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WWII hero, Olympian Louis Zamperini dies at 97

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    May 9, 2014: In a file photo, Louis Zamperini gestures during a news conference, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP)

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    FILE - In a July 13, 1936 file photo, Don Lash of Indiana, left, Louis Zamperini of Los Angeles, center, and Thomas Deckard of Indiana, who will represent the United States in the Olympic Games in the 5,000 meter team, at the Olympic tryouts in New York. Zamperini, a U.S. Olympic distance runner and World War II veteran who survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific after his bomber crashed, then endured two years in Japanese prison camps, died Wednesday, July 2, 2014, according to Universal Pictures studio spokesman Michael Moses. He was 97. (AP Photo, File)

An Olympic distance runner and World War II veteran who survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific after his bomber crashed, then endured two years in Japanese prison camps, has died. Louis Zamperini was 97.

Universal Pictures studio spokesman Michael Moses says Zamperini died Wednesday.

"Having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life, Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini has never broken down from a challenge," the Zamperini family said in a statement.

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"He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia. After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives. His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these days," the statement said. 

Zamperini enlisted in the Army before Pearl Harbor and was a pilot in World War II. He and his crew were searching for a downed B-25 when their plane crashed into the Pacific, killing eight of the 11 men. 

He and one of the other surviving crew members drifted for 47 days on a raft in shark-infested waters before being captured by Japanese forces. He spent more than two years as a prisoner of war, surviving torture. 

Before joining the military, Zamperini was a runner at the University of Southern California. He ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, placing eighth in the mile, but caught attention by running the final lap in 56 seconds. 

His story was told in "Unbroken," Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 best-seller, and is the subject of an Angelina Jolie-directed film by the same name being released in December.

"We are so profoundly sad at this moment and all of our thoughts and prayers are with the Zamperini family. Louis was truly one of a kind. He lived the most remarkable life, not because of the many unbelievable incidents that marked his near-century's worth of years, but because of the spirit with which he faced every one of them," Universal Pictures said in a statement. 

"Confronting challenges that would cause most of us to surrender, Louie always persevered and always prevailed, and he spent the better part of his lifetime sharing the message that you could do the same," the statement said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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