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Milan-born actor/political activist Gian Maria Volonté was trained at the Academia Nazionale de Arti Drammatica. Volonté's first film appearance was in the internationally produced Under Ten Flags (1960). He gained worldwide prominence with his apolitical performances in such spaghetti westerns as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), then increasingly wore his left-leaning heart on his sleeve in the films of such like-minded directors as Elio Petri and Francesco Rosi. He played the police inspector in Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), and was seen in the Rosi-directed Lucky Luciano (1973) in the title role, and in Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979) as famed antifascist author Carlo Levi. Shortly before his death at the age of 61, Volonté appeared in Banderas the Tyrant (1994).

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