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Gian Maria Volontè

Gian Maria Volontè in his later years
Born 9 April 1933(1933-04-09)
Milan, Italy
Died 6 December 1994 (aged 61)
Florina, Greece
Other name(s) Johnny Wels
Spouse(s) Armenia Balducci
Domestic partner(s) Carla Gravina
Angelica Ippolito (1977-his death)

Gian Maria Volontè (9 April 1933 – 6 December 1994) was an Italian actor. He is perhaps most famous outside of Italy for his roles as the main villain in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (credited in the USA as "Johnny Wels") and For a Few Dollars More.


Volontè was born in Milan, and graduated in Rome in 1957. He had a brief career as a television and theatre (Shakespeare, Goldoni) actor, before concentrating on his film career. He made his debut in 1960 in with Sotto dieci bandiere, directed by Duilio Coletti. Just four years later, Volontè played "Ramón Rojo" in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and "El Indio" in For a Few Dollars More (1965), both for cash reasons as he didn't consider either role seriously. Both films were directed by the then-unknown Sergio Leone, and Volontè's roles in them would bring him his greatest recognition from American audiences.

His performances as memorable but neurotic characters, together with the unexpected, worldwide success of the films, gave him international fame. Volontè had already played comedies, including A cavallo della tigre (1961), by Luigi Comencini, and confirmed his versatility in L'armata Brancaleone (1966). However, he found his main dimension in dramatic roles for Banditi a Milano (1968), by Carlo Lizzani, Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina (1972) by Marco Bellocchio, La Classe operaia va in paradiso (1972) by his friend Elio Petri and Il sospetto (1975) by Francisco Maselli.

In 1968 he won a Silver Ribbon as best actor for A ciascuno il suo, also directed by Elio Petri. Volontè received the same award for two other performances: Petri's Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (1971, winner of an Academy Award as best foreign film), considered by many to be his finest; and in Opera al nero (1989). In 1983 he won the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for La Mort de Mario Ricci. Four years later, at the Berlin International Film Festival, he was again Best Actor for Il caso Moro. In 1990 he was declared best European actor for Porte aperte. In 1991, at the Venice Film Festival, he won a Golden Lion for his career as a whole.

Volontè also played numerous roles outside Italy. He was a strong political activist and known for his left-leaning views.

He died from a heart attack in 1994 at Florina, Greece during the filming of Ulysses' Gaze, directed by Theo Angelopoulos. His role in the film was recast to Erland Josephson.

Companion of Italian actress Carla Gravina for almost 10 years, they met when they played Romeo and Juliet in the theatre in 1960. The two had a daughter Giovanna born in the early 1960s.

Companion of actress Angelica Ippolito from 1977 until his death in 1994.

As he asked, Volontè's final resting place is a small cemetery on the Sardinian island of Isola della Maddalena.

Selected filmography

External links



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