Fiat Heir Wakes From Coma After Overdose

The 28-year-old playboy heir to the Fiat (search) automaking fortune was improving Wednesday after a drug overdose that dealt yet another blow to the reputation of one of Italy's most famous family names.

Lapo Elkann (search), the great-great-grandson of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli, was taken to the hospital Tuesday after overdosing at the Turin apartment of a 53-year-old transvestite, ambulance services and city officials said.

TV talk shows and headlines in such nationwide newspapers as Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica overflowed with reports of a late-night party allegedly involving cocaine and transvestites. The apartment owner, who goes by the name of Patrizia, has given a series of interviews to Italian journalists.

Police said they found traces of cocaine, heroin and opium at the apartment, Italian media reported. Prosecutors have questioned Patrizia and two of her associates, who all denied dealing drugs at the party. No arrests have been made, according to media reports.

Doctors said Elkann hadn't suffered any brain damage. News reports Wednesday said Elkann had spoken with his family and completed tests with a psychologist after waking up from a medically induced coma.

Flowers, books and plush toys had been placed outside his hospital room by visitors.

The family has said only that Elkann's life was not endangered. Fiat Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said Wednesday that the incident would have no consequences on the company and on Elkann's position as vice president.

"My interest is that Lapo recovers soon, and returns to working with the same passion," he said.

The incident was just the latest in a series of tragedies to strike the Agnelli family, whose personal lives have fascinated Italians for decades. The family has often been compared to the royal family in Britain and the Kennedys in the United States.

Edoardo Agnelli, Elkann's uncle, died in 2000 in an apparent suicide. An elder cousin, Giovannino, who had been preparing to take over Fiat, died of cancer at age 33 in 1997.

"A new pain, a new dramatic act in the long decline of a great family," La Repubblica wrote. The conservative daily Il Giornale called Elkann "a symbol fallen into dust," a reference to his alleged cocaine use.

Giovanni Agnelli founded Fiat in 1899. His grandson, Giovanni "Gianni" Agnelli, was chairman from 1966 until his death in January 2003, and was credited with transforming the Turin automaker into a conglomerate with interests from steel to chemicals to newspapers.

Elkann's older brother, John, is vice chairman of Fiat and is being groomed to take over the auto giant, Italy's largest non-state company.

Elkann is in charge of brand promotion, a closely watched role as the carmaker tries to turn around its sagging business. The good-looking and affable bachelor has been a fixture in gossip magazines for years, with his penchant for partying and long-term relationship with actress Martina Stella.

Elkann often couples his playboy lifestyle with savvy marketing initiatives, however, appearing at parties and events dressed in flamboyant suits or in shoes and jumpers that prominently bear the Fiat logo.