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The Departed. The great Europeans who left us in 2023

From the unmistakable face of The Pogues to an actor whose beauty often masked her brilliance, they summed up the defiance and the diversity of a continent

Image: Chris Barker (@christhebarker)

Shane MacGowan

He may have been born in Kent to Irish parents, but Shane MacGowan truly belonged to rural County Tipperary, where he spent cherished childhood holidays, where he developed his passions for Irish history and culture and for alcohol and where he was laid to rest on December 8. Fiercely intelligent, scabrously funny and surprisingly tender, the singer raised his voice for the Irish diaspora during dark hours and, as Gerry Adams remarked, “broadened our sense of Irishness, and deepened our culture.”

Photo: David Corio/Redferns/Getty

Gina Lollobrigida

If the status of an actor can be measured by the weight of her co-stars, all that we need to say of La Lollo is that she appeared opposite Bogart, Flynn, Mastroianni, Montand, Sinatra and Connery. Once described as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, she was far more than that, as evidenced by her successful second career as a photojournalist and her decision to use the £4m proceeds of an auction of her jewellery to benefit stem cell research.

Photo: John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty

Gianluca Vialli

A rich man’s son who grew up in a 60-room castle, Gianluca Vialli did not have to work hard. Yet he did. Determined, unselfish and with an eye for goal, he won 18 major trophies as a player and manager. One of the pioneering foreign players who kickstarted the Premier League’s development, his joy at being part of the Italy camp that won Euro 2020 – at a time when he was stricken with pancreatic cancer – was enough to assuage English disappointment.

Photo: Clive Brunskill/Allsport/Getty

Sinéad O’Connor

The video for her biggest hit, the Prince-written Nothing Compares 2 U, so perfectly described the depth and intensity of O’Connor’s character that it will be her epitaph: The defiant shaved head and the penetrating stare; the vulnerability of a single tear. Her treatment by a hostile press in Britain and America was unforgiveable, her voice was unforgettable.

Photo: Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty

Silvio Berlusconi

“Only Napoleon did more than I have done, but I am definitely taller,” he once said. But really, the man whom Silvio Berlusconi measured himself against was Benito Mussolini, and no one has dominated Italian society more than he since the demise of Il Duce. Another boastful magnate, this one based in Manhattan rather than Milan, followed his populist path with equal success and equal calamity.

Photo: Edoardo Fornaciari/Getty

Jane Birkin

Birkin’s move to Paris in 1968 – sparked by her leaving unfaithful Bond composer John Barry for the louche Serge Gainsbourg – seemed to confirm that while London might have swung temporarily, the city of light was in a permanent state of oscillation. There she stayed, as muse, model, mother and as a severely underrated singer and actress. Emmanuel Macron called her “a French icon. A complete artist.”

Photo: Mike McKeown/Daily Express/Getty

King Constantine II

The last King of Greece was the victim of old national wounds and his own hubris. A karate black belt who won an Olympic gold medal for sailing in 1960, “Tino” might have lived his life as an unremarkable playboy European royal, but tensions left over from the Greek civil war of 1946-49 led to conflict with both centrist PM George Papandreou and the junta that replaced him. Finally paid off by the Greek state – pointedly, from an emergency fund for national disasters – he saved some face by giving the money to victims instead.

Photo: Hellas Press Athens/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

Tatjana Patitz

Supernaturally beautiful in her north European hauteur, the German-Swedish Patitz was one of the original supermodels, exuding statuesque power in an era of heroin chic. Harper’s Bazaar wrote of her that “like Garbo or the Mona Lisa, the inexplicable gifts of line and luminescence defy definition”. She campaigned against climate change and for animal rights at a time when both were definitely unfashionable.

Photo: Kyle Ericksen/WWD/Penske Media/Getty

Paco Rabanne

It was the highest praise Salvador Dalí could give: he dubbed Rabanne the “second genius of Spain”. Born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo, his father was executed by Franco. His mother, who worked for Balenciaga, moved the family to Paris, where Paco joined Givenchy, Dior and eventually formed his own company. His pioneering space-age designs using plastic and metal changed the shape of fashion, and his successful fragrances set a template for other designers to copy.

Photo: François Lochon/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

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