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January 17, 2023

The Kiss of Death, 1957

The Kiss of Death is a black and white photograph by an unknown author, taken on May 12, 1957. It depicts the moment in which Linda Christian kisses Alfonso de Portago at a brief stop during the 1957 Mille Miglia race in northern Italy. Portago was killed moments later when a tire burst at 150m/h in Guidizzolo, Cavriana. Over the years, it has become one of the most renowned photographs of kisses and a symbol of young audacity and passion.

Photograph taken for the Bettman Archive and popularly known as “The Kiss of Death” (Il Bacio della Morte). It shows Linda Christian kissing Alfonso, Marquess of Portago, before the latter departed for his last part of the Mille Miglia race which ended his life on May 12, 1957. (Photo: Bettmann Archive)

The photograph depicts actress Linda Christian (wearing a dotted dress and headscarf), leaning in for a short kiss with Formula 1 driver Alfonso de Portago who wears the typical 1950s racing gear; a white helmet, goggles and a leather jacket. A crowd of onlookers joyfully stares, while journalists immortalize the scene with their cameras. The photograph became famous in Italy and was popularly named “Il Bacio della Morte” (The Kiss of Death) in reference to Portago’s death shortly after the image was taken. The image was published in newspapers in the days following the race. Life magazine gave fame to the photograph after it published it in its May 27 issue, under the title “Death finally takes a man who courted it.”

In later interviews, Linda Christian remembered the moment almost like a premonition: “I had a strange sensation with that kiss. It was cold, and it caused me to look for the first time at Nelson seated behind him. He seemed to be like a mummy, gray, ashen, as if mesmerized. He had the eyes of someone who had suffered an enormous shock.”







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