Rome (AFP): Italian satirical dramatist Dario Fo, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1997, died on Thursday aged 90, prompting an outpouring of tributes for a provocative playwright unafraid to clash with authority.
The writer and actor succumbed to complications arising from a lung condition he had suffered for several years, his doctor told a news conference.
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 anti-conformist stance 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,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in comments carried by the Agi news agency.
“His satirical work, research, stage work and multi-faceted artistic activity are the legacy of a great Italian to the world.”
News of his death triggered a flood of reactions from across Italian society, from politicians to TV presenters to writers.
“The most joyous Nobel of all time died today. Instead of a tear, we owe him a smile,” the novelist Erri De Luca wrote on Twitter.
Fo was known for his humour, with a smile on his face in all his public appearances.
“I’m not afraid of death but I’m not courting it either. If you have lived well, it is the fair conclusion to life,” he told the Corriere della Sera recently.
– ‘Scourging authority’ -Fo died on the day the 2016 Nobel literature prize will be awarded, with another Italian, the mysterious Elena Ferrante, tipped by some for the prize.
The Nobel jury honoured Fo in 1997 for work which they said emulated “the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”.
He 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.
An anarchist in spirit, in recent years Fo fought for Italy’s populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
“The death of Dario Fo robs the country of a great critical voice, a spiritual guide with civic spirit. But it also robs the Five Star Movement of a fundamental reference point, a joyful companion on the road, happy and profound,” the movement’s parliamentary group said in a statement.
– ‘Blend of laughter, gravity’ -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 clear-sightedness 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 laughter with seriousness.
Born in Lombardy in northern Italy in 1926, Fo married the actress and activist Franca Rame in 1954. She died in 2013, aged 83.