Louis Zamperini, war hero chosen to lead 2015 Rose Parade, dies at 97

Louis Zamperini
Louis Zamperini gestures during a news conference on May 9, 2014, in Pasadena, where he was announced as the 2015 Rose Parade grand marshal.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

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.

Zamperini, whose harrowing life story inspired the bestselling biography “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.

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.”




July 14, 4:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post described “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” as a novel. It is a biography.


“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.


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