Italy state TV: Beloved entertainer Raffaella Carra’ dies

ROME (AP) — Raffaella Carra’, for decades one of Italian television’s most popular and beloved entertainers, died on Monday at age 78 after a long illness, Italian state TV quoted her family as saying.

Rai state TV read a statement from the star’s family, announcing that she died at home after a long illness. It said that in keeping with her wishes medical details weren’t being released.

With her energetic presence and strong singing voice, the petite Carra’ was a beloved staple in the early heyday decades of Rai, especially when it was the only nationwide broadcaster.

With often sexy costumes — daring by state TV’s standards in a country where the Vatican wields considerable influence — Carra’ also was credited with helping Italian women be more confident with themselves. Once, in a then daring move, she barred her belly button during one TV performance. But she could also be devastatingly elegant and classy in her dress and manners.

She also was considered an icon for gay fans due to her joyful performances.

Her trademark bouncy, blond haircut and bangs — the helmet look, it was dubbed — were imitated by many fans.

“She was the lady of Italian television,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said, expressing sorrow for her passing.

In one of her last interviews she said that “Italian women found me greatly likable because I am not a man-eater — you can have sex appeal together with sweetness and irony.”

Affectionately known as Raffa, Carra’ was born Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni in Bologna on June 18, 1943. She started her career as a singer, dancer, TV presenter and actress when still a child.

She wasn’t married, although she had a longtime companion. She had no children, but her former companion, Sergio Japino, a TV director and choreographer, quoted her as often saying, “I didn’t have children but I had thousands of them,” Corriere della Sera quoted Japino as recalling. The reference was to some 150,000 children over the years she helped sponsor financially on one of her TV programs, called “Amore.”

She was also widely popular in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries.