Stage name of Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, half French and half Italian, born at Castellaneta, Bari, Italy. His father Giovanni had been in a travelling circus before meeting his mother and settling down as a veterinarian.
Though his father was a strict authoritarian, his mother doted on her "beautiful baby" even to the exclusion of his older brother Alberto and younger sister Maria. By the time he was eleven he was an undisciplined, pampered bully. He was expelled from many schools. After failing to qualify for the military academies, finally obtaining a diploma in the Science of Farming from the Academy of Agriculture.
At 17 he went to Paris where he learned apache dancing, joined a gay crowd, returned broke, took his inheritance of $4000 and, December 1913, sailed for New York. He worked as a landscape gardener, dishwasher, waiter, gigolo, and petty criminal before establishing a minor career as a ballroom dancer. In 1917 went to Hollywood and obtained a small dancing part.
Script writer June Mathis and director Rex Ingram (I) convinced Metro to do "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and to cast Valentino in the lead. The first million dollar production saved Metro and made Rudy a star. In 1919 he married Jean Acker; she locked him out of the room on their wedding night and the marriage was never consummated. They divorced in 1922.
It also brought him to the attention of Alla Nazimova who wanted him to play opposite her in "Camille". Alla's friend, Natacha Rambova (nee Winifred Hudnut) became attached to Rudy, took charge of his career and became such a nuisance that Paramount barred her from the Valentino sets.
Thus they eloped to Mexico 13 May 1922 in the belief his divorce from Jean was official. He was jailed as a bigamist and fined $10,000. After their re-marriage the following year she fled to Paris having never entered his new mansion, Falcon Lair.
He soon became the archetypal romantic lover of the Hollywood silent movies. He began dating sexy Pola Negri partly to improve his image as a man. While touring to promote his last film, an editorial in the Chicago Tribune accused him of "effeminization of the American male". He defended his manhood by challenging the writer of the article to a boxing match (which never took place).
He died shortly afterwards in New York, from perforated ulcer. He developed peritonitis and died at age 31. 80,000 mourners caused a near riot at his New York funeral. Another funeral followed in California. A portion of Irving Boulevard in Hollywood, California, was renamed Rudolph Valentino Street in 1978.