ROME — Bud Spencer, the burly Italian actor who starred in dozens of genre movies including many widely exported Spaghetti Westerns such as “Trinity Is Still My Name,” which is among Italy’s all-time top grossing titles, has died. He was 86.
Spencer, whose real name was Carlo Pedersoli, passed away “peacefully” in Rome on Monday, his son Giuseppe Pedersoli said in a media statement that did not disclose the exact cause of death.
In the late 1960s, just as his acting career was starting to take off, Carlo Pedersoli changed his name to Bud Spencer as an homage to Budweiser beer and Spencer Tracy. He also reportedly thought it was ironic to call himself Bud despite his Herculean physique, which made him known to his fans as “the big friendly giant” of the screen.
Born in Naples in 1929, Spencer initially gained a measure of fame as an athlete, becoming the first Italian to swim the 100-meter freestyle in less than a minute and competing on Italy’s Olympic team in 1952 and 1956.
He then started taking on small parts such as the Praetorian Guard in MGM epic “Quo Vadis,” shot in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, and subsequently appeared in strictly local potboilers.
After changing his name, Spencer teamed up in 1967 with fellow Italian Terence Hill, whose real name is Mario Girotti, and that was the game-changer in both of their careers. They starred in the Giuseppe Colizzi-directed Western “God Forgives … I Don’t,” which was followed in 1968 by “Ace High,” also starring Eli Wallach. Then came “They Call Me Trinity” in 1970, which became Italy’s top-grossing title, a record they beat the following year with “Trinity Is Still My Name,” directed by Enzo Barboni.
These Spaghetti Westerns, made for the international market, gained legions of fans abroad for the duo, especially in Germany.
Bud Spencer “was an actor whom Italian cinema needs to thank because he took Italian movies around the world,” Fox Italy president Osvaldo De Santis told Sky.
All told, Spencer and Hill made 18 movies together, including “The Knock Out Cop” in 1973, “Crime Busters” in 1977, and “Double Trouble” in 1984.
During the 1980s and ’90s Spencer had a very active solo career in Italian TV, including series “Big Man,” “Detective Extralarge,” and, in 2010, “I Delitti del Cuoco,” in which he played a retired cop who opens a restaurant on the Island of Ischia but continues to bust crimes.
In 2003 Spencer appeared in his first bonafide dramatic role in revered Italian auteur Ermanno Olmi’s “Singing Behind Screens,” in which he plays an old captain who narrates the fable-like film from the deck of a large Chinese junk.
In 2005 Spencer briefly entered politics after then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi asked him to run as a regional councilor, but he was not elected.
He is survived by his wife, Maria Amato, and three children, Giuseppe, Christine, and Diamante.