana Ponzi and remained dedicated to human rights. In 2002, she even offered to fuck Saddam Hussein in exchange for peace in Iraq. Cicciolina extended this same offer to Osama Bin Laden in 2016. “My breasts have never done anyone any harm, while Bin Laden’s war has caused thousands of victims,” she’s quoted as saying.
Don’t let the horniness distract you from her policies, though: Cicciolina has always been staunchly opposed to nuclear weapons, in favor of a national minimum wage and a keen advocate for the reopening of Italian brothels (made illegal in 1958), as well as for same-sex marriage.
According to Carolina Are, an Italian-born digital censorship researcher and pole-dance instructor, Cicciolina was exponentially more progressive than the vast majority of Italian politicians. “She was light-years ahead of her time then, and she still is now,” Are tells me. “Although Italy allows civil partnerships, we still don’t have gay marriage, and sex work is still criminalized.” Brothels have never legally reopened — in Italy, sex work is legal only under extremely limited circumstances. For example, sex workers can work alone, but having more than one sex worker on any premise makes the interaction immediately unlawful.
Cicciolina proved controversial for obvious reasons, and conservative journalists framed her as a slutty scapegoat for some truly bizarre issues. In 1987, a Washington Post writer lashed out at Cicciolina for getting her tits out in public — apparently, her penchant for see-through dresses was sending a “confusing message” to Venetian tourists, who could be fined for indecent exposure. The veiled acerbity of the article makes it sound like Cicciolina is some scantily clad succubus luring tourists into hefty tines, and polluting Catholic purity in the process.
Other members of parliament complained about her election, as well as her comparatively risqué outfit choices in government meetings. The backlash was so intense that the then-prime minister was pressured into giving an official statement. “I feel in no place to judge the lady,” he said. “If the Italians want her in parliament, then we can reach a compromise.” The compromise in question? That Cicciolina adhere to “institutional dress codes.”
Staller’s reputation went global in the 1990s, when she married Koons and inspired a seriously kitsch, seriously sexy photo series entitled Made in Heaven. In one photo, Staller, dressed in a flower crown and an angelic white bustier, straddles her husband and glances back at the camera while he sucks on her famous left nipple. When they got married, their wedding cake was topped with tiny, plastic figurines of them both naked, their miniature bodies entwined in a lusty embrace. This newfound fame gave her the added momentum to boost her own “Love Party,” and propelled her to the status of bona-fide artist muse.
Thirty years later, Cicciolina is still active in Italian politics — last year, she pledged to run for office as a “fuck you” statement to the country’s government, which slashed her pension as part of a policy reform on the wages of former MPs. Her legacy is sometimes questioned, though, and Are says this is partly due to Cicciolina’s porn background. “I find it interesting to look at the backlash she’s received as a politician who used to be a porn star,” she says. “In 2010, Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi was accused of organizing orgies with underage girls, and he even had the guts to say that one of the women at the orgy was the niece of [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak. Essentially, he was saying he had these orgies with state money, yet plenty of people were defending him at the time.”
Always one to stir the pot with a lascivious wink, Cicciolina hinted in a recent interview that she had attended some of Berlusconi’s infamous parties, describing him as a “generous man.” “I still have a pair of his underwear left,” she said. “I keep it as a souvenir.”
Unlike basically every other politician in history, Cicciolina proudly screamed her sexcapades from the rooftop, and she got away with it, too. Even at 70, her re-entry into the Italian tabloids is bound to excavate past debates about her controversial legacy, but so be it — the world according to Cicciolina would include more boners, more justice and more radically progressive policies. As she famously said: “Down with nuclear energy, up with sexual energy.”