ANGELINA JOLIE has paid tribute to Olympian and war hero LOUIS ZAMPERINI, the inspiration for her forthcoming film UNBROKEN, following his death at the age of 97.
Zamperini, a long-distance runner who became a Japanese prisoner of war, passed away on Wednesday (02Jul14) after a battle with pneumonia.
His family confirmed the sad news in a statement, which reads, "Having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life, Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini has never broken down from a challenge. He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia... His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days."
Jolie grew close to Zamperini while she was working on the movie based on his life story, which is due for release later this year (14), and she offered an emotional tribute to her late friend, saying, "It is a loss impossible to describe. We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly."
A statement from Universal Pictures, the studio behind Unbroken, adds, "We are so profoundly sad at this moment and all of our thoughts and prayers are with the Zamperini family. Louis was truly one of a kind. He lived the most remarkable life... We move forward to the release of Unbroken with a renewed sense of responsibility in bringing Louis' abundant life and indomitable spirit to the screen."
Zamperini competed in the 5,000 meters race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Germany and impressed dictator Adolf Hitler with a remarkably fast final lap despite finishing eighth over all.
He joined the Air Force in 1941 after the outbreak of World War II, and his plane crash landed the Pacific Ocean in 1943. He spent 47 days at sea on a raft fending off shark attacks and battling adverse weather conditions before being captured by Japanese forces. Zamperini was held in captivity until 1945, and returned to America to a hero's welcome.
Unbroken is due for release in December (14) and stars British actor Jack O'Connell as Zamperini.