When Prince Dado Ruspoli died in 2005 his last instructions were those of a true socialite: “please, don’t cancel anything”. With Ruspoli went the last memories of la dolce vita; in his prime he not only embodied the sybaritic existence portrayed in Fellini’s film of that name, he is said to have inspired its lead character, played by Marcello Mastroianni.
Ruspoli was born this day in 1924 to august Roman nobility, a family that could trace its titles back more than a millennium. But already in his twenties Ruspoli was known for his profligate lifestyle in the pleasure spots of post-war society, such as Capri and the Côte d’Azur. His ostentatiously low-key look was much imitated, his parties attracted the likes of Dalí, Picasso and Polanski. As well as numerous affairs, he was married three times, and he fathered the youngest of his five children when he was 73.
What Ruspoli actually did, apart from live fabulously, is difficult to say. He had a handful of small acting roles, including a part in The Godfather Part III, he was a generous patron of performers and artists who captured his imagination, but as for a “real” job, he claimed he “never had time”.
That may have something to do with Ruspoli’s long-time drug habit, specifically, an attachment to the decadent’s soporific of choice, opium, which lasted longer than his three marriages put together. Ruspoli would “hit the pipe and bring Rimbaud to life”, as society chronicler Taki had it, for much of his adult life.
In 2002, Ruspoli’s son Tao filmed family members for a short film called Just Say Know. With candour and an admirable lack of self-pity, his mother (actress Debra Berger, to whom Ruspoli was not married), brother Bartolomeo and Dado himself opened up about their various addictions. If you’re curious as to how someone can survive on hard drugs as long as Ruspoli did, watch as he explains “the difference between ritual and suicide”: