During his 60-year career Ben Gazzara appeared in more than 100 films and TV movies and more than a few of those were Italian.
Born Biagio Anthony Gazzara the New York native of Sicilian heritage’s parents immigrated from Italy and often spoke Italian at home, giving Gazzara a language skill that served him well when he began making films in Italy.
We might know him from the TV show Run For Your Life, but Italians know him from Giuseppe Tornatore‘s ( Cinema Paradiso, Malèna ) first film, the 1986 Il Camorrista (member of the Camorra).
Based on the real story of one of the Camorra’s bosses, Raffaele Cutolo, Gazarra plays the criminal, “Il professore” (the professor). He is in prison, and from there he is able to build, step by step, an empire founded on murders and drugs. He starts a war to destroy all the old Camorra bosses and becomes the new “boss of the bosses”. With his sister’s help he manages to escape from prison, move to New York, and start a new relationship the Italian American Mafia.
Ben Gazzara died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 81.