Cultural Re-View: Sophia Loren starts a 17 day jail sentence

Pardon Sophia - a rally in New York's Little Italy calling for the release of Sophia Loren in 1982
Pardon Sophia - a rally in New York's Little Italy calling for the release of Sophia Loren in 1982 Copyright 1982 AP
Copyright 1982 AP
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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On 19 May 1982, Italian film star Sophia Loren started a prison sentence for tax evasion.


The idol of the silver screen was jailed near Naples in an incident which caused fans around the world to rally in her support.

Before being sent to prison, Loren, born Sofia Scicolone, explained that her tax specialist had made an error on a tax return which understated her earnings by about 5 million lire (then $7,000 or around €6,500).

She had previously promised to return to Italy from her adopted home of the United States to serve her sentence, saying she would “do my duty and submit to the decision of the judges of my country” but few believed she’d ever fulfil the term.

She kept her word though and was met at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport with a crowd of journalists and photographers, as well as police officers who transported her via car to the prison.

One elderly woman who had come to the airport to see the star told assembled press the jailing was "a terrible shame”, adding that most of Italy's tax evaders get away with their crimes.

1982 AP
A downcast Sophia Loren arriving in Rome ahead of starting her prison sentence1982 AP

On entering the prison, Loren said she was being subjected to "an unjust situation due to a little mistake” by the tax ‘expert’.

Loren, who is now 88, started her decades-long film career in 1950, shooting to international fame after acting alongside Cary Grant in the 1958 film ‘Houseboat’. She won an Oscar for her performance in the 1961 movie ‘Two Women’.

The renowned beauty was sentenced for 30 days, but ended up serving just 17. Speaking in 1984 about her ordeal to celebrity interviewer Terry Wogan, she explained that her time in prison was not a positive experience.

When confirming she had been to jail, the talk show audience laughed - and Loren remarked “there’s nothing to laugh about” in response.

She explained to Wogan, “I decided to do that on my own because I thought it was the only possibility for me to go back to Italy and to see my mother, my sister, my nieces and my other relatives… it's an experience that I will never forget and it's a traumatic experience for me”.

The star, who is widely regarded as the one of last surviving members of Hollywood's Golden Age, also refuted claims made in the press that she received special treatment due to her celebrity status, denying she had pink carpet on her cell floor, or a big bathroom or a colour television. She added, “I was in prison like everybody else and I had to be among all these girls that had committed crimes and it was not an easy experience for me".

Freedom! Loren leaves jail after serving 17 days of her sentenceAP
A saga that has lasted nearly 40 years is finally over.
Sophia Loren, 2013

The incident in 1982 was not the first time Loren had been dogged with accusations of tax fraud. In 2013, an Italian Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation, decided that she had paid enough tax on her earnings in 1973 - putting an end to a 39-year-long legal dispute.

The state had disputed the actress’ claims that she owed tax on 60% of her earnings, saying she should have paid 70% instead. The court ruled in her favour, saying the actress' earnings were covered by a 1982 tax amnesty; the nearly four-decade long case was called ‘Kafkaesque’ by her lawyer.

Loren, who is the last living person to appear on AFI's list of the 50 greatest stars of American film history, chose to take fewer roles in the 1980s and most recently appeared as the lead in 2020’s ‘The Life Ahead’ as a Holocaust survivor and former sex worker. 

2019 Invision
Still a star - Loren pictured in 2019 at the Governors Awards in Los Angeles2019 Invision
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