Louis Zamperini Dies; War Hero Served as Inspiration for Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’

Unbroken Angelina Jolie

Louis Zamperini, a World War II hero whose life is the subject of the upcoming film “Unbroken,” died from pneumonia in Los Angeles on July 2. He was 97.

Universal Pictures released statements early Thursday from the Zamperini family and Angelina Jolie, who directed the upcoming film. The movie is based on “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand.

Zamperini competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a distance runner and went on to fight in WWII as a U.S. Army Air Force bombardier; he became a prisoner of war after he survived a crash in shark-infested waters in the Pacific.

“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,” the family said in a statement. “He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia. 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. His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”

Universal Pictures said in its statement:  “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.”

Universal is releasing “Unbroken” on Christmas Day.

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


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  1. Andrew B. says:

    I just read a short biography about him and all I can say is, he’s a real and a great example of an american hero.

  2. Paul Huddle says:

    Louis Zamperini was and is a great hero and a great man. It was my privilege to have spent a little time with him. I remember fondly having lunch with Louis, and his special friend and fellow Olympian, John Naber, in Pasadena, and talking about the values he held in his heart that he wanted to share with others. He was a true spiritual brother, and his deep faith in Jesus Christ marked his life of loving service to others. Louis, I know you’ve heard the words of our Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” You will be greatly missed on “The narrow Way.”

  3. I am D.O.C says:

    I have spent a life time honoring the people who look upon this day as a way to honor a word called independence. Your children and you, and I. Stand tall to respect them and their families. I will soon send this. I have no idea who gets to read it. Thank You for standing for that veteran. Off subject you said you wouldnt change your security because you husband is a strong man. Your a strong woman i can hit Brad I cant hit girls. As I said I don’t even know who gets to read this. I just want to say Thank You for helping that old vet smile.

  4. Jack says:

    Bless you Louis Zamparini and your fighting spirit the greatest generation for sure. I read Unbroken twice a great read. I’m looking forward to the film. RIP Louis.

  5. Catherine says:

    Listen to Louie Zamparini in this interview from May 2011!

  6. Carlos T. Jackal says:

    Looking forward to this movie. I read the Hillenbrand book, of course. Angelina Jolie is directing the film, as noted, but the screenplay was written by Joel & Ethan Cohen, so this should be great.

  7. pam belch says:

    Amazing story. Incredibly brave man. Read his story.

  8. Nils says:

    Jolie directed an as-yet unreleased film that is based upon an excellent book written by Laura Hillenbrand. Jolie’s work may be wonderful but who knows? Hillenbrand brought the tale to the world, please revise your title.

    • Cynthia says:

      I totally agree with you. Laura Hillenbrand brought this poignant story to the world, did the research and deserves the credit. To overcredit Angelina Jolie is typical of a big name versus an honorable author and work of art. Read the book several times in as many years and keep encouraging others to read it as well. I guess it will be overlooked as it was not on Oprah’s must read list; however, again a big name versus an honorable author and work of art.

  9. Elizabeth Lane says:

    I was so moved and touched by his biography. He is truly an American hero.
    May his soul rest in peace.

  10. James Hunt says:

    Lauren Hilderbrand wrote the book, she deserves the credit.

    • bck337@gmail.com says:

      Agree. Why would they say “Angelina’s” Unbroken. This is Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. He was HER inspiration.

  11. mlevesque says:

    It is admirable that Jolie wants to do the movie, but he was the inspiration for Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken.

  12. Big Italy says:

    I read the book 2 yrs ago, it totally brought tears to my eyes, what a story and what a man! To go thru all that BS and then FORGIVE everyone – I don’t think I could of done that myself. I was sad to hear of his passing I wanted him to be alive to see the movie of his life – I hope he got a private screening before hand. We need MORE like Mr. Zamperini on planet earth. God bless him, he will be missed.

  13. Nettie Kennedy says:

    Louis’s life is a monument to an undaunted hero. He is a true hero. His story is unprralled in horror & personal victories. An amazing man.

  14. Doc says:

    I read the book. Unbelievable what he went through. I don’t see how the movie can do the book justice.
    That is, unless the movie was 4 hours or so long.

  15. Judith Bryant says:

    Ditto everything Violet said below. CBS Sunday Morning had a nice segment on Hillenbrand and Louis Zamperini finally meeting a few years ago. Angelina Jolie just knew a good thing when she read it.

  16. Violet says:

    In fairness, I wouldn’t refer to it as “Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’.” It’s Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken,” from which the movie was developed. I have great admiration for Hillenbrand, who wrote both “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” while suffering a debilitating illness that leaves her home bound. In any event, Louis Zamperini was an amazing man whose heroism will never be forgotten.

    • Carmel Dagan says:

      Regardless of how impressive the author of the source material may be, it is a universal convention to refer to a film as being the director’s — hence Jolie’s “Unbroken.” This convention holds even when the author is directly involved in the film, but in this case, Hillenbrand had nothing at all to do with the film since other writers, including the Coen brothers, adapted her book and wrote the script.

      • Violet says:

        Understood, but the headline seems to imply that Jolie found Zamperini. In fact he was sadly, forgotten by the public until Hillenbrand wrote the book, and it was the book that inspired Jolie to make the film. But I quibble, because on a day like today, it’s not about anyone but Zamp, who was so amazing. His ability to forgive is something I doubt I could have done. He really found a way to live joyfully and happily, and he is such an inspiration for that in addition to everything else.

  17. M. F. Sibley says:

    You sir, were a gentleman in every sense of the word and an inspiration for millions. The word “hero” is sometimes thrown around carelessly in today’s world, but you truly earned it. I salute you as I am sure many others do. God bless you!

  18. r says:

    Read Unbroken.

    Then wonder why the USA didn’t aggressively go after Japanese war criminals.

    • robRmh says:

      Please show respect and honor the passing of this brave man who lived a life of great courage, devotion to his country and love of family. R.I.P. Mr. Zamperini

  19. Jackie says:

    What a lovely photo. What a lovely man…

    • Mike says:

      That’s because the majority chose seppuku instead of surrender! In plain terms it’s evisceration using their swords or with grenades. I’ve was stationed on Okinawa for many years and took many battle field tours.

  20. Thanks Angelina for telling us his story. Please tell everyone that there is a National Day of Remembrance of the final day of WWII, known as VJ Day, Victory over Japan. The reason and focus of this event is to honor WWII Veterans and all Greatest Generation Americans who know the day they learned WWII ended. They will be asked by children, “Where were you on August 14th, 1945?” They will tell the children their memory of where they were and what they were doing, but also express how proud they were to be American, victorious, but also when they discovered our USA setting out to repair lives at home and abroad. Was there a more proud day in America in our memory? Celebrate this everywhere. Here are more details:San Diego and 1000 cities and towns will celebrate this National Day of Remembrance in America for the last day of WWII. The Spirit of ’45 Day. This started in 2010 and this is our 5th year. I am writing to ask for your appearance to say what you can about our Greatest Generation Veterans and the values they can share with our children. This take place annually (5th) day at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park. 100 WWII Veterans will attend and tell stories to over 300 children and family members. Honor Flight is participating fully.

    In 2009 a national campaign called KEEP THE SPIRIT OF ’45 ALIVE, was dedicated to preserving the legacy of our World War II generation by honoring them on National Spirit of ’45 Day, which has been designated by the Senate and House to be observed on the second Sunday of every August. This coincides with August 14, 1945, the day President Truman announced that WWII had ended and America took up the task for rebuilding the world. This day salutes those who served in uniform and on the home front, pays tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and mobilizes all Americans and future generations to carry on the legacy of national unity and commitment to service of the World War II generation. Men and women who remember the day World War II ended on August 14, 1945, are invited to attend special events in their communities to answer this question by children “Where were you on August 14th 1945?” The Greatest Generation Veterans tell their stories and knows to tell these children what it was like to be a proud American at that time. This simple conversation is a joy for the Veterans but is meant to cause an important moment in the child’s life to view and retain the values of VJ Day, a special day and the years following when USA repairs lives at home and abroad.
    Today hundreds of WWII Veterans pass, with their stories and an important part of our heritage that earned our liberty. Thank them any day you see one. You will remember your conversation and repeat it the rest of your lives. Now a true National Day of Remembrance, this has the potential to be a National Holiday! Happy 4th of July! Dan – Spirit of ’45 Day, San Diego

  21. Brad says:

    So saddened by the news. He was a great man and a great example. Please read the book. It will give you perspective in life.

  22. Wesla Kerr says:

    I remember Louie as the big brother of my best friend Virginia all those many years ago. She allowed to to examine the Nazi flag he “liberated” at the Olympics. Farewell Louie!

  23. Chanda Dicke says:

    OMG — my stepfather died on D-Day this year when I began this book. Like my the hero in this book, my stepfather was an Olympic participant, carried the torch in the same year and was in WWII as a POW. He would never talk about the war — so this was heartbreaking to read. I finished the book yesterday and then saw that he died on the same day. I am “creeped.”

  24. Dennis says:

    He contributed more to the world as one man than all the so-called ‘stars’ in Hollywood put together..

  25. Lola says:

    I had hoped he’d live to see the opening of Unbroken. As sad as I am to hear of his passing, I am so thankful to have been inspired by his life through Laura Hillenbrand’s masterpiece.

  26. Luka Bearss says:

    Such an inspirational story and a remarkable person. Godspeed sir.

  27. Susan Allenback says:

    He was a true American hero and a genuinely nice man who was still able to smile and laugh and be generous of heart even after unspeakable suffering at sea and torture by his captors when he was a POW. The Fourth of July will see a new shining star in the night sky. Thank you, Louis Zamperini.

  28. Louis Zamperini is an example of the courage that generation displayed throughout their life. Some say it was a different time but I say there are many present day heroes that still are living, quietly and unassuming. Thank you Laura Hillebrand for reminding us of their greatness.

  29. pinnickderek says:

    I wonder if Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken, which tells the story of Louis Zamperini, could be Jolie’s inspiration as well. Seems odd to not even mention it.

  30. Eileen Green says:

    A true American Patriot and hero! Thank you Louis Zamperini for your great service to our country. You are truly an inspiration! May you rest in peace.

  31. david says:

    R.I.P. to a truly great American…

  32. Michele Persak says:

    I read the book last year. Can’t wait to see the movie. I went on an Honors Bus tour with WWII Vets back in May to the Monument in DC. It was an honor for me to be with these great men from the Greatest Generation. May God bless our military and the USA the day before Independence Day.

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