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Italian Car Patriarch Dies - 2003-01-24

The patriarch of the Italian car company Fiat, Giovanni Agnelli, died Friday after months of illness. His death is likely to bring more restructuring of the company. Fiat is Italy's largest private-sector employer but is weighed down by debt.

Giovanni Agnelli died Friday morning at his home in Turin, with his wife and other family members by his side. He was 81 years old.

For over half a century Mr. Agnelli represented the image of Italian industry. He was considered to be the most influential Italian business leader of the 20th century. Mr. Agnelli was the honorary chairman of Italy's most important carmaker, Fiat, which he turned into an industrial and financial powerhouse.

Fiat was once the most popular Italian car company, but it has suffered significant losses in recent years, and has undergone a major restructuring as a result. Despite the company's huge losses Mr. Agnelli has been strongly opposed to the sale of Fiat. His family still owns 30 percent of the company.

His death came just hours before he was due to chair a gathering of his family to discuss the company's future. Mr. Agnelli had been suffering from prostate cancer for months and had recently undergone treatment in the United States.

The price of Fiat shares rose at the report of Mr. Agnelli's death, and the prospect that it could lead to more restructuring of the company.