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Louis Zamperini: Olympian And WW2 Hero Dies
Louis Zamperini, the Olympic athlete and World War Two veteran who survived for weeks on a raft in the Pacific, has died aged 97.
Angelina Jolie, who has directed a movie about Zamperini's extraordinary life, due for release later this year, was among the first to pay tribute.
She said his loss was "impossible to describe" and added: "We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly."
In a statement, Zamperini's family said he had been suffering from pneumonia.
"After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives," the family said.
"His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days."
Zamperini first caught America's attention with his run in the 5,000 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Although he finished eighth, his speedy 56-second final lap led to an admiring handshake from the German leader, Adolf Hitler.
During the war, Zamperini was aboard a bomber that crashed in the Pacific Ocean during a reconnaissance mission.
He and one of the other surviving crew members drifted for 47 days on a raft in shark-infested waters before being captured by Japanese forces.
He spent more than two years as a prisoner of war, surviving torture.
Zamperini became a born-again Christian in 1949 after attending a Los Angeles gathering led by evangelist Billy Graham.
He eventually travelled as an inspirational speaker preaching the power of forgiveness.
At 81, Zamperini ran a leg in the torch relay for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
During his visit, he attempted to meet his most brutal wartime tormentor, Mutsuhiro Watanabe.
But Watanabe, who escaped prosecution as a war criminal, refused to see him.
Zamperini's story was told in Lauren Hillenbrand's book, Unbroken.
She called Zamperini "the grandest, most buoyant, most generous soul I ever knew".
"In a life of almost unimaginable drama," she said, "he experienced supreme triumphs, but also brutal hardship, incomprehensible suffering, and the cruelty of his fellow man.
"But Louie greeted every challenge of his long journey with singular resilience, determination and ingenuity, with a ferocious will to survive and prevail, and with hope that knew no master."
Although Zamperini spent most of his life in California, a group in his native city of Olean in New York is raising funds to build a memorial to him.