Blast from the past: Bud Spencer - a star in and out of the water

Bud Spencer, Italian actor, film producer, pilot and former professional swimmer, during the presentation of the German translation of his autobiography, Mein Leben, meine Filme (My Life, My Films) (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Bud Spencer, Italian actor, film producer, pilot and former professional swimmer, during the presentation of the German translation of his autobiography, "Mein Leben, meine Filme" ("My Life, My Films") (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week: How an Olympian became a movie star. 

The background

Carlo Pedersoli was born in Naples on 31 October 1929. By 1936 he had joined a swimming club and at high school, he both swam and played rugby. However, it seems he was always destined to be a swimmer. By the time he was 15 years old, he had defeated all of his senior rivals.

A few years later, he had begun taking part in yet another sport: boxing. According to his biography, he won all his fights as a heavyweight.

A star in the water...

But nothing could compare to the water. Pedersoli began focusing, not only on swimming, but also on water polo, and his fish-like personality led to him taking part in the Olympics.

Having lived in Brazil for a time, he returned to Italy and joined the club Lazio Nuoto. As he said on his website:

"I quickly establish important records in swimming. In 1949, I am Italian champion in freestyle and in 1950 the first Italian to swim the 100m freestyle in under a minute (59:50 seconds on Sept. 19, 1950). By the end of my swimming career in 1957, I am seven times Italian champion (plus three times as junior) and also take another four national titles in relay competitions. In addition, I make it in the Italian water polo national team who were gold medallists in London Olympic Games in 1948 and in Rome Olympic Games in 1960.”

Pedersoli also represented Italy in the swimming competition at Helsinki 1952, where he came fifth in the 100m freestyle. Four years later he finished 11th in the same event at Melbourne 1956.

Those weren't the only titles he had under his belt. He swam at the European Championship in Vienna and won two medals in 1951’s Mediterranean Games in Egypt.

...a star on the screen

Perdersoli’s life back then, before he met Terence Hill, is almost impossible to understand today. Nowadays, he is better known by his artistic name, Bud Spencer.

The last years of his swimming career overlapped with his first movies, as one half of the successful duo, Spencer-Hill. The pair became synonymous with a certain type of movie: the spaghetti western, and their onscreen “bromance" lasted two decades. Some of their must-see movies are Odds and Evens, Watch Out, We’re Mad and Crime Busters.

In 2005, he ensured his sporting career would never be forgotten when he received the Caimano d'oro (Gold Caiman) award from the Italian Swimming Federation.

Bud Spencer, AKA Carlo Pedersoli, died in Rome aged 86 on 27 June 2016. His last word was 'Grazie' (thank you), the same word that we also like to say to him.