Author, philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist best known for his debut novel, the 1980 historical mystery The Name of the Rose adapted for the 1986 film starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater, died today in his home in Italy. He was 84. Eco had been battling cancer for some time, though the cause of death has not been made public.
Born in Alessandria, Piedmont, Italy in 1932, he studied medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin, and lectured there from 1956–1964. He also worked for Italian broadcaster Rai during this period. Eco eventually dedicated himself to semiotics, the study of meaning-making, sign processes and meaningful communication through which cultures are interpreted through words, religious icons, banners, clothing, musical scores, even cartoons. Over the course of his long academic career, he published more than 20 nonfiction books, and would go on to hold official and honorary positions at several prestigious universities in Europe and the United States.
Eco was best known for his novels, beginning with The Name of the Rose in 1980. A murder mystery set in the year 1327 that also includes biblical analysis, medieval studies, and literary theory, the story follows Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his trainee Adso of Melk, who travel to a monastery in Northern Italy where they find themselves investigating a rash of suicides connected to a local heresy. An immediate success, the book was translated into English in 1983 and adapted into film three years later directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, with Sean Connery as William, and Christian Slater as Adso.
Other successful works include his 1988 novel Foucault’s Pendulum, his 2000 historical fiction Baudolino, and his 2015 novel Numero Zero, which satirizes tabloid media.
Eco married Renate Ramge in 1962, and the pair had two children.