“My father died peacefully at 6:15 p.m. and did not suffer from pain, he had all of us next to him and his last words were ‘Thank you’,” his son Giuseppe Pedersoli, a film producer, said in a note to the media.
Most know Spencer as the hulking actor who played a (somewhat) gentle giant who nonetheless liked to slap around goons and take bad men down with a single punch in films like “God Forgives … I Don’t,” “Beyond the Law” and “They Call Me Trinity,” but he didn’t begin acting until he was 38 years old. Before that he made a name for himself in the swimming pool.
That name was Carlo Pedersoli, the one he was born with in Naples in 1929.
He spent his childhood swimming after moving to Rome with his family at age 11. After a stint in Rio de Janeiro, he moved back to Rome in 1948 and began focusing more seriously on his swimming career while studying law at the University of Rome. His time in the pool paid off — in 1950, he would become the first Italian to swim the 100 m freestyle in under a minute. He competed as a swimmer in the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956. Additionally, he was a nationally renowned water polo player.
During this time he had minor roles in a few films — which he attributed to “being very well known as an athlete and a very attractive man” — but was drawn to his swimming career and the love of his life, Maria Amato.
After marrying Amato in 1960, he moved on from swimming and spent four years composing Neapolitan folk and pop songs for RCA.
And that was only his first act.
It wasn’t until 1967 that he gained the name that the Italian prime minister would tweet on his final day.
That year, Italian director Giuseppe Colizzi asked him to star in “God Forgives … I Don’t,” despite his lack of acting experience. Colizzi, a friend of Pedersoli’s wife, deeply admired the swimmer and thought he might be perfect for the role, according to Spencer’s official biography. When Pedersoli finally accepted, the production company requested he use an American-sounding name, so the film could more easily be marketed in the states.
Pedersoli decided to create his name from two of his favorite American exports — Budweiser beer and the acting of Spencer Tracy. Thus, Bud Spencer was born.
Starring across from him in the spaghetti western was Mario Girotti, otherwise known as Terence Hill. The two would go on to become close friends and make dozens of films together. What began as a list of westerns (and parodies of westerns) eventually widened to include slapstick buddy comedies in which the two played everything from stunt buggy drivers to missionaries to island-dwelling banana farmers.
The films did well, particularly in Italy, Hungary and Germany. In 1972, the New York Times called Spencer a “grizzled bear of a man” who “couldn’t be more likable” and praised the duo’s films for their “carbolic impudence and scarcity of gore.” Characters didn’t generally die in their movies and, if there was violence, it was played for laughs.
In a 1983 interview, Bud Spencer said, “Terence and I, we don’t like the violence, and for this reason, our violence is comic violence.”
Their screwball comedies did one thing well: made people feel good.
Even in the social media age, the duo’s sense of humor did not dissipate. Here’s a post on Spencer’s Instagram from just a week ago, showing the two enjoying some … err … well-portioned bowls of pasta.
But Spencer’s interests were ever changing, and after playing a pilot in “All the Way Boys,” he decided to become one in real life. That led him to found Mistral Air in 1981.
Toward the end of his life Spencer grew even more serious in his pursuits and attempted an unsuccessful political run at the request of then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
“In my life, I’ve done everything,” Spencer said of the run. “There are only three things I haven’t been — a ballet dancer, a jockey and a politician. Given that the first two jobs are out of the question, I’ll throw myself into politics.”
He never made another political run, but instead continued making films and spending time with his wife, Maria, to whom he remained married from 1960 until his death Monday, and his three children, Giuseppe, Christine and Diamante.
If the outpouring of affection on Twitter is any indication, he will be deeply missed.