Lilli Carati was born in Varese (Lombardy) on September 23, 1956. In 1974, she won the title "Miss Elegance" at a beauty contest in Calabria and began to work as a fashion model in Milan. She became the first runner-up at Miss Italia contest of 1975 and moved on to cinema.

Most of her box office hits were in the genre of "sex comedy". However, she also played in films of different genres such as Squadra Antifurto (1977, a crime story with Tomas Milian), Le Evase – Storie Di Sesso E Di Violenze (1978, a prototypical exploitation film), and La Fine Del Mondo Nel Nostro Solito Letto In Una Notte Piena Di Pioggia (1987, a film by Lina Wertmüller). In several of her films she displayed a considerable talent in acting.

She also appeared in nude photos on the pages of Italian men's magazines like Playmen and Albo Blitz.

The first film she played the lead role was in 1976, La Professoressa Di Scienze Naturali (School Days) by Michele Massimo Tarantini. This film plays to clichés of two sex comedy sub-genres; insegnante ("lady teacher") and liceale ("schoolgirl") films. Her next "school film" was La Compagna Di Banco by Mariano Laurenti in 1977.

The film where she first displayed notable performance came in 1977. In Candido Erotico (Copenhagen Nights) by Claudio de Molinis, she plays Charlotte, a young student who is drawn into confusion when she falls in love with her stepmother's lover, Carlo (Mircha Carven) who works as an actor in sex shows. Eventually, she discovers the ménage à trois involving her father, stepmother, and Carlo and decides to carry on with her relationship.

Her greatest success came with Avere Vent'anni (To Be Twenty) by Fernando Di Leo in 1978. The film, about the story of two girls who leave home and move into a hippie commune in pursuit of freedom but end up in the hands of thugs to be violently murdered, later attained a cult status as expressed by its screening at Venice Film Festival in 2004. Although the film tends to blame the intolerance of the society for the awful fate of the girls, its sociopolitical message remains highly debatable. In this film, the side-kick to Carati (Tina) was Gloria Guida (Lia), a popular star of 1970's. The film also contains a brief lesbian sex scene with the two actresses.

In Il Corpo Della Ragassa (1979) by Pasquale Festa Campanile, Carati plays Teresa Aguzzi, a naïve-looking but cunning country girl involved in a Pygmalion story set in 1950's Italy. The same year she appeared in Senza Buccia (Skin Deep) by Marcello Aliprandi, a light but dramatically well-mastered story of love relationships at a holiday hideout.

In Hay Un Fantasma Nel Mi Cama (or C'è Un Fantasma Nel Mio Letto, 1980), an Italo-Spanish production by èClaudio de Molinis, she played newlywed Adelaide Fumagalli who arrives at the "Black Castle" in England with her husband on honeymoon. The castle is home to the ghost of 17th century nobleman Sir Archibald, played by veteran actor Renzo Montagnani who played Teresa's father in Il Corpo Della Ragassa. Sir Archibald plays his games to seduce Adelaide which will eventually end badly for himself.

Il Marito In Vacanza (1981) by Alessandro Lucidi and Mario Lucidi would again bring Carati and Montagnani together. This time Montagnani is a professor who tries to seduce Lucia Coradini (Carati), a beautiful colleague.

In 1984, Carati met director Joe D'Amato through her actress friend Jenny Tamburi and played in four D'Amato films, among which are L'alcova (The Alcove, 1984) and Il Piacere (The Pleasure, 1985), both set in 1930's Italy and with Laura Gemser, considered the most stylish among the films of the director who is usually identified with his trash films.

In 1987 and 1988, she appeared in a number of adult films by Giorgio Grand, along with a team of performers including Rocco Siffredi. Although these films were of low quality, the sight of a movie star, often depicted as the attractive but "unreachable" woman, having explicit sex provided enough titilation for most viewers.

In 1989, she was in The Whore by Alex de Renzy and Henri Pachard. This film had the most elaborate plot among her porn films but she didn't play the lead role; Debi Diamond is "the whore".

Around 1990, she retired from public life.

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