Louis Zamperini, World War II hero slated to lead Rose Parade, dies at 97

Louis Zamperini -- the Olympic athlete turned World War II hero who was named grand marshal for the 2015 Rose Parade -- has died. He was 97.

PHOTOS: American hero Louis Zamperini chosen as 2015 Rose Parade Grand Marshal

Zamperini, whose harrowing life story inspired the bestselling novel "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption," grew up in Torrance and was set to lead the iconic parade down Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard Jan. 1. He died Wednesday.

Zamperini will remain the symbolic leader of the event.

“Louis Zamperini was and will continue to be the embodiment of the 2015 Tournament of Roses theme ‘Inspiring Stories,’” said Richard L. Chinen, president of the Tournament of Roses. “As we mourn the passing of a member of the Tournament of Roses family, one who was moved to be asked to serve as grand marshal, we are honored to shine the light on one who truly lived a life of unconditional love, courageous perseverance and patient endurance.”

In a statement issued by Universal Pictures, which is scheduled to release a film based on Zamperini's life in December, Zamperini was described as "one of a kind" who lived "the most remarkable life," the Los Angeles Times reports

"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," the studio said.

Zamperini died in the presence of his "entire family," according to Universal, which did not list a cause of death.

A standout track-and-field star at USC, Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he was the top U.S. finisher in the 5,000-meter race.

He retired from running during World War II and joined the U.S. armed forces. While serving as a bombardier on a reconnaissance mission, his aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He survived 47 days on an inflatable raft in shark-infested waters until being captured by the Japanese.

Zamperini remained in captivity for two years, during which time he was tortured, and was eventually listed as being killed in action by the U.S. government.

The book about his experiences was a bestseller and the basis for the long-planned film adaptation, "Unbroken," directed by Angelina Jolie.

The actress-filmmaker said in a statement that Zamperini's death was a loss that was "impossible to describe."

"We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him," she said. "We will miss him terribly.”

It was not immediately known how the Tournament of Roses, which puts on the Rose Parade, would address Zamperini's death.

For news as it happens in California, follow @JasonBretWells

Mark Kellam contributed to this report.


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