Eight months after 48-year-old Francesco Quinn’s untimely death, his widow, Valentina Castellani-Quinn, has committed herself to keeping his spirit and legacy alive.
By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times
“Pain is temporary, quitting is forever…”
Midway through an interview, Valentina Castellani-Quinn offered her late husband’s favorite quote, which Francesco Quinn, an avid cyclist, borrowed from former mentor Lance Armstrong. As she recited it, the effervescent Tuscan native broke down and wept.
Francesco, an actor, filmmaker and son of the legendary Anthony Quinn, died tragically last summer at the age of 48. Now, Castellani-Quinn is determined to realize the unfinished projects Francesco worked on shortly before his untimely death from cardiac arrest, which his widow suspects was triggered by intense biking across Las Flores Canyon in the summer heat.
Among the dreams Francesco left behind: filming “Sol y Sombra” (“Sun and Shadow”), a screenplay he co-wrote about a Mexican bullfighter.
“He related to the script as his own ‘Zorba,’” Castellani-Quinn said.
“Zorba the Greek” was Anthony Quinn’s signature role. The 1964 Oscar-winner was Francesco’s favorite among his father’s films, even above “La Strada” (“The Road”), the Fellini classic that was shot in Italy in 1954.
It was in Italy where Francesco and Valentina first crossed paths.
After marrying second wife Jolanda Addolori, Anthony Quinn, then 47, relocated to Rome. The Castellani clan lived in Florence. Valentina’s ancestors owned the Teatro Verdi, and her grandfather, Riccardo Castellani, produced Fellini films and ran an international film distribution company.
The Quinns and the Castellanis ran in the same circles in Italy.
“I barely remembered him,” Valentina said of Francesco, six years her senior. “I would see him at all the parties.”
But it wasn’t until much later, on a different continent, that the pair met as adults.
In 2008, Franceso and Valentina were both hired to dub Italian dialogue for characters in Ron Howard’s “Angels and Demons.” In a Sony Pictures recording booth in Culver City, the pair serendipitously reunited.
“We have a legacy and a history that connected us very deeply,” she said.
One month later, Francesco moved from Bel-Air to Malibu to be with Valentina, who had already lived there for 14 years.
“The magic of Malibu is you feel Mediterranean,” Castellani-Quinn said. “The nature, the culture, the lifestyle is much more Italian here. He felt at home.”
While Francesco also spoke Spanish and English, “at home we spoke Italian because we were Italian inside,” Valentina said.
Their combined family included Francesco’s twins, Max and Michela, now 10, and Castellani-Quinn’s daughter, Malibu High student Sophia, 12.
Aug. 5, 2011 began like any other Malibu day, sunny and beautiful.
“He seemed happy, healthy, full of energy,” Castellani-Quinn said.
Francesco, an extremely fit person who loved to cycle and do extreme sports such as snowboarding, motocross racing and windsurfing, went on a walk with son Max near their Rambla Vista home. They decided to race up the street, when Francesco collapsed after suffering cardiac arrest. Fireball Tim Lawrence, Quinn’s neighbor, rushed into the street to attempt to revive him. Valentina then joined to help out, and Lawrence told Malibu Patch he believed that Francesco died in her arms.
Quinn’s death shocked the Malibu community. Valentina said the community showed an outpouring of support, such as Tra di Noi owner Tarcisio Mosconi who sent the family boxes of food.
“The Malibu community was so supportive,” she said. “They became my family.”
Castellani-Quinn still feels connected to him.
“A part of me died that day,” she said. “[Yet] I can find a certain serenity to carry on: ‘OK, I’m still here, I’m going to make all of our dreams come true.’”
With business partner Max Musina (Francesco’s cycling buddy) and Alex Fortunati, Valentina formed Quinn Studios to fulfill those dreams.
“My salvation has been in creating,” she said.
Inspired by a short film of Francesco cycling in the Giro d’Italia (Italy’s counterpart to the Tour de France), Valentina expressed an interest in a TV show about bicycling.
On April 23, she began production on “Life on a Bike,” a reality series for Italian TV network RAI chronicling riders competing from training to finish line. Quinn Studios also sold reality show “Fashion Fixers” to Pilgrim Entertainment.
In early September, Castellani-Quinn plans to merge Francesco’s memory with the spirit of Giro d’Italia locally with a 100-mile bicycle race around Las Flores Canyon to be called the Francesco Quinn Celebrita Gran Fondo. Ernesto Colnago, a celebrated creator of high-end racing bicycles, will be among the celebrities and athletes attending the Pepperdine gala fundraiser kick-off. There Lorenzo Quinn, Francesco’s brother and a renowned sculptor, will unveil a memorial statue of Francesco called “Triumph.” The family plans to give miniature versions of the statue to Malibu citizens who are making an impact on society as “Triumph Awards.”
Above all, Castellani-Quinn wants to get “Sol y Sombra” made, envisioning Mel Gibson or Benicio del Toro in the lead role Francesco had written for himself.
Summing up her journey with Francesco, she said, “This is a book that stopped in the middle at chapter 10, and I still have 10 chapters to finish.”