War hero Louis Zamperini dies, but story will live on in 'Unbroken'

Louis Zamperini, the Olympian and World War II hero, has died -- but his story will live on in 'Unbroken'

The remarkable life of Louis Zamperini — the Olympic runner turned World War II bombardier who survived a plane crash in the Pacific, being stranded in a raft and being tortured by the Japanese — has ended. Zamperini died Wednesday at the age of 97.

Zamperini's story, however, will live on in "Unbroken," the upcoming biographical drama directed by Angelina Jolie and based on the bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand.

One of Hollywood's longest-gestating projects, the movie that would finally become "Unbroken" has been kicking around at Universal Pictures for more than 50 years, since the studio bought the rights to Zamperini's 1956 memoir "Devil at My Heels" and planned for Tony Curtis to star.

Other actors and filmmakers associated with the project over the years include Nicolas Cage, Ashton Kutcher, Antoine Fuqua and Tom Shadyac.

The film will finally see the light of day this Christmas, with newcomer Jack O'Connell playing Zamperini. The script is by Joel and Ethan Coen, who rewrote earlier drafts by William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese.

Though it has taken decades for a Zamperini movie to get made, his life story seems tailor-made for the screen. A Torrance-raised tough kid turned track star, Zamperini ran at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he was roommates with Jesse Owens and impressed Adolf Hitler with his speed.

Seven years later, while serving in the war, his B-24 malfunctioned and crashed, killing most of the crew and leaving Zamperini adrift on a life raft. After 47 days at sea, Zamperini and a fellow survivor were captured by the Japanese, who tortured them for more than two years.

Zamperini returned home emotionally battered but eventually became an inspirational speaker and evangelical Christian youth worker. He remained spry well into his twilight years and was chosen to be grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade.

For more on his life, read Zamperini's full obituary.

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