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Culture

Dario Fo, Italian playwright and Nobel laureate for literature, dies at 90

Nobel prize-winning Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo has died. Always opposed to those in power, the satirist kept writing, painting and provoking until the end of his life.

The Italian government confirmed on Thursday that Dario Fo died at the age of 90.

According to the "Corriere della Sera" newspaper, Fo died in a Milan hospital where he had been admitted 12 days ago with lung problems.

Famous for his cutting political satire in plays such as "The Accidental Death of an Anarchist," Fo won the Nobel prize for literature in 1997 - much to the the irritation of Italy's politicians and Church authorities.

Dario Fo enjoyed provocatively belittling the recognition: "I'm an idiot who won the Literature Nobel Prize," he would often say in interviews. He worked as an actor, playwright, comedian, satirist, singer, theater director, stage designer, songwriter, painter and political campaigner.

He always felt that Italy's true intellectuals were comedians: "The most significant work of our culture is Dante's 'Divine Comedy'," he pointed out in an interview with the German weekly "Die Zeit" in 2013.

"Satire can always be found everywhere. A people without love for satire is a dead people," he also said - something that certainly does not apply to the Italian people, who loved their provocative Dario Fo.

Drawing before writing

Dario Fo leaves behind a very complex oeuvre. Until the very end, he was active and creative, writing more than 70 plays and sketches, trying out just about everything one can do in theater, film and television.

Fo published hundreds of articles and painted countless pictures, most of them for the stage. Before he would start writing or working on a story, he would always draw first. "While drawing, I discover what I really want to say," he explained.

The Italian author and comedian wrote and told countless stories throughout his life. He learned this art from the children of smugglers, fishermen and peasants around the Lago Maggiore, where he was born on March 24, 1926.

At the age of 14, he started to study at the Accademia di Brera in Milano, where he learned various painting techniques - under the bombardments of World War II.

Favorite foes: the government and the Catholic Church

Dario Fo helped his father, who was active in the Resistance movement during the war, to smuggle refugees and deserters to Switzerland.

It therefore came as a surprise that at age 18, Dario Fo joined a fascist elite troop for a short time. Later on, he became a staunch leftist, although he never became a member of Italy's Communist Party with whose officials he was usually at odds.

What he certainly enjoyed was to poke fun at the Christian Conservatives, who were everywhere on public television. As a punishment for some sarcastic remarks he made, he was even banned from TV during the 60s. His favorite foes were the dignitaries of the Catholic Church. Very proudly, he called himself a "cleric devourer," yearning for a "laughing God," even though he was an atheist.

Arrested on stage

Dario Fo served several prison sentences for his artistic and political ideas. The satirist was arrested 47 times - often while he was on stage. Yet these attempts to humiliate him never stopped him.

Dario Fo with his wife Franca Rame at a protest against Berlusconi in 2009 (AP)

Dario Fo with his wife Franca Rame at a protest against Berlusconi in 2009

He did not shy away from attacking Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In his absurd short play from 2004, "L'anomalo bicefalo" (The anomalous bicephalous), he provocatively recommended the transplantation of half of Putin's brain into Berlusconi's head.

"We are convinced that laughter is the highest expression of doubt, the most important support for reason," said the author of popular stories who always saw himself as a spokesperson for the poor and downtrodden, attacking those in power at any given occasion.

Quite often, he was on stage accompanied by his wife Franca Rame, with whom he was married from 1954 until her death in 2013. The beautiful actress born in a traditional theater family was the one who taught him how to perform.

A contradictory view at life and death

In 1997, the Literature Nobel Prize was awarded to Dario Fo, "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."

"The Pope's Daughter," his first novel, was just published in 2014, at the age of 88. In his memoirs, released through a series of long interviews a few years earlier, he already felt he didn't have much longer to live. "Life has always treated me well," he said. "I therefore won't mind leaving it behind."

 

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