Sophia Loren

In an age where slim elegance was the fashion, her full-bodied figure made men of all ages catch their breath. But, it was a steep walk to the top for this Hollywood siren.

It's difficult to believe the voluptuous star of 'The Black Orchid' and 'Houseboat' was once nicknamed "the stick", because she was so thin. Born into extreme poverty, the illegitimate daughter of a frustrated actress, the young Loren was given her big break by her future husband, Carlo Ponti, a judge in a beauty contest.

By 1954, she was an established name, and vying with the well-established Gina Lollobrigida for roles and fans on both sides of the Atlantic. After appearing in several American productions shot overseas, Loren arrived in Hollywood in the mid 1950s, but her natural sensuousness was vulgarized by the artificial glamour treatment.

With a few exceptions, like 'Houseboat' with Cary Grant, Sidney Lumet's 'That Kind of Woman' and 'The Black Orchid', for which she received a Best Actress Award at Cannes, she was woefully miscast.

Nonetheless, over the next two decades, Loren occasionally demonstrated a range that transcended her pin-up status, and again won an award at Cannes, as well as a Best Actress Oscar, for her memorable performance in Vittorio De Sica's 'Two Women'.

Loren worked steadily throughout the 1960s in forgettable projects, with some of the industry's most celebrated directors, most of whom were unfortunately past their prime, including Michael Curtiz, Anatole Litvak and Charles Chaplin.

Her only true standout roles were in 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow', with Loren doing the famous bedroom striptease scene, and 'Marriage Italian-Style'. In the 1970s, Loren continued to get work offers, but performed primarily in Europe, and appeared mostly in uneven productions, including the disastrous adaptation of the stage musical, 'Man of la Mancha'.

During the 1980s Loren made only a few feature films, while she raised her teenaged sons by Ponti, but she did perform in several American TV-movies.

She was awarded a second, honorary Oscar in 1990, and, in 1994, Loren returned to US films in Robert Altman's much ballyhooed but disappointing take on the French fashion scene, 'Pret-a-Porter'.

She subsequently brought a warm, friendly presence and her sensuous, distinctive beauty to the middle-aged antics of the popular and unassuming, if derivative sequel film, 'Grumpier Old Men', in 1995, alongside Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

She later appeared in 'Between Strangers', with Gerard Depardieu and Mira Sorvino.

Loren's husband of more than 50 years passed away in 2007, dying as a result of pulmonary complications. When asked in an interview if she would ever get married again, she actress said no as it "would be impossible to love anyone else".

In 2009, after taking a five-year break from the big screen, Loren appeared in Rod Marshall's film 'Nine', alongside a host of other stars including Penelope Cruz, Daniel Day-Lewis and Kate Hudson. Loren was aged 74 at the time and received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her part in the movie. Her latest role was voicing a character in 'Cars 2' (2011).

The following year, Loren played her mother in a two-part TV dramatisation of her life.

It appears the actress has lost none of her spark over the years. Speaking in May 2011, she said she likes to get out and exercise every day. "As I walk round the park I always think, 'Maybe round the corner I am going to find something beautiful.' I always think positively. It is very rare that you find me in a mood that is sad or melancholic."