Adolfo Celi Biography
Adolfo Celi was a celebrated Italian film actor and director whose career spanned many decades. Born in Curcuraci, Messina, Sicily, he made his mark in the industry, appearing in close to a hundred films and specializing in playing international villains.
He’s best known in Italian and South American cinema, but it was his role as Bond villain Emilio Largo in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball (1965) that earned him international recognition.
Adolfo Celi’s first role was in Italian movie A Yank in Rome (1946), but soon after he emigrated to Brazil, and co-founded the Teatro Brasileiro de Comédia with some of Brazil’s most renowned stage actors. He also made a name for himself as a successful stage actor in Argentina and Brazil, directing several films in South America, including the popular Brazilian movie Tico-Tico no Fubá in 1952.
Celi’s breakthrough came after playing the villain in Philippe de Broca’s That Man from Rio (1964), filmed on location in Rio de Janeiro. His popularity soared, and he was cast as the camp commandant Battaglia in the 1965 Second World War escape drama Von Ryan’s Express, alongside Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard. This led to his most iconic role as Bond villain Largo in the Thunderball cast.
Adolfo Celi also made a name for himself as Ralph Valmont in the Mario Bava action thriller Danger: Diabolik and as Don Vito Tressoldi in Fernando Di Leo’s celebrated poliziottesco film Hired to Kill (La mala ordina, 1972).
In addition to his work in film, Adolfo Celi appeared in Italian comedies like Amici Miei and Brancaleone alle Crociate and enjoyed television roles, including the mini-series Petrosino (1972), where he played the legendary Italian-American cop, and La Baronessa di Carini (1975), where he portrayed the ruthless aristocrat, the Baron of Carini.
Despite his thick Sicilian accent, Celi was fluent in several languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. He was usually dubbed in English-language films, but he wasn’t dubbed in the 1981 BBC serial The Borgias, although his English accent was criticised at the time.
Adolfo Celi was married three times and passed away from a heart attack in Siena in 1986. He lives on through his daughter, Alessandra Celi, also an actress.