Benigni was born in Manciano La Misericordia (a frazione of Castiglion Fiorentino), Italy, the son of Isolina Papini, a fabric inspector, and Remigio Benigni, a bricklayer, carpenter, and farmer. He was raised Catholic and served as an altar boy. His first experiences as a theatre actor took place in 1971, in Prato. During that autumn he moved to Rome where he took part in some experimental theatre shows, some of which he also directed. In 1975, Benigni had his first theatrical success with Cioni Mario di Gaspare fu Giulia, written by Giuseppe Bertolucci.
Benigni became famous in Italy in the 1970s for a shocking TV series called Onda Libera, on RAI2, by Renzo Arbore, in which he interpreted the satirical piece "anthem of the nimble body" (L'inno del corpo sciolto, a hymn to defecation). A great scandal for the time, the series was suspended due to censorship. His first film was 1977's Berlinguer ti voglio bene, also by Bertolucci.
Afterwards, he appeared during a public political demonstration by the Italian Communist Party, with which he was a sympathiser, and on this occasion he lifted and cradled the national leader Enrico Berlinguer, a very serious figure. It was an unprecedented act, given that until that moment Italian politicians were proverbially serious and formal. It represented a breaking point, after which politicians experimented with newer habits and "public manners", attended fewer formal events and, generally speaking, modified their lifestyle in order to exhibit a more popular behaviour. Benigni was censored again in the 1980s for calling the Pope John Paul II something impolite during an important live TV show ("Wojtylaccio", meaning "Bad Wojtyla" in Italian).
His popularity increased with L'altra domenica (1976/9), another TV show by Arbore in which Benigni portrays a lazy film critic who never watches the films he's asked to review. Then Bernardo Bertolucci cast him in a small speechless role as a window upholsterer in the film La Luna which evaded American distribution due to its subject matter.
Read more about this topic: Roberto Benigni
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