Louis Zamperini, the Olympian and World War II hero whose incredible story of survival after a crash into the Pacific Ocean and through years of torture in Japanese prison camps inspired millions, has died.
He was 97.
His family says Zamperini had been battling a case of pneumonia.
Universal Pictures, which is releasing Angelina Jolie’s upcoming movie adaptation of Unbroken, the bestselling book that told Zamperini’s story, confirmed the death on Thursday.
“[He] peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives,” said the studio. “His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”
It added, “We are so profoundly sad at this moment, and all of our thoughts and prayers are with the Zamperini family. 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.”
“It is a loss impossible to describe,” said Angelina Jolie in her own statement. “We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly.”
A star runner at the University of Southern California, Zamperini went on to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
When war broke out, he served as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
After Zamperini’s bomber went down in the ocean during a reconnaissance mission, he spent 47 days drifting in shark-infested waters before being captured by enemy Japanese forces.
He spent more than two years as a tortured prisoner of war.
Unbroken hits theaters in December.