The genial, much-loved figure, often seen in a tweed hat and scarf, a weaver of poetic tales which intertwined fantasy and reality, reflected the changes in his people's lives and won him more Oscars than any other director, died at midday yesterday after a two strokes and a coma that had lasted 15 days.
He died, aged 73, in the Policlinico, the old yellow hospital not far from the Via Veneto, setting of his greatest film, La Dolce Vita (1959), now a sad, desolate place haunted by the ghosts of the glittering, fun-seeking past he immortalised in film. Many Romans waited outside the hospital during the long death watch, and more gathered as news of his death spread. Italy's President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, with tears in his eyes, drove to the hospital to pray by his body. 'Italians are usually said to be a nation of cynics,' said Paolo Villaggio, a comic actor and a friend of Fellini's, as he joined the crowd. 'But people realise that one of the great Italians of the century has died.'
More gathered in Via Margutta, the artists' street in old Rome where Fellini lived for many years with his wife, the actress Giulietta Masina, who as a gamine with enormous eyes played an unforgettable part in the Oscar-winning La Strada. They were to have celebrated their golden wedding on Saturday.
'A great light has gone out and we are all in darkness,' said the actress Sophia Loren, who presented Fellini with his fifth Oscar, a special one for his life's work, earlier this year. Marcello Mastroianni, who had starred in many of his films and was a close friend, was reluctant to speak. 'How can you encapsulate in one phrase the genius of a director and my feelings of friendship?' he asked. President Scalfaro, in a message to Ms Masina, said an 'immense vacuum' has been left in Italian art, but added that Fellini spoke 'words of life which will not fade'.
Fellini's body will lie in state in Studio Five in his beloved Cinecitta, the studio where he filmed many of his works. The funeral service will be held on Wednesday and his body will then be taken to his birthplace at Rimini to be buried in the family vault.
Born in 1920 into a middle-class family, he began studying law in Rome but was drawn to the arts: cartooning and then writing screenplays. He directed his first film jointly with Alberto Lattuada in 1950 and by 1953 had won his first award, the Silver Lion of the Venice film festival for I Vitelloni. A year later he won his first Oscar for La Strada, followed later by others for Le Notti di Cabiria (1957) 8 1/2 (1963) and Amarcord (1974).