Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirogenito Gagliardi De Curtis di Bisanzio (15 February 1898 – 15 April 1967), best known by his stage name Totò (Italian pronunciation: [toˈtɔ]) born simply as Antonio De Curtis, and nicknamed il Principe della risata ("the Prince of laughter"), is commonly referred to as the most popular Italian comedian of all time. He was a film and stage actor as well as a writer, singer and songwriter. He is best known for his funny and sometimes cynical character as a comedian in theatre and then in many successful films shot between the forties and the sixties, all regularly still on TV, but he also worked with many iconic italian film directors in dramatic/poetic roles.
While he first gained his popularity as a comic actor, his dramatic roles, poetry, and songs are all deemed to be outstanding; his style and a number of his recurring jokes and gestures have become universally known memes in Italy. Writer and philosopher Umberto Eco has thus commented on the importance of Totò in Italian culture:
"[...] in this globalized world where it seems that everyone sees the same movies and eats the same food, there are still unbridgeable divisions between cultures. How can two peoples ever come to understand each other when one of them is ignorant of Totò?"
Mario Monicelli, who directed some of the most appreciated of Totò's movies, thus described his artistic value:
With Totò, we got it all wrong. He was a genius, not just a grandiose actor. And we constrained him, reduced him, forced him into a common human being, and thus clipped his wings.
Totò died at the age of 69 on 15 April 1967 in Rome, after a series of heart attacks. Due to overwhelming demand there were no fewer than three funeral services: the first in Rome, a second in his birth city of Naples—and a few days later, in a third one by the local Camorra boss, an empty casket was carried along the packed streets of the popular Rione Sanità quarter where he was born.