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Famed Italian Writer Eco Dies at 84

Italian writer Umberto Eco attends the funeral of Italian writer and journalist Giorgio Bocca, at the San Vittore al Corpo church, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011. Eco died Friday in Milan at age 84.

Italian author Umberto Eco has died at age 84, ending a writing career that spanned decades and covered topics both profound and mundane.

Eco died of cancer at his home in Milan Friday. He was, as the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said, one of Italy's most celebrated intellectuals.

His novels, while challenging, had popular appeal.

His most famous work, the best-selling historical novel The Name of the Rose, was made into a movie starring Sean Connery in 1986. The novel published in 1980 has been translated into 43 languages and sold millions of copies.

Professional academics

Eco was a professional academic, having studied philosophy and later specializing in semiotics, the study of signs and symbols.

His second novel, Foucault's Pendulum, was a thriller so complicated that it was packaged with an annotated guide to help readers follow the plot.

Eco's road to literary fame was long and filled with unlikely detours.

As a teenager in northern Italy, he wrote comic books and fantasy novels. He worked as a journalist for Italian television starting in the 1950s, and later wrote children's books and columns for Italian newspapers.

In the past decade, Eco published essay collections on current events and, last year, a novel about Italian political scandal called Numero Zero.