Totò is a household name in Italy, and one of the most universally popular performers in Italian history. In addition to being one of Italy's greatest comedians, he is also celebrated as a dramatic actor, poet and songwriter.
Antonio Clemente was born in one of the poorest areas of Naples in February 1898, the illegitimate son of a Sicilian mother, Anna Clemente, and a noble father, the Marquis Giuseppe De Curtis from Naples, who refused to legally recognise him for 39 years. At the age of 35, having regretted growing up without a father, Antonio persuaded another nobleman, the Marquis Francesco Maria Gagliardi Focas, to legally adopt him in exchange for an annuity.
Four years later, following his legal recognition by his father, the court in Naples officially changed his name from Antonio Clemente to Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Ducas Komnenos Gagliardi de Curtis of Byzantium, His Imperial Highness, Palatine Count, Knight of the Holy Roman Empire, Exarch of Ravenna, Duke of Macedonia and Illyria, Prince of Constantinople, Cilicia, Thessaly, Pontus, Moldavia, Dardania, Peloponnesus, Count of Cyprus and Epirus, Count and Duke of Drivasto and Durazzo. However, he still performed under the name of Totò.
Although Totò's mother wanted him to become a priest, by the age of 15 he was already performing and, after a brief spell in the army, he developed his skills as one of the guitti, Neapolitan comedians who worked without scripts and who had adapted the traditions of the Italian 'Commedia dell'Arte'. An accident during his teenage years had left him with a disfigured face and this, together with an ability to distort his body like a puppet and an almost surreal sense of humour, allowed him to create a series of unique, and extremely popular characters.
In 1922 Totò moved to Rome where he could perform in larger theatres. He soon had his own theatre company touring around the country.
In 1937 he performed in his first film, 'Fermo con le mani'. Over the next three decades he would star in 97 films, working alongside many prominent Italian actors and directors of the period.
Totò had an extremely colourful personal life which was tainted by disappointment and tragedy. His first wife, Diana Bandini Rogliani, whom he married in 1935, left him and was the inspiration to the song, Malafemmena (Wayward Woman), considered to a classic of Italian popular music. He had named their daughter, Liliana, after a former lover, Liliana Castagnola, who had committed suicide when their relationship ended. Later, his son Massenzio, born prematurely, died a few hours later.
Totò had a reputation for generosity. Nicknamed 'Il Principe' (The Prince), he gave generously to charity and also often helped colleagues less fortunate than himself. He loved animals and personally funded a dog rescue home in Ostia.
Following a series of heart attacks, Totò died in Rome on 15th April 1967. He was treated to three funerals. The first in Rome, the next in his home city of Naples and the third organised by a local mafia boss who had an empty casket carried through packed streets in the area of Naples where he was born. The house where he was born has recently been opened as a museum and his tomb is regulary visited by his fans, many of whom regard him as a saint.