The Daily Telegraph

Beppe Piroddi

Sixties playboy who with his friends ‘Les Italiens’ lived la dolce vita in Europe’s citadels of hedonism


GIUSEPPE “BEPPE” PIRODDI, who has died aged 82, was one of the most celebrated of the jet-set playboys who flourished in the Swinging Sixties; yet when his youth and beauty vanished, so did he, and he did not even have an entry in Wikipedia.

In 1963, at the age of 23, he achieved the remarkable feat in a Turin nightclub of seducing the 26-year-old French actress Odile Rodin in the presence of her 54-yearold husband, Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican diplomat and playboy-in-chief of the western world.

That chance conquest gave the young

tombeur de femmes privileged access to the newly formed jet-set that flitted from Rome and Milan to Sardinia, Monte Carlo and Saint-tropez, and via London to New York and Los Angeles – and with it the chance to work his magic on some of the richest and most beautiful women on the planet.

Piroddi was one of four young Italian men, each blessed with looks and charm combined with a reckless joie de vivre, who went everywhere together and styled themselves “The Four Musketeers” – Piroddi, Gigi Rizzi, Franco Rapetti and Rodolfo Parisi. Others called them simply

“Les Italiens”.

One, Rizzi, stole Brigitte Bardot from her third and last husband, the Opel car heir Gunther Sachs, which caused the Italian press to react as if Italy had beaten France and Germany combined in the same World Cup final. While other young people in the 1960s took to the streets to start the revolution, Les Italiens took to the dance floor in pursuit of women.

Odile Rodin was Rubirosa’s fifth wife. Her predecesso­rs had included the tobacco heiress Doris Duke, one of the richest women in the world, and countless conquests like Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Eva Péron, Kim Novak and Zsa Zsa Gabor. A racing driver and polo player, Rubirosa had such a reputation for his sexual prowess that waiters at Maxim’s in Paris called their giant pepper grinders “Rubirosas”.

But that night at Il Chatham in Turin his wife only had eyes for the young Italian. They danced a twist, a hully-gully and a slow, and that was all it took for Odile to ask Piroddi to fly with her to New York because “Ruby” would not be there. To be fair to the cuckolded old master, it should be said in mitigation: he was drunk.

Giuseppe Piroddi was born in Genoa on April 16 1940; his father, Renzo, was a doctor who became famous as an early proponent of the “Mediterran­ean diet”. Giuseppe’s family were well-off, though not rich, but he did not go to university. Instead, he trawled the Italian Riviera in his Citroën DS – whose nickname in Italian is Lo Squalo, “the Shark” – in search of women along with his fellow Genoan, Rizzi.

They soon developed a reputation among the city’s most notable women as objects of desire and extended their hunting ground to the adjacent Côte d’azur. They were joined by Franco Rapetti, whose nickname was “Il Principe”, and Rodolfo Parisi, who came from Roman aristocrac­y and drove everywhere in a Rolls-royce.

Piroddi’s New York fling with Rodin lasted only a few days – but they would become a couple several years later after Rubirosa died in 1965 when he drove his Ferrari 250 GT into a chestnut tree in the Bois de Boulogne after an all-night party at Jimmy’s, the Paris nightclub.

In 1967 Piroddi moved into the chateau she had inherited from Rubirosa at Marnesla-coquette, near Paris, where famous dinner guests included Aristotle and Jackie Onassis. The Greek shipping tycoon’s brutish animal energy impressed him, he would recall, as did the widow of John F Kennedy’s cold silence. The only time she spoke was to say that the cheese was “marvellous”. He brought his speedboat from Susanna Agnelli (sister of Gianni, the owner of Fiat), introduced Princess Caroline of Monaco to her future husband Stefano Casiraghi, and toured California in a camper van with Vittorio Emanuele, the only son of the last king of Italy, Umberto II.

Rubirosa’s young widow and her Italian boyfriend became one of the most talkedabou­t couples in the gossip columns and were immortalis­ed as Antony and Cleopatra at a fancy dress ball hosted by the Rothschild­s in 1969. But their relationsh­ip did not survive Piroddi’s constant infidelity with, among others, the actress Jacqueline Bisset – with whom he then went out. That relationsh­ip soon ended, for the same reason.

In 1967 Piroddi and Rizzi, with backing from their jet-set contacts, opened what was billed as Italy’s first discothequ­e, called Number One, in the fashionabl­e Brera district of Milan. It was an instant success, and two years later they opened a branch in Rome, in Via Veneto, whose bars were temples of hedonism that mirrored Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita.

That, too, was a great success, but in 1971 the Milan club closed when the Mafia exploded a bomb in the entrance because they had refused to pay the pizzo (protection money); a year later the Rome branch closed after the police discovered that it was the centre of a cocaine-traffickin­g operation.

It was said that the secret of Piroddi’s success with women, apart from his looks, was that he possessed natural elegance and a gift for being able to entrare in sintonia (empathise) with anyone.

He told La Stampa in 2007: “With women, I always followed, not slushy romanticis­m or economic profit, but only chemistry… I sensed instantly if a girl excited me and, above all, if she was attracted to me.” Refusing to call himself a “playboy” because the pursuit of women was not about “boys who play”, as he put it, but a deadly serious business, Piroddi described himself instead as an “amateur” because, even though in English the word is suggestive of incompeten­ce, in French it can mean “connoisseu­r”, and is derived from the Latin “he who loves”.

By 1968 – the year Soviet Russia invaded Czechoslov­akia and France came close to revolution – the fortunes of Les Italiens had reached their zenith. Piroddi and his chums were the life and soul of the night in Saint-tropez, which had become the place to be in summer for actors, rock stars, bourgeois bohemians and rich fellow travellers. They went barefoot everywhere, as was the fashion, shirts open to the waist à la Italiano, and gold chains round their necks. In the town’s famous clubs – Byblos, Le Club 55, Le Papagayo and L’esquinade – they danced on the tables with more passion and panache than anyone else.

Rizzi would later recall that “while French students burned flags and occupied universiti­es in ’68, we engaged in our own battle against conformity.” They were, after all, rampant participan­ts in a revolution – the sexual one.

It was in one of those nightclubs that Brigitte Bardot, who had a villa in Sainttrope­z, met Piroddi’s friend Rizzi, even though she usually kept well clear of the Italian philandere­rs. She took an instant shine to him and their subsequent love affair had a huge impact in Italy, as it emerged from the shame of the fascist era and the poverty caused by wartime defeat to enjoy explosive economic growth in the 1960s.

The author and provocateu­r Massimo Fini wrote that Rizzi had “planted the Italian flag on the most delicate and sensitive part of French pride… It was something so stupefying as to obscure for a moment [the revolution­ary unrest of ] Sixtyeight. ”newsweek named Rizzi one the most notable people of 1968 along with Dr Christiaan Barnard, who had performed the first heart transplant, and Che Guevara.

One night Brigitte Bardot’s husband at the time, Gunter Sachs, asked Piroddi, who with Odile Rodin used to spend a lot of time with Rizzi and Brigitte Bardot: “You, why are you so successful with women?” “Because I treat them well,” he replied. “But you never get your wallet out,” hissed Sachs.


But the lustre of Les Italiens soon began to fade as they grew increasing­ly jaded by the jet-set life. Rizzi’s affair with Bardot ended with the summer and in the mid-1970s he emigrated to Argentina to try to deal with cocaine addiction, bought a cattle ranch, married and had children. He died in 2013, aged 69.

Rapetti, addicted to high-stakes poker, mysterious­ly fell to his death, not yet 40, from an upper-storey window of a New York building. Parisi was accidental­ly decapitate­d in London, aged 36, looking the wrong way when stepping out in front of a bus.

Beppe Piroddi, for his part, joined the leading Milan brokerage firm run by Aldo “Midas” Ravelli, whose heir presumptiv­e, Sergio Cusani, spent four years in jail for his involvemen­t in the Clean Hands prosecutio­ns of the early 1990s which exposed systematic corruption and bribery at the heart of Italy’s political and economic systems.

Piroddi settled down, after a fashion, with the American model Kirsten Gille, but never married and avoided the limelight. In later years he acknowledg­ed a son, Roberto.

He was the last of Les Italiens to die, and they were among the last of the playboys.

Beppe Piroddi is survived by his son.

Giuseppe “Beppe” Piroddi, born April 16 1940, died September 16 2022

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 ?? ?? Piroddi with Eva Corrigan at the club Le Privé in Paris, 1974, and, far right, in 1971 with his fellow tombeur de femmes, Gigi Rizzi, in the Number One discothequ­e, which they opened in the Brera district of Milan
Piroddi with Eva Corrigan at the club Le Privé in Paris, 1974, and, far right, in 1971 with his fellow tombeur de femmes, Gigi Rizzi, in the Number One discothequ­e, which they opened in the Brera district of Milan

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