Moira Orfei, who has died aged 84, was regarded as the Queen of the Italian circus – the owner and guiding spirit of the country’s most famous big top; she also starred in some 40 films.
Known for her over-the-top use of garish cosmetics, her bouffant hair and extravagant outfits, in later years she became something of a gay icon, much imitated by Italian drag queens. She even featured in a novel, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes (2004), by Wayne Koestenbaum, as the object of obsession of a homosexual concert pianist.
She was born Miranda Moira Orfei on December 21 1931 into a notable Italian circus dynasty. Her father, Riccardo, was a famous bareback rider and clown, while her mother, Violette, was a member of the Arata circus family. Moira spent her entire life in the circus, performing as a rider, acrobat and trapeze artist in her early days, before founding her own travelling circus, Circo Moira Orfei, in 1961. The same year she married Walter Nones, an acrobat and animal trainer. While he presented lions or tigers, she presented the circus’s elephants. Her animal acts gained silver and gold awards at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 1987, 1989 and 2004.
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