Film producer De Laurentiis dies at 91

Friday, November 12, 2010
British actor Anthony Hopkins, right, and producer Dino De Laurentiis, left, arrive for a news conference on their movie "Hannibal" at the Berlin film festival in 2001. De Laurentiis, a film impresario and producer of "Serpico," "Barbarella" and "Death Wish," died Wednesday. He was 91. (Associated Press file)

Dino De Laurentiis, an Academy Award-winning film impresario and producer of "Serpico" and "Barbarella," who helped revolutionize the way movies are bankrolled and sold, has died. He was 91.

The producer's daughter said her father was surrounded by family when he died Wednesday night at his home in Beverly Hills. The statement from Raffaella De Laurentiis did not give a cause of death.

"My grandfather was a true inspiration. He was my biggest champion in life and a constant source for wisdom and advice. I will miss him dearly," granddaughter Giada De Laurentiis, a star chef and host on Food Network, said Thursday.

De Laurentiis was a legend of Italian New Wave filmmaking. His works also included "Bitter Rice," "La Strada" and "Death Wish."

He was tiny, but tough, a veritable Napoleon on the set and utterly tireless. "Such a little lion," was how his second wife, producer Martha De Laurentiis, put it when he turned 80.

Like any larger-than-life movie figure, De Laurentiis went through boom times and busts. But he always bounced back and his passion for movies never dimmed.

His career spanned hundreds of films, including several Oscar winners and he worked with some of the biggest stars and best directors in the business. His credits include box office and/or critical successes such as "U-571," "War and Peace," "Ragtime," "Three Days of the Condor" and "Blue Velvet."

A pivotal figure in postwar Italian New Wave cinema, De Laurentiis moved to the United States in the 1970s, becoming a citizen in 1986. But this son of a Neapolitan pasta maker never lost his thick Italian accent and tried to spend a month in Capri and Rome each year.

The Oscar-winning "Serpico," in 1973 with Al Pacino, was De Laurentiis' Hollywood debut. But by then, he already had two Italian-made Oscar-winners: Federico Fellini's "La Strada" and "Nights of Cabiria" to his credit.

De Laurentiis was one of the first producers to understand the box-office potential of foreign audiences, and helped invent international co-productions, raising money by pre-selling distribution rights outside North America.

Throughout his career, he alternated lavish, big-budget productions with less commercial films by directors such as Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch, and he often packaged the blockbusters with art films to secure distribution for the smaller films.

De Laurentiis was capable of bold, brilliant strokes and audacious risks. In his 80s, he could still pull off a major coup by snapping up the movie rights to "Hannibal," novelist Thomas Harris' sequel to hit "The Silence of the Lambs."

But he was also battered by flops, including the infamous "Dune," in 1984 and a "King Kong" sequel widely regarded as truly awful.

Personal tragedy also took its toll. In 1981, his son Federico was killed in a plane crash. "My father still to this day can't speak of him. ... He told me that every morning he wakes up and thinks of him," De Laurentiis' daughter Veronica said nearly 20 years after Federico's death.

The strain of the loss helped end his marriage to Mangano. They were divorced in 1988, the same year De Laurentiis Entertainment Group went into bankruptcy, finished off by the flop of "King Kong Lives."

Yet De Laurentiis, close to 70 years old, was undaunted and started over.

Within two years, he had a new wife, 29-year-old Martha Schumacher, formed a new company and started producing moneymakers again.

"My philosophy is very simple," De Laurentiis once said. "To feel young, you must work as long as you can."

Survivors include three daughters with Mangano -- Rafaela, Francesca and Veronica -- and two with Schumacher: Carolina and Dina. Funeral arrangements have not yet been determined.

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