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De Laurentiis, pivotal producer of 'Serpico', dies

The Associated Press, Thursday, November 11, 2010, 8:48am (PST)

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

The Academy Award-winning 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.

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

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 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 Academy Award-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.

One of the first producers to understand the box-office potential of foreign audiences, he 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's often package the blockbusters with art films to secure distribution for the smaller films.

He got off to a strong start in the United States with "Serpico", then followed it up with another success, "Three days of the Condor," (Robert Redford).

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

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.

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