Angelina Jolie’s inspiration for the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini, has died at age 97. Not only was he a popular distance runner in the Olympics, but he was a World War II prisoner, survivor, and hero. His death has sent a heartfelt shockwave through the Hollywood community because his adventurous story was the subject of a new film entitled Unbroken, which is set to be released later this year. The movie is based off of a book by Lauren Hillenbrand, adapted for the screen by the popular screenwriters the Coen brothers, and directed by Angelina Jolie.
In a statement that was released today, Zamperini’s surviving family members stated how he always overcame the greatest of odds from the beginning of his life, all the way until the end. They also mentioned how no matter what he had faced throughout his life, he “has never broken down from a challenge.”
Zamperini’s final challenge in life was a tough bout with pneumonia – a battle that claimed his life on Thursday morning. His family stated that his battle with pneumonia had lasted 40 days, and he passed away peacefully, surrounded by his friends and family. They said his fighting spirit was present until the very end.
When Zamperini was 19, he became the youngest American to ever qualify for the 5,000 meter event at the Olympics. At the event during the 1936 Berlin, Germany Olympics, he came in eighth place. His performance caught the eye Adolf Hitler, and Zamperini had a face-to-face meeting with the infamous historic figure.
When Japan held the 1998 Winter Olympics, Zamperini ran part of the Olympic torch during the lead-up to the opening ceremony. He was held captive in Japan during World War II. As recently as 2011, he was awarded an honorary degree from Azusa Pacific University and Bryant University. Also in 2011, he was awarded the Kappa Sigma Golden Heart Award. Before passing, Zamperini was signed on to be the Grand Marshal in Pasadena, California’s Rose Parade in 2015.
He was a man with a rich history and fascinating life experiences long before serving as Angelina Jolie’s inspiration for the film Unbroken. His death at age 97 has greatly saddened not only his family and friends, but fans who came to know of his incredible story through the book, which Lauren Hillenbrand wrote in 2010. It is entitled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and it is a biography of Zamperini’s incredible circumstances and life experiences. Not only did the book spend time at number one on the New York Times Bestseller List, but it was also named Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2010 by Time Magazine.
It was not soon after the book’s success that Joel and Ethan Coen adapted the biography into a feature film – a film with Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson as producers, and popular actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie at the helm.
The movie is planned to go forward with marketing and eventual release, as neither the studio nor the Zamperini family plan to put a halt to the release of the movie. In fact, Universal Pictures, the financier and distributor of the film, has stated that they feel a renewed sense of responsibility to educating moviegoers on Zamperini’s adventurous life.
In the film, produced by Legendary Pictures, the role of Zamperini is played by Jack O’Connell, and the movie is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day this year. Some people who have already seen the film are heralding it as an early Oscar favorite, particularly for Angelina Jolie’s artistic direction and the strong performances by the cast. The inspiration for Unbroken has died at age 97 but his legacy certainly lives on forever on the book and film about the life of this extraordinary man.
By: Rebecca Savastio