World War II hero and former Olympic long-distance runner Louis Zamperini died Wednesday from pneumonia at the age of 97, his family announced in a statement. Zamperini, also a prisoner of war in World War II and recipient of a Purple Heart medal for his service with the U.S. Army Air Forces, was the subject of the upcoming film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie and based on Laura Hillenbrand’s novel Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.
“After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives,” the Zamperini family said in a statement. “His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”
In a statement, Jolie said, “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.”
Universal Pictures also released a 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. 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. 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.
The studio added that they are moving forward to the December 25, 2014 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 many.”