NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
As a boy growing up in Palermo, Sicily, in the 1950s, Antonio Sabāto dreamed of becoming a movie star.
Hed sneak into cinemas to watch the latest films of Luchino Visconti. He ran away from home more than once to infiltrate the Cinecittā film studio in Rome and try to talk his way into jobs. He adored American movies and idolized Marlon Brando.
Sabāto realized his ambition: He became a popular Italian actor known for his roles in a gamut of spaghetti Westerns and action movies from the 1960s through the 1980s. Among them were Beyond the Law, with Lee Van Cleef, and Twice a Judas, with Klaus Kinski, both from 1968.
In 1983, he played resistance leader Dablone in the cult classic Escape From the Bronx.
Sabāto died at 77 on Jan. 10 at a hospice in Hemet, California. The cause was complications of COVID-19, his son, actor Antonio Sabāto Jr., said.
Antonio Sr. was born on April 2, 1943, in Montelepre, a town outside Palermo. His father, Giuseppe, was a port manager in Palermo. His mother, Agata (Parinello) Sabāto, was a homemaker.
In an interview on Italian state television in his later years, Sabāto remembered an early break in the mid-1960s: Director Vittorio De Sica cast him in a bit part in the anthology film The Witches (1967). That was my debut in cinema, he said.
By the time that film was finally released, however, he had already caught a bigger break: being cast in John Frankenheimers 1966 car racing classic, Grand Prix. He starred as the Italian Formula One driver Nino Barlini, alongside James Garner and Yves Montand. The film won three Academy Awards, and Sabāto was recognized at the Golden Globes with a nomination for most promising newcomer.
I was picked out of 2,000 people, he said of the Grand Prix audition. Evidently I was the one John Frankenheimer was looking for. He added: So I did Grand Prix as one of its four protagonists. And I got to drive a Ferrari.
Living in Rome, Sabāto became part of the citys glamorous international cultural scene. Stars like Claudia Cardinale and Sophia Loren frequented his dinner parties, and he befriended directors like Franco Zeffirelli.
But Sabāto dreamed of acting in America, and in the mid-1980s he moved to Los Angeles. Hollywood, though, wasnt as welcoming as he thought it would be.
They never treated him as a leading actor, his son said. The agents only sent him out for supporting roles: the cook or the chef. Why couldnt he play the lawyer? He added: My dad was off the boat. If you had an accent, you didnt have the same kind of opportunity here.
But Sabāto embraced life in America and settled in California. He married Yvonne Saghy in 1971. They divorced in the 1990s. In addition to his son, his survivors include a daughter, Simonne Sabāto, and three grandchildren.
In his later years he traveled to Sicily frequently and relished boating. He enjoyed attending the Indianapolis 500 with his old Grand Prix co-star, Garner, who died in 2014 at 86. And as the decades passed, his film legacy was revisited by fans of classic cinema in Italy.
That newfound interest included the Italian state television interview, a long recapping of his career. Sabāto was relaxing on a boat at a dock in Marina del Rey, California, when he was approached for the interview.
Are you really Antonio Sabāto? he was asked.
From the very day I was born, he replied.
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