Nobel laureate, jester, political provocateur

ROME • Italian satirical dramatist Dario Fo (pictured), 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-actor succumbed to complications arising from a lung condition he had suffered for years, his doctor told a news conference.

He was banned, censored, rebuked, reviled and refused a United States visa for his political affiliations. Yet he won the Nobel Prize in 1997 and many of his 40-odd plays were translated and performed to packed houses all over the world.

Mime, stand-up comic, historian and political commentator, and described by one critic as "quite possibly the world's largest performing rabbit", he was a darling of the avant-garde, but a thorn in the side of bureaucrats and politicians.

"With Dario Fo's death, Italy has lost one of the great characters of its theatre, culture and civilian life," said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in comments carried by AGI news agency.

Fo's work became more political in response to the popular uprisings and turmoil of 1968. He found a ready audience for his topical satire, epitomised by Mistero Buffo - a retelling of the Christian gospels in an improvised format, which let him comment on everything from corruption in the Catholic Church to contemporary social and political issues. The play outraged the Vatican and was condemned by the Pope.

In 1970, Fo broke with the communists and formed a new troupe, La Comune, with one of his best known works, Accidental Death Of An Anarchist, opening that year.

He had numerous run-ins with the Italian government and his works resulted in court cases.

His 2003 play The Two-Headed Anomaly, which took aim at Italy's then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian president Vladimir Putin, was censored on television.

Fo ran for mayor of Milan in 2006 and, in recent years, fought for Italy's populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

The Nobel jury honoured him for work which emulated "the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Nobel laureate, jester, political provocateur'. Print Edition | Subscribe