Film star Sydne Rome disappeared from Hollywood – a tragic accident left her scarred for life

Hollywood has always been full of stars. Some stay in the spotlight for decades, while others peak briefly before disappearing as quickly as they arrived.

Through the years, we’ve seen legendary actresses such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield, Raquel Welch, and Jean Harlow garner plenty of attention, helped no end by their natural talent and gorgeous looks.

But even when they sat the throne as queens of the industry, there were always others waiting in the wings, vying for a chance to take over. One such was American actress Sydne Rome, dubbed the golden girl from the American Midwest.

Sydne didn’t walk the same path as any other actress to make it in the entertainment business. Instead, she went to Europe, and with her blonde hair and blue eyes, viewers couldn’t get enough of her. It’s reported that she even once dated David Bowie.

But even though Rome might have had the it factor, she didn’t stay in the spotlight for long. Even so, she is still very much active, and over the years has created a family of her own. Sadly, one accident left her face scarred for life. 

Sydne Rome

Sydne Rome was born in Akron, Ohio on March 17, 1951. Her father worked in plastic manufacturing, and her mother was, as Sydne herself explained, a “born hippie.”

She came from an upper-middle-class family and grew up in the small community of Upper Sandusky, which has a population of 5,000. It was said to have had the highest per capita income of any town in the United States.

Sydne Rome – early life

Throughout Hollywood history, we’ve witnessed many examples of actors’ children making it big in their own right. A few examples are Miley Cyrus – child of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus – Dakota Johnson, whose parents Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson were actors, as well as Goldie Hawn and Bill Hudson’s daughter, Kate Hudson.

The term “nepo baby” is used, which Sky describes as “a catchier way to say the successful child of a celebrity – someone who rode to fame on the coattails of their talented parent, often making a name for themselves in the same or an adjacent industry.”

For some, having a famous mom or dad offers a fantastic opportunity, presenting them with contacts within the entertainment industry. But for others, it’s not always easy, as it puts pressure on them to match the achievements and star power of their parents.

For Sydne Rome, this was not something she had to worry about. None of her family members had ever come close to entering the entertainment industry.

“There was nothing in the family that should have given me my craze for acting,” she told the Daily News in 1974. “My father had a plastic company, and my mother is just ‘mom.’ I have two sisters and two brothers, all younger.”

Rome went to high school in Ohio, but by that point she had begun showing plenty of interest in acting. The young girl had made plans for her future, but that all changed when she spoke to people close to her.

Sydne Rome

Instead of moving to Illinois, her new home became Pennsylvania, and the famous Carnegie Tech School of Acting at Pittsburgh University.

First shot at Hollywood fame

“I planned to enter Northwestern University after finishing high school. But there, I was told that if I were seriously interested in acting, I should study at Tech. So I did, and I’m glad I did,” Sydne told The Pittsburgh Press.

At the Carnegie Tech School of Acting, Rome began crafting her acting skills. She had well-respected vocal coach and voice actress Edith Skinner as her teacher, as well as film executive Bern Stearn, whose daughter she later would become close to. At the school, she starred as Tania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Nina in Anton Chekhov’s The Sea Gull.

After finishing her studies in Pennsylvania, it was time for the promising actress to make her way to California. She joined the Pasadena Playhouse and continued to thrive on the stage.

But even though Rome starred in productions from Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams, her first shot at Hollywood fame in movies was a disaster. She lost out on her first significant role in the film Candy, sent to Rome by her agent, and after another year with the Pasadena Playhouse, she once again tried her luck in Europe.

Sydne Rome
Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

There was no denying that she was a beautiful woman. But in that day and age, it wasn’t enough to look good with clothes on.

“I had a terrible time in Rome with young Italian directors who wanted me to play in the nude,” she told the Daily News. “I didn’t want to do it. Now my view is different. Playing in the nude has become part of our trade. Provided it is really called for in the script and doesn’t involve brutal love scenes, it’s OK by me.”

Sydne Rome starred mostly in minor Italian films heading into the 1970s.

Compared to Birgitte Bardot

Then, in 1972, she got her big breakthrough when she worked with director Roman Polanski in the film What? Though critics hated the movie, it was a big step forward for Sydne. In 1973, she also wed photographer and cameraman Emilio Lari.

By that stage, the young American actress was being compared to the likes of Brigitte Bardot. The Sunday Telegraph even dubbed her “the up-and-coming Jean Harlow or Raquel Welch, the ticking Sex Bomb of the nineteen-eighties” in 1979.

That comparison could have put a lot of pressure on a young actress’s shoulders. Sydne, though, took it in her stride.

“[Brigitte] is wonderful, exciting, very open, terribly available. She is everyman’s dream. Perhaps at first look, I seem less available. But I think audiences will take a second look and think differently. And I am a better actress than Bardot,” she said.

Though Rome seemed to have everything it took to make it in Hollywood, she just never seemed able to take the final step. Her first film was in 1969, starring in Some Girls Do, but it didn’t help her career. So instead, she tried her luck in another part of the world, starring in many French, Italian, and German films.

Sydne Rome, David Bowie
Evening Standard/Getty Images

As the 1970s ended, Rome landed a role in David Hemmings’s film Just a Gigolo, starring alongside the great David Bowie.

“We were friends. When I was going to Berlin to have the first [script] readings, I was told that they hadn’t found the leading man. He [Bowie] had an interest in that period of Germany, between the two world wars, so I thought maybe David would like to do this part. I called him and asked if I could send him the script. We did so and he accepted,” she told NME in 2021.

Romance with David Bowie

It was even rumored that the two were dating at one point – which she confirmed in a later interview on Italian television.

“I met him because he called me to accompany him to Paris to see the premiere of his film, and I accepted [the offer for Just a Gigolo] immediately,” Rome. “We were together for a year. He was so much fun and appetizing.”

Rome moved to the city of Rome, which she called her home for over ten years. With the arrival of the 1980s, she became a musician, releasing several albums, all of which unfortunately failed to take off.

Synde starred in many productions, including the 1980 film L’uomo puma [The Pumaman]. With a meager 2.2 out of 10 rating on the International Movie Database, it doesn’t take a film expert to gauge its success. Rome also began doing documentaries, including one about Formula 1, shot in Rio De Janeiro.

While her dream of becoming a big star was still there, the fact that the film business had become more than just good films bothered her.

“I’m well-known worldwide except America,” she said. “I love creative work, but I hate the business side of my ‘career.’ An actress can get to feel she’s just a business asset – that no one cares about her, but only what she represents in terms of a deal.”

“Being in films can be terrible for a woman – no, it’s not just having passes made, I can take care of that,” Sydne continued. “But it’s the years you have to slog before anyone realky respects you at all. Actresses are not supposed to have any brains.”

Sydne Rome

She concluded: “Maybe that’s why so many actors and actresses feel insecure.– the woman more than the men. I have several actress friends, and we cry on each others’ shoulders. Actually, actors make friends easily, because they don’t really belong to any particular class – they’re not aristocrats, or middle-class, or lower-class. They can fit in anywhere.”

Car crash left Sydne Rome scarred for life

Rome’s marriage to Emilio sadly didn’t last. She re-married doctor Roberto Bernabei, and together they decided to adopt two sisters, Vanessa, and Jesse, from the favelas of Sao Paulo, Brazil, according to Corriere. He became a–respected medical worker – and in 2021, was appointed the personal physician of Pope Francis.

Rome’s career continued with her starring in many productions, but her big breakthrough never came in the US. Despite that, she found more important things in life, such as a peaceful, loving family.

Then, in 2009, Sydne Rome’s life changed forever. While driving her car – with one of her then-eight-year-old daughters in the vehicle – she was involved in a serious accident.

In an interview on the Italian talk show Vieni da Me, Rome explained that she had been driving her car for the first time after it had been in the garage for three weeks.

Sydne Rome
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

With her daughter in the car, Sydne ended up veering off the road and hitting a tree. The airbag blew up in her face – and did a lot of damage.

“I went to the hospital and they stitched up my ski,” Rome said, adding that the doctors didn’t realize that her facial muscles had taken a hit because of the accident. “That part of my face after a while became paralyzed, and so 10 years ago I had physical therapy and today I’m a little bit better.”

Looking at photos from her past, Sydne sadly admitted that she didn’t recognize her face in pictures because of the change to the right side of her face.

Sydne Rome today

“I know it’s me, but it’s like seeing another person again,” she added.

Despite her brutal injury, Sydne didn’t let it bring her down. She continued to work in the entertainment industry, and most recently starred in the Italian film La Quattordicesima Domenica Del Tempo Ordinario, released in 2023.

Sydne Rome

Moreover, Sydne, now age 72, had a recurring role in the Italian television series Don Matteo, appearing in 53 episodes between 2021 and 2022.

Sydne Rome didn’t become the next Brigette Bardot, but has always done what she enjoyed. Despite the sad accident, she has continued to follow her passion.

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