Raffaella Carrà, Saucy Superstar of Italian TV, Dies at 78

Her fame reached the United States, and in 1986 she appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman.” After Mr. Letterman described her as “the Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan of Italy,” Ms. Carrà interrupted his questioning to point out that they were both men. She said she was sometimes compared to Ann-Margret and Barbara Walters — but, she added, “I am just, only, Raffaella Carrà.”

She was even responsible for adding a word to Italian dictionaries. From 1995 to 2009, she presented “Carramba! Che Sorpresa” (“Carramba! What a Surprise”), a wildly successful program on which she reunited people with long-lost relatives or friends. The term “carrambata” entered the Italian language to mean an unexpected meeting with someone long gone.

Ms. Carrà also had a television program in 2004 on which she helped bring about adoptions. A picture of her surrounded by children was placed next to her coffin when she lay in state in Rome’s City Hall for a public farewell.

Raffaella Carrà was born Raffaella Roberta Pelloni on June 18, 1943, in Bellaria, a town south of Ravenna on the Adriatic coast. Her mother, Iris Dellutri, managed the family ice cream shop and separated from her father when Ms. Carrà was 3.

“I learned very young to do without men,” she once said.

She grew up in Bologna, where she started taking ballet lessons at age 8. She moved to Rome at 18 to attend the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Italy’s main film school, and had a few small roles in Italian movies before landing a part in “Von Ryan’s Express.”

A manager at RAI thought that she needed a surname with more impact and suggested Carrà, after his favorite painter, Carlo Carrà. She liked the name and kept it.

“Raffaella was more than just a performer; she was a style,” said Caterina Rita, Ms. Carrà’s longtime assistant and the author of “Fifty Years of Desire,” a 2019 book about her career and life.

And that style was a kinetic one.

“I have to keep the body moving,” Ms. Carrà said in a 2014 radio interview. “I have too much energy.”

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