At 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on going. Would you expect anything less from the Olympic runner who survived 47 days adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean and then spent two years in Japanese POW camps?
This month "Unbroken" marks a year on the L.A. Times bestsellers list. Since the book's publication, Zamperini has become one of the hardest-working men in the books biz, making nearly 50 appearances at World War II veteran events, Olympian luncheons, Italian halls, USC functions and churches across the country. He continues to inspire audiences with his unbelievable story of perseverance, faith and forgiveness. His travels have taken him to Washington, Boston, the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina. He's been invited to appear on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" in December.
Hillenbrand, who suffers from a debilitating case of chronic fatigue syndrome, was unable to go on a traditional book tour, so Zamperini stepped up, taking the reins in promoting "Unbroken." Just a few weeks ago, he finally met Hillenbrand in person at his home in Los Angeles. Previously, she had only spoken to him on the phone for the bulk of her research.
"He's devoted the rest of his life to getting the most people to read Laura's book," said John Naber, who accompanies Zamperini to his appearances. A fellow Olympian (five medals in swimming at the 1976 Montreal Olympics), Naber met Zamperini in 1983 but didn't hear about his WWII exploits until 13 years later. Read more about their special bond in Thursday's Sports section.
Zamperini, ahe Torrance native and USC alum, lives quietly in the Hollywood Hills, where he was once a neighbor of Aldous Huxley. A photo discovered in our archives shows Zamperini and his wife, Cynthia (she died in 2001), standing among the charred remains of Huxley's home, which burned (along with many of his manuscripts) in a brush fire in 1961.
Several film versions of Zamperini's life have been in discussion over the years. The first was based on his 1950s autobiography, "Devil at My Heels," with talks of Tony Curtis as the lead. In 1998, Nicholas Cage expressed interest after watching a CBS segment on Zamperini during the Nagano Olympics. The most recent rumors have Ryan Gosling starring as Zamperini in the "Unbroken" adaption. Now that Zamperini and his son are involved, hopefully he'll finally get to see his story told on the big screen.
Book review: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand
- Liesl Bradner
Upper photo: Louis Zamperini, "Unbroken," author Laura Hillenbrand and John Naber. Credit: Louis Zamperini.
Lower photo: The ruins of Aldous Huxley's home are surveyed Zamperini and his wife, Cynthia, after a May 13, 1961, fire. Credit: Los Angeles Times