Louis Zamperini Dead: Angelina Jolie Unbroken Collaborator Dies at 97

Celebrity News Jul. 3, 2014 AT 8:35AM
Louis Zamperini gestures during a news conference Friday May 9, 2014 Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini, who has passed away at the age of 97 Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut

Louis Zamperini, a WWII veteran, Olympic athlete, and collaborator to Angelina Jolie, has passed away at the age of 97. 

"Having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life, Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini has never broken down from a challenge," his family said in a statement on Thursday, July 3. "He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia." 

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"After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives," the statement continued. "His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days."

The late American hero has been working with Jolie on the upcoming film Unbroken, a picture Jolie is directing, which tells the amazing story of Zamperini's life. 

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He was an Olympic runner in the 1930s, going on to fight in World War II in the 1940s as a part of the United States Army Air Forces. During the war, his plane went down over the Pacific Ocean, forcing him to survive for 47 days on a life raft. He was then captured as a prisoner of war and kept in Japanese captivity for two years. 

Jolie is making her sophomore directorial effort with the film, which is an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 chronicling of Zamperini's story. 

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"It is a loss impossible to describe," Jolie said in a statement. "We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly." 

Set to hit theaters on Dec. 25, Unbroken stars Domnhall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Jack O'Connell, and Jai Courtney, among others. The project is due out from Universal Pictures, which released a statement on Zamperini's passing, as well. 

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"We are so profoundly sad at this moment and all of our thoughts and prayers are with the Zamperini family," the studio said. "Louis was truly one of a kind. He lived the most remarkable life, not because of the many unbelievable incidents that marked his near century's worth of years, but because of the spirit with which he faced every one of them. 

"Confronting challenges that would cause most of us to surrender, Louie always persevered and always prevailed, and he spent the better part of his lifetime sharing the message that you could do the same," the words continued. "His example of grace, dignity and resilience inspired all of us lucky enough to know him and the millions who got to know him from the pages of Laura's book. We move forward to the release of 'Unbroken' with a renewed sense of responsibility in bringing Louie's abundant life and indomitable spirit to the screen. Now more than ever, we join Angelina in honoring the lessons and legacy of this extraordinary man who has meant so much to so many." 

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