Life not so beautiful for film producer facing bankruptcy

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The Independent Online

The man who once towered over the Italian film industry and tried to take on Silvio Berlusconi in the business world is now a shadow of his former flamboyant self and staring bankruptcy in the face.

Vittorio Cecchi Gori became famous in the 1990s as the producer of movies such as Il Postino and Life is Beautiful. He then became notorious among fans of Florence's Fiorentina football team as the owner who sacked the team's winning coach, and "borrowed" millions of euros from the club before it went bust.

But he was facing the imminent bankruptcy of his film and television holding company Finmavi yesterday, withdebts of more than €600m (£420m).

A rumpled, oversize figure with slicked-back hair who has one of Italy's most voluptuous former starlets, Valeria Marini, for a partner, Mr Gori has rarely been out of the headlines or trouble since the death of his father, the founder of the family film-producing empire, Mario Cecchi Gori, in 1993.

Mr Gori Snr had always been careful to keep his son away from business. On his deathbed he said to his friend and business partner Mr Berlusconi: "Take care of Vittorio, he's so impulsive and naive."

But after his father's death, Mr Gori began showing his ambitious side. He ended the partnership with Mr Berlusconi and then challenged him in the field of commercial television, buying two private channels. He also tried to wrest the rights to broadcast Serie A matches away from the state broadcaster, RAI.

The rivalry extended to the football field, where Mr Gori's side, Fiorentina, challenged the dominance of Mr Berlusconi's AC Milan. But Mr Gori ended the team's chances when he fired the coach, Gigi Radice, for making rude remarks about Mr Gori's actress wife, Rita Rusic. When Fiorentina were relegated from Serie A at the end of the season, Mr Gori had to escape from angry fans.

Mr Gori, later divorced by Ms Rusic, seems to have lived his life on the wrong side of the cameras. In July 2001, at the height of Fiorentina's financial crisis, police raided his home in Palazzo Borghese but it took them 40 minutes to find him because his bedroom was concealed behind a mirrored wall. When police asked why his safe was full of cocaine, he replied that it was not cocaine but saffron.

Last week, as the financial storm clouds gathered again, he told whoever would listen that the downfall of Fiorentina was not his fault but the doing of Luciano Moggi and others implicated in Italy's football scandal. "The collapse of Fiorentina was orchestrated from on high," he said.