Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997, has died at the age of 90, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced Thursday.
Left-winger Fo, one of the leading figures in 20th century farce and political theatre, was best known for his works “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” and “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay”.
His opposition to conformism and commitment to political and social causes involved him in numerous court cases and controversies with the Italian state, police, censors, television and even the Vatican.
“With Dario Fo’s death, Italy has lost one of the great characters of its theatre, culture and civilian life. His satirical work, research, stage work and multifaceted artistic activity are the legacy of a great Italian to the world,” Renzi said in comments carried by the AGI news agency.
The Nobel jury honoured him for his work which they said emulated “the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”.
Fo stirred controversy with his 1969 work “Mistero buffo” (“Comical Mystery”), a retelling of the Christian gospels in an improvised format, condemned by the pope at the time as “desecrating Italian religious feelings”.
His 2003 play “The Two-Headed Anomaly”, which took aim at Italy’s then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi sold out in the theatre but was censored on television after a complaint by one of the billionaire politician’s aides.
A committed follower of the political hard left, Fo was refused a visa to the United States in 1980 because of his membership in “Soccorso Rosso,” an organisation supporting prison inmates.
The Vatican reacted in horror at Fo’s Nobel, with its newspaper L’Osservatore Romano saying that bestowing the award on “the author of questionable works is beyond all imagination”.
But the Swedish Academy hailed the Italian as an “extremely serious satirist with a multifaceted oeuvre”.
“With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed,” the jury said.
“His independence and clearsightedness have led him to take great risks, whose consequences he has been made to feel while at the same time experiencing enormous response from widely differing quarters.”
Fo’s work was characterised by absurdist language, which mingled local dialects, Latin phrases and literary quotations and mixed up laughter with seriousness.
Born in Lombardy, northern Italy in 1926, Fo married the actress and activist Franca Rame in 1954. She died in 2013, aged 83.