"I need love! Avete capito? The endless
theme of my life is my longing for love. I just can't get enough love."
Berger begins with his biggest personal problem: He has two sides - one
nice and kind as an angel the other bad as the devil. He goes on and
tells the reader a few examples of people who got to know his dark side:
Alain Delon who wanted to take his part on Visconti's side (Berger: "I
fucked Delons wife Nathalie I really liked her. We had fun in bed
together with Maria Schneider who became famous on Marlon Brando's side
in "The Last Tango in Paris". To make my success complete I contacted a
journalist and made sure that Delon got to know about the whole affair.
It is dangerous to pick a fight with me.") Glenda Jackson who thought he
was a minor actor his fiancee Marisa Berenson (She wanted to marry him
but he always knew that he is not the type of guy who sits at home and
watches his children grow up.
Berger needs his freedom so he had to hurt Marisa. Generally he does not
like the possessive role women often take in relationships.) and Richard
Burton (Burton was an alcoholic and had another quarrel with his wife
Liz Taylor. Berger sprayed chocolate truffles on a couch just before
Burton lay down there. When he stood up again to go to the film set his
trousers were all brown. Berger: "Richard looked shit.").
Then Berger talks about his nice side. In the last years he sometimes
acted in films of young and gifted - but of course poor - directors for
small sums of money. He mentions Christoph Schrewes "Boomtown" where he
plays a corupt real estate agent and Johannes Brunner (his "Ludwig II."
could not be realised because of financial problems. It would have been
Berger's third Ludwig after Visconti's classic movie and "Ludwig 1881.
The King His Actor A Journey".). Berger also likes the young directors
from New York but he does not like the USA the values and the way the
Americans deal with sex.
Berger ends his good/bad-reflection with
the words: "Sometimes I don't understand myself. I drink all night long
I fight I destroy bars... I ask myself why I have to do this. After one
of my excesses I was imprisoned in Rome for four days. A terrible time.
But that other thing in me was stronger once again. That satanic devil
just won't let me be."
He then goes back to 1974 and talks about the famous "Bad taste"-Party
on his 30th birthday in the famous "Jackie O."-Nightclub in Rome.
Everyone Valentino Bianca Jagger or Ursula Andress dressed in strange
kind of ways.
The more cocaine there was the crazier the party people became.
Everything was fun to Berger back then. Over the past few years he
became more and more thoughtful about many things in his life.
He complains tv-shows in Germany want to make profit of his 'scandalous'
appearances. He tells he is very nervous in front of an audience and
only in the last years he started to enjoy such shows. He had a few
funny moments in shows such as "Harald Schmidt"-Late-Night-Show (the
host admires Berger).
For example he had to play soccer for a "no power to drugs"-benefite (every
goal meant a certain amount of money) and changed the title of the game
to "money for drugs".
Berger says: "Most people don't realize it but I am quite shy. I often
drank alcohol to get more relaxed. Or I took drugs before a film
He then goes back to the beginning of his life talks about his parents
Franz and Hedwig Steinberger (hotel owners his father died in 1996).
Berger was born in 1944 during World War II and his father was
imprisoned in Russia. He first saw him when he was three years old.
Their relationship was not a good or a close one. His father wanted him
to learn a 'real' job and did not accept his decision to become an actor.
He often beat the rebellious young Helmut up. Berger never talks about
this in 'Ich' but it is very probable that he saw Visconti as a sort of
father figure. His mother loved and does still love him very much (he
sometimes calls her up from his flat in Rome and she gets into the
airplane and visits him with tons of traditional Austrian food). She
always supported him.
Berger tells us about his school career too. It was an "odysee". He did
not stay in one of the schools very long he was often kicked out because
he misbehaved or did not want to learn. In the end his parents had to
put him in an expensive school for the lazy kids of the rich and famous
where he did not have to learn that much and finished his school career.
Before that he was in a school where monks taught him that sex is a sin.
Berger tells us that he needed some time to get over those morals and in
his first sexual relationships - they were with women - he did not
really feel great pleasure and had to use alcohol. Only for a short time
he worked for his parents as a waiter. He couldn't stand the mediocrity
around him he wanted to be free he wanted to meet famous people he
wanted to be famous himself! He stole money from his mother and left
Austria in the night.
Berger worked as a bar mixer in first-class-hotels in Switzerland. He
lost his virginity there at 18 (it was in 1962). His girlfriend was
Renata he knew her from Salzburg. She loved him and wanted him to stay
but as so often in his life nobody could stop him. He had to get away.
He had to see more. He had to be where exciting things happen. In 1963
he moved to London the Flower-Power-metropole of that time.
After arriving in London, Berger took his
first acting lessons and worked as a waiter in an 'In-Restaurant' on
King's Road and as a model. He took private lessons, because an acting
school did not accept him (his English was too poor back then. Now
Berger is able to act in films in four languages: German, Italian,
English and French). It was the beginning of the 'Hippie'-era. All the
actors, musicians, photographers, starlets were one big family. And soon
Berger was one of them. All of the houses of the stars (for example Cat
Stevens) were open, joints were smoked and free love - to be precise:
orgies - were en vogue. Berger made his first sexual experiences
"There were so many of us. You touched your neighbour. It just happened.
You are relaxed, a bit high, you caress and want to be caressed.
Everything gets very erotic and you feel horny. You undress. Feel free
from rules and morals. Oh, l, l, you play with yourself and with others.
We are all sisters and brothers. A sweet boy turns me on, it feels
Life was one big party. Berger says he only smoked joints in London, he
did not touch cocaine, LSD and ecstasy. But he sure did later. He tells
us his drug story and some - memorable - experiences.
His first LSD-experience was in the USA, during the promotin-tour for "The
Damned" (it must have been 1969). He was there together with his friend
Ylia Suchanek from Austria. Berger took it in the house of "Hair"-producer
Michael Butler, "a master of this drug". He describes his trip - thank
god, a good one! - and tells the reader that it is necessary to drink a
lot of juice to clean the body. No alcohol! But we all love Berger
because he is so human. He makes mistakes. When he took his first
ecstasy-pill in 1985 in Paris during the shooting of "Smaragd", he drank
wine and had a headache for days... He describes the experience of this
drug as "sex in the head. You want it, but you cannot do it. You feel so
nice and relaxed, you don't stand up."
Berger's cocaine-career started in 1971 in Rome (Nightclub "Number
"It was the jet-set-drug. If everybody was on it, I had to be too. You
know, I am very easily influenced by other people. I like modern things.
I wanted to be "in" back then. Immediately I took half a pound..." He
tells us that cocaine gives him the biggest kick. But he also says it is
dangerous and we should not touch it. When he is on cocaine Berger can
work for days and does not feel tired. He says that now he takes it only
from time to time, but in the seventies it was his number-one
happy-maker. Visconti soon recognised that something was wrong with him
and sent him to a psychiatrist. But Berger said that he cannot sleep
because he has to think about his acting so much.
Only in 1974 Visconti found out about Berger sniffing cocaine. He
controlled his nightlife, took away his keys. But - as always - nobody
could stop him.
The craziest thing happend on the ball of Monte Carlo. Berger sniffed
cocaine of bad quality. Then he sat down to eat, but a fart become very
liquid and landed in his trousers. He wore white trousers! So they
became brown and he could not stand up and had to sit still from 9 till
4 in the morning. All his friends thought he was sick because he did not
want to dance with them - usually, Berger is a passionate dancer. After
he got home he changed his clothes and danced ecstatically in a club
because he had to get all the stress of the evening out of his head."
And he stills likes to party. In 1992 he gave a wild party for his 50th
birthday. It was in France, in the house of his friend countess Elène
d'Estenville. Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski were there. Berger gave
caviar, cocaine, ecstasy, hash, wodka, champagner, lobster to his
The party lasted for two days. The house was a complete mess afterwards
- and nobody had touched the wonderful food! The big joke is that it was
only his 48th birthday. He said he was 50 because he wanted to make a
At the end of this chapter Berger gets thoughtful. He says he never was
hooked on any drug, but he confesses that he has an alcohol problem:
"I become the opposite of what I really am. A person that I hate. This
liar, this monster, this anti-human being, it acts as if it were the
devil himself. A horror!
It started after Visconti's death in 1976. The shock of my life. I used
strong alcoholicas, drank them more and more often. I knew: My life is
divided in the Helmut Berger before Luchino Visconti and the one with
And, of course, the one after L.V. And this one could be a nigthmare.
Something inside my soul died with Luchino. He took my strength and my
hope into his grave. Again and again, I could cry and shout: 'Mille
grazie, Luchino, I am angry with you. Why did you leave me so soon?'
This is my real problem. I fight against alcohol every day, because I
love my profession and my friends and don't want to lose them. Why do I
do this to me? I must get things straight. I will get things straight.
The best drink against thirst and for a good mood is beer, which I have
with my pasta today." (I guess this passage shows that Berger wrote his
autobiography as a sort of therapy and that, despite all his problems,
he has a strong will to go on with life. And so should we.)
The following part is the last one of the
big chapter one: 'The longing of my life'. enjoy it,
Berger tells us that his relationships with women were so difficult
because of his alcohol abuse. However, the biggest problem is that they
want men to marry and settle down and this is not Berger's way of life.
He tells us a sentence by 18th-Century German poet Jean Paul (one of his
favorites, along Austria's Robert Musil): "Women love 24 hours a day,
men have to do other things in-between times." Berger writes that his
relationship with Marisa Berenson ended because of such problems. The
big sensation is that Berger was (and I guess, still is) married. He
only writes a few sentences about this. He does not give the whole name
of the lady, calls her Francesca. He says that it was a mistake - he
married in 1995 - and that he will get divorced (maybe this already
happened). This woman must have been a good friend over a long time -
fifteen years. Berger says she used him. Maybe she wanted his money
(Berger must have got a large sum after Visconti's death).
Perhaps Berger had a difficult phase when he married her, it might have
been a very spontaneous decision - he may even have been drunk when she
took him to the registry office. We don't know. But it becomes evident
that he does not want to tell to much about this episode and is a bit
embarrased about it. Although Berger claims that he generally prefers
men nowadays, he still is bisexual.
If Visconti was the Number one man of his life, actress Brit Ekland is
the Number one woman. They are friends for over thirty years and he says
he loves her since then, but there was always something between them.
Back then Ekland was married to Peter Sellers (who died because of a
overdose of cocaine; Berger: "Brit had such energy, he could not keep up
with her pace".) Then she was the wife of a rich man from Venice and
then she was married to an American film producer. After that she
married singer Rod Stewart. Berger even made a marriage proposal to her
after her divorce from Stewar during a dinner in his flat in Rome. But
Ekland didn't answer, they both burst out laughing. Still his proposal
was serious. Somehow it did not work out. Maybe Ekland knew that it
would not work and that Berger is not the guy to live with for the rest
of her life. They are still good friends though.
"Love is easier with men. They all have a mother complex, they don't
look at the eyes of a woman or at her hands, but at her breasts. Men
don't think about love and rainbows. You go out and then you do it,
simply because you are horny. You say "Ciao" afterwards and not "Ti amo"."
(You might say he is not talking about love, but only about sex!)
Then he talks about the time after Visconti: "I did not experience such
a big love after his death. Our friendship had this inner freedom. But,
of course, we were both jealous. Our love, one coming and going, and
very very intense. He was the father of my choice. I still have my
mother. Every year she is with me in Rome for many weeks and cooks
Then Berger prints a few recipes from himself and his mother which, as
he says, "a lot of my friends ask for all the time". They include the
famous Wiener Schnitzel (Berger's recipe, most embarrasingly, is not
right), but also a nice pasta alla gecca (with the "gay sauce", as he
likes to call it:
You mix small chopped tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, garlicm, basil, salt,
pepper and olive oil. Then you put it in the refrigerator over night. On
the next day simply pour it over spaghetti al dente. a nice summer dish,
we tried it.) or the traditional Italian vegetable-soup Minestrone (basically
you can take all vegetables of the season, add some soup, you can also
add mini-pasta. Berger says you should not add tomatoes because the soup
gets too sour, but we don't think so. When you serve it, add a little
In 1964 Berger moved from London to Italy. He went to Ischia (he did not
know that the castle of the Visconti's is there). He then talks about
money and that he always needed a lot of it. "I want to live! You
understand? I did not want to get stuck in the middle class." Berger
owns a lot of paintings of famous artists and also buys such of young
painters. As they get worth more and more, his money also grows. Berger
prefers buying paintings to putting his money on the bank. Perhaps a
mistake. 1992 he lost paintings by Mir, Chagall, Schiele, Picasso when
his flat burned. His friends could not believe that he laughed about it.
"Come on, after such an accident, another door of my life opens."
Then Berger talks about photographs and the work with David Bailey and
Helmut Newton. A picture Newton took of Berger is hanging in the London
Tate Galery, division of modern art. Berger, modest as ever: "The
picture is a great success. So many people want to look at it that
sometimes this room has to be closed."
The big second chapter, it is the longest
of the three sections in the book, deals with Berger's time on Visonti's
side. It ranges from 1964 to 1976.
Berger was learning Italian in a summer school of the University of
His first meeting with Visconti was fate: Berger had to learn about
history and architecture, too, so he wanted to visit Assisi with a
friend. (He tells us about his passion for art: his paintings his books
- he reads everything about the roles he plays, for example Ludwig II.
One of his favourite books is "Querelle" by French writer Jean Genet).
But this friend wanted to go to Volterra, near Florence. They sat down
in a pizzeria.
It was fate that Visconti filmed there on this very day!!! (it was
"Sandra" starring Claudia Cardinale). Berger was curious about the
shooting. He forgot everything around him and watched for hours. In his
dreams he was already taking part. It was getting late and a bit cold,
but Berger was only wearing a shirt. Visonti must have seen him, so he
ordered one of his assitants to bring the young man a scarf. Then
Visconti came to him and asked him - speaking German perfectly - what
lead him to this place. Berger told him about his studies and Visconti
invited him for lunch the next day.
When they had lunch, Visconti would not leave Berger for one second, but
the young men was afraid of his feelings. (Visconti was not his first
man, but, it seems, the first for whom Berger had a loving feeling.) He
fled - but not without leaving his adresses in Perugia and Salzburg.
Would Berger have visited Assisi, they would never have met!!!
Berger wanted a real relationship. He wanted to live in Paris. And - he
wanted luxury. They lived together in Paris. Visconti was a bit
conservative, he did not want people to know he was gay - even the
people working for him (he had several maids, a cook, etc.). So they had
seperate bedrooms, but Berger would come to Visconti's room at night...
But Visconti also told him to leave afterwards and sleep in his own bed.
His behaviour shows that he belonged to a different generation. Berger
needed young people around him. So often at night he left the house in
secret. And his night flights became wilder and wilder. Visconti
prefered to read and hear
classical music between his films or wrote scripts. Berger confesses
that he played a game first, but very soon he really fell in love with
Visconti. Visconti was not only a lover, a friend and a father to
Berger, he also was his teacher. He told him to learn English well, he
taught him about art, literature, etc. Later Visonti would even change a
few things about his castle "La Columbaia" on Ischia. Berger says that
Visconti was better than any real architect. Visconti wanted correctness.
As a result, Berger has a few strange obsessions now: He is hooked on
cleaning his flat up, it cannot be clean enough. Then he loves to
rearrange his furniture - all night long. And he has a passion for
packing suitcases. He describes it as a sort of science.
He says he needs a whole day to pack his thing when he travels. The most
important thing is that his clothes do not have creases afterwards. He
prefers rearranging his furniture or cleaning his flat to drugs and
alcohol nowadays. But he sometimes still feels the need to drink or to
other nasty things.
Visconti also introduced him to knew people. Were it musicians and
models first (in London), was Berger now introduced to international
artists - conductor Leonard Bernstein, opera singer Maria Callas, ballet
dancer Rudolf Nurejew - Berger had an affair with him, Nurejew was
sexually hyper-active, but Berger disliked the Russian's passion for
garlic and vodka. Nurejew wanted to live with berger but he could not
give him the savety of Visconti. For a short time, Nurejew was his lover,
Visconti was his husband and his father.
Visconti did not care about his belonging
to the aristocracy. His philosophy was a mixture of a radical quest for
truth and a radical marxism. Berger tried to understand his films. Now
he says: "I think the beauty of his films speaks for itself." Visconti
let Berger work hard before he gave him his first big role in "The
Damned" which became his breakthrough. Berger changes quickly between
the description of his acting in Visconti's films and the description of
their relationship: "I will be his widow until the end of my life.
Sometimes a merry one, sometimes drunk, even hysteric, but always
mourning. He did not really show feelings. But his films show his
understanding for the real truths and necessities of life."
He tells us that Visconti was the man, he was the woman in their
relationship. So Visconti was the one who was the sexually more active
This changed, nowadays Berger plays the role of the man when he takes
boys into his bed. During the shooting of the films, Visconti's hard
work did not allow any sex, they made "erotic breaks". Berger says "The
Damned" were hard work. It took days until his
Marlene-Dietrich-impression was perfect. (Dietrich called him up after
the premiere of the film in New York and said he did great. She event
sent him a picture of her and wrote 'Whose prettier? Love, Marlene'.)
When Berger had a day off he went partying with his Roman
jet-set-friends. He did not want to betray Visconti. But otherwise he
says he would not want to miss any of his little or big affairs during
their relationship. In the end of 1965 Berger moved into Visconti's
villa in Roman Via Salaria 366.
Berger played small roles in "The Witches" (1964) and "Young Tigers
(1967) until he had his big chance in "The Damned", Visconti's film full
of love for Germany, but also including warnings (fascism). He wanted to
show all political events through the Essenbeck-family which is modelled
after the Krupp-family. Berger tells us he knew the last of this dynasty,
Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach (called "The last Krupp"). He was gay, but
Arndt was far more excentric than Berger, he was very rich, but still he
was broke soon, because he needed millions of dollars every year. He did
a lost of plastic surgery and face lifting, was very depressive and an
He died of cancer in the eigthies. (I read a biography about him.) Back
in the sixties he was funny and famous for his big parties. They often
met in Kitzbhel, the well-known Austrian winter meeting-point where the
rich and famous ski. Berger also was there with his Brasilian friend
Florinda Bolkan (he had met her in Rome). He calls her "a friend for
life" and she was a companion on his journeys. Nowadays Berger, who does
not want to travel alone, takes his "good soul", maid and cook Maria or
Florinda's ex-lover, Lorenzo Ripoli, with him on his trips around the
When "The Damned" finally started, his name "Steinberger" was too long,
so he changed it into "Berger". (A catchy name. You immediately keep it,
when you hear it.)
Berger tells us abot Visconti's style: "He is a master of narration. In
privat and in his films. He did not change or interprete literature.
Spaces and beauty were his themes. He was the novelist of film."
Sometimes when Visconti wrotes scripts, Berger visited pop-concerts. He
loved and still loves the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan. The
Beatles played a concert in Rome in 1967. Visconti wanted to make Berger
happy, so he invited the Fab Four to a private dinner. They talked about
music. Visconti said that pop and classical music should come together,
they should make a concert with Leonard Bernstein. The Beatles were
enthusiastic about this idea, but their manager did not like it. It was
too soon for such a project back then. Berger liked all four of the
Beatles, but he had the best relationship to Ringo Starr, they are still
friends. The superstars were all a bit shy and nervous because of
Visconti. But when he talked about his opera productions for too long,
they also got a bit bored. Still they talked until six in the morning.
Visconti wanted to understand Berger's passion for pop music. He was the
perfect host, but after the Beatles had left he said: "Why don't they
cut their hair?" Berger also wanted to have long hair, but Visconti had
Berger talks about his friendship with
Rolling Stones-singer Mick Jagger.
They were partying in New York, Paris, everwhere. No city was safe from
them. Bianca Jagger was there, too. Berger liked both of them, he even
landed in bed with them. But he tells us that there was no sex: "We came
home in the morning. We were so tired and fell asleep. Nothing happened."
The window of their hotel room was open, so they awoke at noon. Beneath
theyr window was the garden of the hotel, with an outdoor-caf. Mick and
Helmut could not fall asleep again. Angry, as they were, they urinated
on the heads of the guests of the caf... Of course, their hotel bill was
enormously high. There are bans on Berger entering the Paris "Plaza",
the Munich "Four Seasons" and "Palace"... Berger talks about Bianca
Jagger and that they did a lot of travelling and shopping. He likes to
be with women, although he feels more sexually attracted to men.
Then Berger tells us about "The Damned", the fact that he was very
nervous when the shooting started and could not sleep. But Visconti knew
about such problems and so Berger had his first scene late, on the
fourth day. The premier of the great success was in Cinema Barberini in
Rome. When Berger had troubles with Visconti he checked into the hotel
"Riviera". Of course, with a minimum of 12 suitcases! He was there
pretty often, so he left a few suitcases in the hotel... Berger was
nervous during the premiere so he went into "Harry's Bar" for some
champagne. He is always very nervous about the reaction of the press and
the public on his acting. This shows that Berger is really a shy person.
His biggest problem is his fear that people do not love him. For the
next two weeks he was afraid to leave the house. Over night, he had
become a star!
Berger changes shortly to 1967's "Picture of Dorian Gray", which made
English papers call him "the world's most beautiful man". He saw the
film as a chance to make experiences as an actor.
Now he was a person of public interest and made his first PR-tour which
lead him through the USA. Of course, the premiere of "The Damned" in New
York was a success. And of course, the boy from Austria was nervous
again, so he needed a few Bloody Marys. He met Marisa Berenson in New
York and they danced through the New York-nights. But his days were full
of interviews so he was very tired, "fick and fucky", as he says. So he
stopped shaving to get a few minutes more sleep.
His friend Egon von Frstenberg lead him to the club "The Glory Hole", a
nasty place. There were holes everywhere. The two men put their private
parts in there. You never knew who or what was behind there. They had
great fun there an stayed until six in the morning. Visconti had to
leave America soon (he was not wanted as a communist and only allowed to
stay for the premier of "The Damned". Visconti did not like the USA
anyway, but he must have enjoyed the "dirty" T-shirts Berger brought him.)
Berger needed company and so his friend Ylia Suchanek came from Austria.
She is on the famous picture they made in Chicago (page 155).
Back in Rome, Berger heard of the project "The Garden of Finzi Contini".
It was directed by Vittiorio de Sica. He wanted Berger to play in the
film so Visconti made a dinner. Berger was very excited and nervous at
the test-shooting where they looked for a female partner for him. He
fainted after a kiss with Dominique Sanda. Again he had problems in the
beginning and again the film turned out to be a success: it won the
Oscar for the best foreign film.
Berger writes that Visconti wanted him to
share his hobbies and interests.
He learned him more and more about art and introduced him to new people.
For example, he met famous conductor Herbert von Karajan at the
'Salzburger Festspiele'. Berger enjoyed that he could bring his mother
and Visconti together. The days in Salzburg were relaxation, a holiday.
They slept long, went to Caf Tomaselli and had their dinners at
'Goldener Hirsch'. Needless to say, that stars like Romy Schneider, Yves
Saint Laurent or the Rothschild family were there. Visconti did not like
Karajan and he did not like that he was the director AND conductor of
his operas. So he left during Karajan's "Boris Godunow". Everybody
noticed, because Berger and Visconti were sitting in one of the front
rows. Berger and Karajans lovely wife Eliette wanted to bring Visconti
and Karajan together, but failed. The two men met, but they only talked
about food and did not mention one thing about art. Visconti did not
like the star-cult around Karajan. However, the biggest difference
between this two artists was that Karajan was arrogant and Visconti
Berger went skiing again in the winter time. Visconti wanted him to go
to Kitzbhel, because he thought that Berger would only be doing nasty
things in St.Moritz. Of course, that could not stop Berger. He spent the
annual income of many people in four weeks (although he had a cheap room).
Visconti feared that Helmut hurt himself when he skied, so he had a good
insurance for "Ludwig II." which started a bit later. Berger moans about
Visconti's love for quality and that he did not find it in any other
director. Berger changes to his passion for buying pictures of new
painters and that he discovered Heiko Pippig, a very talented man.
Visconti taught him things about classical music, too. He learned about
Mahler, but he confesses that he is not really into operas. It was
difficult for him to get into Wagner for "Ludwig II." and says that he
did not make it to see Wagner's whole "Ring der Nibelungen". Berger had
to read not only everything about Ludwig, but also about Wagner for the
film. He calls Wagner "a pig" and "a gangster".
But he liked Ludwig and still can identify with this man who was against
war. He says that Ludwig is the role of his life. He was very nervous at
the shootings and could not sleep. "In my dreams I became Ludwig. And at
some point I became Ludwig in real life, too. Really. There are certain
similarities between us. The deep fear of life, the loneliness among
many people, the self-observation, the feeling that nobody understands
you, the importance of style, culture and art" (I guess there is a
little Ludwig and a little Helmut in all of us). Visconti only accepted
the best. "It was a hard shooting and I would not have survived it
withous my friend Romy Schneider." They sort of lived like brother and
sister, and she was the big sister to him, even a bit mother when his
real mother was not avaible.
Visconti made Schneider a real woman in "Boccaccio '70" - she had the
little-girl-image before that. She played Elisabeth of Austria before in
the famous "Sissy"-trilogy, but this Elisabeth was kitsch. It was the
role that haunted her, the film is still played often on Austrian TV. So
she did not want to be in "Ludwig II." first. But Visconti changed her
mind: "Times have changed. You are not the little Sissy any more. Trust
me. Start to hold your head up high. And walk like an empress." And you
will agree that she was great in the film (perhaps her best role). But
Schneider was not happy in real life. Though she was married again and
had an affair with German Chancellor Willy Brandt, she still love Alain
Delon. He was the love of her life. She was a great actress, but pills
and alcohol lead to her early end.
But everything was fun when they were together at night after a hard day
of shooting for "Ludwig II.". They played children's games and relayed
with a glass of red wine. Schneider was kind of similar to Berger.
When they were shooting the film, they had to make breaks sometimes,
because tourists wanted to see Ludwig's castle. Berger was there in his
custome and did not move, so people thought he was part of the
exhibition. Berger talks about an actor's problems, the hole in which he
falls between two roles.
"Who understands the schizophrenia of an actor? You play a role for
months, as if it was your real life. Then you are at home for a while,
but after that you play the next role. What a chaos. And then there are
all the people, they want to know what sort of life you lead. The looks
behind your back. I don't feel good all the time. It is a very
exhausting job. And if I have a problem, I simply leave and travel
around. That's me. I don't want to talk about problems. I just leave."
He says that his acting is a therapy against his shyness. He says that
many friends did not want to live the exhausting life of an actor any
more and left the scene, married and life in the country. Romy wanted to
have a real family, too, but did not make it, although she was a great
mother. Berger keeps all her letters, the one starting "Pour Helmut" is
included in the book. They could laugh about everything, even
Schneider's pearls were disappearing in a hole due to a mistake Berger
made. Berger stills wears the ring of Schneider's grandmother which she
gave to him. She was one of his best friends.
When Visconti did not go to Salzburg in
one of the following years, Berger gave wild parties. But the wildest
parties were those with his craziest clique, rich friends from Paris.
They were in St-Tropez over the summer. "We let girls from Sweden fly
in. We fucked them for three days and sent them home again. We were a
famous clique, but people did not really like us, especially the
nobility." Berger writes about parties and speaks about AIDS.
He heard about it first after the shooting of "Entebbe" in 1975. He
never had sex without a condom since that time.
One of Berger's friends is Elène d'Estenville (he made his 50th-birthday
party in her house), she introduced him to princess Gracia of Monaco.
Gracia was against the bigger influence of rich people like Onassis or
the Italian mafia in Monaco.
Berger changes to his film works, talks about 1973's "Reigen", based on
Arthur Schnitzler's drama and directed by Austrian theatre actor and
director Otto Schenk. Berger liked shooting the film and he likes
Austrian culture. He lived in famous Hotel "Sacher" during the shooting
and enjoyed the High society of Vienna. Before that, he played in "Il
Bacio della Scorpione" (1971) with Sydne Rome, the director was Duccio
Tessari. He liked Sydne Rome and tells us that a love scene they had to
play almost became real sex.
Berger changes topic and talks about houses and interior design. He says
that he has a certain feeling for style and beautiful things. But
sometimes he exaggerated. His and Visconti's house in Castelgandolfo
cost a fortune.
Berger only bought the most expensive things. He had to have a boat's
house, but completely forgot about buying a boat. When the everything
was finished, they did not use the house anyway. Berger: "It was
As Berger became older, he rebelled against his 'father' Visconti. He
wanted his own flat and he wanted his own style. Berger wanted more
He also looked for new directors, made a film with Tinto Brass ("Salon
Kitty"). Visconti did not like this director. It was a good film though
(Later on, Brass directed pseudo-art soft-sex-movies starring women with
very big breasts and became a sort of Italian Russ Meyer). Berger also
visited small experimental theaters. He was interested in underground
In 1971 he started building his own house in Kitzbühel, he even made the
plans for the house. It is a sort of Chalet, enormously big. A lot of
architects were involved. However, Berger did not use this house too
He sold it to German soccer star Franz Beckenbauer in 1973. His costs
were too high and his time to stay there too short.
Then Berger talks about his time on the yacht "Christina" of Aristoteles
Onassis and his wife, the singer Maria Callas. He lived in pure luxury
there. If anyone wanted to go to Rome or had someting to do in Paris, he
was brought there by a helicopter. Three weeks of pure relaxation for
Berger. Onassis was a nice guy. Berger even found him a little bit sexy.
Berger got to know Onassis' big enemy Stavros Niarchos, also one of the
richest men, later. But he was not the 'in'-guy like Onassis. Niarchos
did not like parties. It was a big honour to get an invitation to his
ship. It was an incredibly long yacht, the "Atlantis", 138 metre long.
Of course there was a fight between Niarchos and Onassis who had the
bigger ship. Niarchos won. And the big surprise was, that Berger was
invited for a vacation on the "Atlantis". (Perhaps, because Niarchos had
a crush on Berger's friend Elène.) It would become a crazy trip.
Berger writes a lot about his trip on the
"Atlantis". His lust for luxury was fulfilled on this ship. There were
32 people working for the passengers, in every room there was a picture
by artists such as van Gogh or Warhol. The "Atlantis" was the biggest
private yacht in the world at that time. It could only berth in the
ports of Palma de Mallorca and Monaco. There was Niarchos, his son
Philippe, Elène, the American women Cleo Goldsmith and her sister Daida.
Niarchos was angry immediately, because Elène arrived late as she always
did. She planted her own soya-beans in the bidet of her bathroom.
Every night they took one of the speed-boats to party in expensive
night-clubs. Berger provoced a scandal, when he put silver paper on the
port hole of his cabin, because he cannot sleep at daylight.
Later there were some very windy days. Everyone was sick, they drank a
lot of Bloody Marys to get over their sickness. Soon they were out of
Vodka, Whisky, Martini, Fernet Branca and Gin. Of course, a few things
were destroyed by the wind, but more things were destroyed by the drunk
people, so Niarchos was very angry. In Palma de Mallorca, Juan Carlos of
Spain, now King, came on the ship for an exclusive diner. It was a very
embarassing evening, because Berger's friend Cleo Goldsmith did not know
him and asked:
"You want another drink, honey? Tell me, what are you doing in life?".
Her sister Daida was wearing hot pants although Niarchos had forbidden
wearing sexy clothes. The two ladies had to leave the ship.
In Marbella Elène has a villa. Berger and her sniffed some cocaine. They
came back to the port late, the ship had already left. They had some
drinks and then organised a boat to get on the ship. Niarchos was very
Berger and Elène were so high, they did not care about him. Berger
insisted that they would stay in her house. So they had to get back: "We
packed our suitcases together. I had ten suitcases by Louis Vuitton. In
this summer-night we were standing at the deck rail, dressed up. We
threw our suitcases in the sea. After that Elène and I jumped in. 12
metres. Just for fun."
Surprisingly, Niarchos invited Berger again in the next year, this time
for a journey to Egypt. "I must have amused him." They visited the
pyramides, but after that there was a kind of curse on them. A lot of
people who were part of the journey hurt themselves badly afterwards.
They had disturbed the gods. (Some of the stories about the two travels
with Niarchos are not so interesting, because Berger writes more about
other people than about himself in this parts.)
Berger writes about his friendship with
Liz Taylor. They shot "Aschermittwoch" ("Ash Wednesday" 1973) together.
Richard Burton was very jealous when Berger and his wife had to play a
love scene. They all celebrated new year's party in Switzerland
afterwards, Burton broke his arm, because he was drunk and fell. Berger
liked him, although Burton often treated his wife Liz Tayloer bad.
Berger's friend Lorezo Ripoli was there, too. They had great fun, when
Liz Taylor woke them in the morning. Both men wore very small red slips.
She was surprised. But Italians say that you should wear red clothes for
the first 24 hours of ever new year. If you do it, it will become a
happy year. At the same time, Visconti suffered a stroke after cutting
"Ludwig II." the whole night through. One half of his body was paralyzed
after that. Visconti had smoked 80 cigarettes a day his whole life
through! Berger was shooting in Paris. He had a lot of whisky in the
hotel bar and got to the airport: "I arrived in Rome drunk. I directly
drove to the hospital 'Flavia', where the whole Visconti-family already
was. They would not let me see him. Everyone went to his room, but they
told me: "Helmut, not you!" I will never forgive them." But of course he
found a way to see his Luchino. Berger went to Paris again and talked to
Romy Schneider. Her brother was a famous doctor and chief of a hospital
in Zürich, Switzerland. They brought Visconti there for his operation.
It was a success. After some time he even started to walk again.
Visconti could not stop working and immediately started writing the
script of "Violence and Passion". The shooting was hard work for Berger,
because he played in two films at the same time: "Violence and Passion"
and, in Milan, "La Colonna Infame" (directed by Neol Risi). Visconti
made his film in English, Risi in Italian. Visconti was working harder
than ever after he had recovered from his stroke. Visconti wanted to
make a film version of "Zauberberg" by author Thomas Mann, but there
were troubles with Mann's heirs. So he made "Die Unschuld" ("Innocence").
Berger could not play in the film, because he already had other projects
and shot "Die romantische Engländerin" ("The Romantic Englishwoman").
Berger was very tired after that film and so Visconti told him to visit
Florinda Bolkan in her house in Rio de Janeiro. Florinda and her friends
behaved strangely. Berger knew that something was wrong. After a few
hours they told Berger that Visconti had died while Berger was flying
from Rome to Rio. "I had a black out. I beat up Marina, Florinda's
friend. After I had come to my senses again, I packed my suitcases and
drove to the airport. I wanted to buy my first-class-ticket to Rome, but
the Italian "Alitalia" took me to Rome for free. Why? Because of respect
for the master Luchino Visconti. Only Italians do such things." Berger
could not realize what had happened. He tried to reach Visconti on the
telephone and perhaps he would have tried to hurt himself, but Maria did
not leave him alone for one second and slept by his side. "There was a
state funeral for Visconti. Everyone was there: the government, Fellini,
de Sica, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, everyone. They all wore dark
sunglasses. Only I didn't. I wanted that people could see my face. I
wanted to say goodbye to Luchino naked. There was nothing to hide. No
tears were rolling out of my eyes. I guess I was in a state of trance. I
only looked at the huge heart made of flowers that I built for the
funeral. Everything else seemed unreal to me. I was acting in a film,
without sound, without soul, without Luchino. I was alone. God, I think
I deserved it. No!"
"One year later, March, 17, 1977, I
wanted to follow Luchino. I believed and hoped to meet him in his
new world. What should I do down here on earth withouth him? My
preparations were perfect. I had collected all the pills I could
get. I had to be careful, because all my friends and Maria were
watching me. When I had enough pills, I was happy and swallowed
them. But by chance, Maria, who started working in the afternoon
already arrived in the morning on that day. She found me. I don't
know if this was good or not. I don't know that, even now, twenty
years later. Scusi! My feelings jump from yes to no, just like a
Yo-Yo. One day later, I awoke in the hospital. Even though they
wanted me to stay for a few days, I jumped up and left. My
depression was over when I awoke. That's me. Hot or cold. I had not
made it, so why not give life another try?" Berger then tells us
that he had swallowed too many pills. Twelve would have been enough,
but he had taken eightteen. When he was uncounscious he spit them
out. His friends Ursula Andress and Marisa Mell helped him, Romy
Schneider often phoned him up. He talks about Marisa Mell and that
they were good friends, but that she made one big mistake: She
wanted to stay a sex-idol when other actresses had decided to become
ladies at a certain point. Then Berger talks about Visconti's
testament: "I am often asked about his testament. His family told me
that his last will has disappeared. But his butler told me that the
testament was robbed. But I did not want to provoke a scandal after
his death. ... Only sometimes I am sad about the loss of our
summer-house in Castelgandolfo. It would have been his gift for me.
But so what? 'C'est la vie!', Romy would say. Done, basta! Let's
think big. I was never interested in mediocrity. I wanted to play
big parts." And so he did, in "The Voracious Ones" (Sergio Gobbi), "Vittoria"
(Antonio Ribas) or in the American movie "Entebbe" with Liz Taylor,
Richard Dreyfuss, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Linda Blair.
"Linda Blair - we had a wild, fast flirt. We had an affair in the
'Chateau Marmont' in Hollywood. But I also had sex with her brother.
He seduced me. It was a family-affair. I hope that God will not damn
me." Berger also played in "The Great Battle" and in "The Rose of
Danzig" (with Franco Nero). Envy is a big theme of Berger's life.
Franco Nero was envious. They had several fights at the shooting. "Envy
has something to do with religion. People who belive in themselves
are not envious. I meet envious people all the time. It started in
school. I was a very concentrated pupil and didn't have to learn
that much. The same thing as an actor. I learn my texts very fast
and my colleagues are jealous. I am moving all the time, I am
intelligent, sporty, modern and concentrate on my own interests.
Envy produces violence, provokes wars, seperates people. Capito?"
Envy was also a theme in Hollywood. When Berger played in "Dynasty -
Denver Clan" he was not allowed to even speak to colleagues and
friends who played in "Dallas", because there was a rivalry between
the two tv-series. "After Luchino's death, I received hundreds of
letters. But only three from Rome (from Flora Mastroianni, Virna
Lisi and his agent Carol Levy). But what about all the other friends
and artists? What had happened? Suddenly people said that Visconti's
style was out of fashion. 'Viscontian' was a negative word. But his
films were classics. I believe that his colleagues were envious. He
was dead, so there was no one who could show that all the films of
the other directors were crap. I was out of my mind for the next
years. For the other directors I was a 'Viscontian' actor. Without
Luchino I was not half the man and actor I used to be. He had
tainted me. Tainted by the beautiful things in life. The taste in
his films, the style, the design. ... All those things were reasons
for my suicide attempt. Even now I am not used to the
fast-food-filming of so many other actors. I want quality in the
films. Is that too much? The producers fear that I want my own
make-up artist, Alberto del Rossi, that I want my own secretary.
They fear class and style. But I believe in the creative power in
artists. I don't give up."
In 1978 Berger played in
"The Fifth Commandment" (Duccio Tessari), a film about two brothers who
are gangsters and are finally shot by the police. The film was shot in
Germany. "I was bored on the weekends in [the town] Essen. I was
sentimental, my feelings were changing from up to down, from highs to
depressions. To cheer up, I called up my friends all over the world. I
want to live. You understand? It is terrible to come to a hotel room, you
don't know anybody, but the press watches everything you do." In Munich he
was introduced to Holde Heuer, the co-author of his autobiography. She was
responsible for the promotion of the Hilton Hotel and saved Berger from
being kicked out of the house due to misbehaviour: "Holde saved me. She
kept me from the cheap Munich drug scene. She warned me to deal with the
people around Rainer Werner Fassbinder. ... Holde is one of the people who
understand my contradictions, my feelings and thoughts." German magazine
"Bunte" wrote a series of articles about Berger, titled "A Guy Like Silks
And Satins". During this time in Germany Berger had lunch with Maria
Schell, Curd JEgens and director Werner Herzog. Berger paid the enormous
bills. "A project with Fassbinder did not work out. He wanted to work with
me. I sat in the cafEand waited. He arrived an hour late together with a
friend, just as I was about to leave. He was full of cocaine. I told him
that I could not talk to him in the state he was in. And I left.
Fassbinder tried to get me for two of his films later." But Berger did not
like the fact that Fassbinder never had a script and only followed his
intuition. And he also did not like Fassbinder's looks, his dirty
leather-clothes and that he had not shaved for days. But Berger says, "I
appreciate his works and his success as a director." Berger goes on
talking about the business problems of an actor. Often he has to fight to
get the sum he was told to get paid. Every actor now needs his own lawyer
and an agent. Following projects were "Fantomas" (1980; Claude Chabrol
loved working with Berger and said "All the people only talk about
Berger's scandals, but nobody says that he is one of the first people on
the set in the morning and that he knows his text perfectly. We did not
have to repeat one scene for Berger." It was Berger's first role for TV,
"Fantomas" was a series in four parts), "My Wife Is A Witch" (1980;
directors Castellano and Pipolo) and German film "Die Jäger" (1982;
director Károly Makk). Berger talks a lot about his time in "Dynasty -
Denver Clan" (1983/84). Producer Aaron Spelling wanted him to play a
European playboy. He had to play a man who only wants his wife's money and
is hooked on cocaine. But Berger did not like working in Hollywood. He
describes it like a factory, every week the production team changed and
another director was responsible for every new episode. This was not the
place to be for an actor who used to work with Visconti and was used to
higher European standards. For the eight months in Hollywood Berger took
an apartment in which he lived with his coach. Soon he fired her because
she made phone-calls to Europe which Berger had to pay. His colleagues
Linda Evans, Joan Collins, Pamela Sue Martin and John Forsythe were
friendly in the beginning, and so were Spelling's secretaries. But Berger
immediately realized that they did not mean what they said. As said before,
he never liked America and its citizens. "During the first four weeks I
gave my best. No cocaine, no alcohol. I needed a clear head, because the
actors got their text in the morning and we only had little time to learn
it." Soon Berger was disappointed. None of his colleagues invited him to
their houses, none of them thanked him for his presents. He realized that
Hollywood means "making business without any soul". His only fun were the
weekends where he met his friend Jack Nicholson and other stars. They
smoked a few joints and felt wonderful. Berger likes Nicholson and calls
him "one of the funniest men I know". Berger told him about his problems
and Nicholson said: "The role is good for you. Everyone in America sees
you. You become famous." But then the "Denver"-people said that Berger was
not allowed to met people like Nicholson or Marlon Brando because everyone
in Hollywood knew that those people were sniffing cocaine. He was also not
allowed to visit the best night club, "Studio One", because it was known
for his homosexual guests. "I could not believe it. All those jerks.
Puritans. But secretely they all watch porno movies. I did not follow
their rules. I had to come to the office every second day. They told me
that my role would slowly disappear, if I would not do what they said. I
answered: 'You really believe that I stay at home and don't meet my
friends? Really? Heil Hitler.' So I was only part of 'Denver' for eleven
episodes. In the end my airplane crashed against a mountain." Only when
his shootings for "Denver" where over, Berger felt better and started to
have fun in Hollywood. He stayed there for one month longer. He did a lot
of shopping, was invited by Warren Beatty, and Barbra Streisand was giving
a dinner for him. "I met Grace Jones, Linda Blair, Sally Kellerman,
Richard Dreyfuss, Michael Douglas and Michelle Philips. And, of course,
Marisa Berenson who was divorced from her first husband, billionaire Jimmy
Rendall. I was totally high when I left Hollywood, this magical place of
After "Dynasty" Berger played in "Code
Name: Emerald" (1985) and "Promessi Sposi" (1988; for Italian TV). He
also appeared in "Godfather III" (1990). Berger had a fight with Al
Pacino because Pacino thought Berger's English was not good enough. In
1993 Berger played Ludwig again for "Ludwig 1881" (with Swiss directors
Fosco and Donatello Dubini). "A beautiful film, but I was very
melancholic. My memories of the first film, my memories of Luchino and
Romy came over me." In 1996 Berger shot two films on two continents:
"Das Unglück der Pharaonen" in Morocco and "Last Cut" in Venezuela ("I
had to act in a wheel-chair. This is not as simple as you may think. I
even fell into the swimming pool..."). The next works were "La Revanche"
and "L'affaire Dreyfus". Berger says that he is not really interested in
politics. He is more interested in persons, so he takes interest in the
lifes of politicians. He says he likes Clinton and that a man cannot
only make love to a First Lady all the time, he needs other women. A
very strange fact is that Berger says he is attracted to Fidel Castro,
he calls him "a sexy bitch" and states that Cuban men are "well-built".
Berger would like to be alone with Castro and a video camera....! Berger
talks about his friendship with Gina Lollobrigida and that she is a
great artist and woman who always wanted to be independent from men. He
goes on talking about his many friends and how important they are for
him. "I am never bored when I have friends around me. Boredom and
injustice are the things I hate the most." Berger has a heart for the
weak and surpressed. He once was in jail because he started a street
fight in Rome after the police had arrested a black musician without any
cause. It was a Friday and he had to stay in prison until Monday. It was
not Berger's only time there. Another story: "I had diner with Flora and
Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress and Tomas Milian. I heard that
there are police controls because they were looking for terrorists. I
was curious and left my guests and told them I had a phone call from
Hollywood." The police stopped his car, he was furious and ended in
prison again. "Maria was a perfect host for my friends. She did not
react when my friends asked her where I was. She already knew my
spontaneous decisions." Another police-episode: Berger was dancing in
"Piper Club" in Rome. It was hot, he ran out of the club and peed to
what he believed to be a tree. But it was the boot of a police woman.
She forgived him, he was not arrested. But the Paparazzi were there and
the photograph was in the papers. He says that he never played in a
theatre role (by the way, his favourite actors are Orson Welles, Peter
Ustinov and Peter O'Toole) and has problems with crowds. He was often
very nervous before a talk-show. But, as he grows older, he says he
likes appearing in such shows more and more. He then talks about getting
older and sex. "Without sex I get nervous and hysterical. I take a cold
shower. I am not one of those men who have to fuck every night. My
libido is quite controlled. I need one or two drinks before I can really
feel free. When I was young, I wanted to be seduced. Now I take all the
pretty young men into my bed and say: 'Rock me, babe.' My affairs never
last long. I often ask myself 'Why?'. I am too critical. I am bossy,
aggressive. I ask for too much. If I think about it, sex really is not
that important for me. Why not masturbate for six months? Friendship is
much more important. It is like a rose. You have to care for it every
day to keep it fresh. I don't have to tell you that looks and outfit are
important for me. I was voted 'best-dressed men in the world' twice by
magazine 'Women Wares Daily'. Why? The shoes are Italian or hand-made
from London. The socks are from Milan. Trousers by Givenchy. Jackets by
Yves Saint Laurent. Shirts from Rome. Ties from Hermès or duty-free
shops. I don't fear getting older. I don't like lifting or plastic
surgery. I think I still look good with my 54 years and my fast
life-style. My awards: European Oscar=David di Donatello, San Sebastiano,
Preis Valentino. I did not care about other awards. I left the trophies
in the hotels." He goes on talking about legendary dinners with Flora
and Marcello Mastroianni and about the art of cooking of Maria. "Many
people only see me as an extravagant scandal-guy. But I am an actor. I
show my feelings so that people can read them like a book. I have
learned from great directors like Visconti, Tinto Brass, de Sica. They
have changed me. With every new film I make, I wonder what Luchino would
say about my part. He talks to me in my dreams and even now, when I
write this down. He is with me and saves me. He keeps the hope alive
that everything will be fine. But will I ever be able to love again so
deeply? I think I have had it! I take a lot of power from nature
nowadays. I go to the country, visit friends in Upper Austria and relax.
I read Musil and erotic books. My wildest days are over. Only sometimes
I allow myself to act crazy. When I travel. Shopping- and party-orgies.
But even when Luchino was alive I could have a quiet day without any
action. Well, of course I became a bit restless on the second day. If I
don't feel free, I just leave. There are so many beautiful things, I
would not want to miss them. I went out or drove to Ischia. You know,
life goes on. And today? I am still curious about new roles, new
impressions, my friends and about myself. You know, I like myself. I am
what I am. Take me or leave me!"