Umberto Eco, the Italian author and philosopher, died Friday at his home, according to The New York Times. He was 84 years old.
The intellectual penned a number of successful books, including his breakthrough The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, and The Prague Cemetery. Eco was also a notable researcher of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols in communication; he incorporated semiotics into his fiction, in addition to writing nonfiction books about the topic.
Eco was born in Alessandria, a city about 60 miles east of Turin, on Jan. 5, 1932. He moved with his mother, Giovanna, to a small mountain village during the height of World War II; his father Giulio was an accountant before he was called to war three times. Eco studied philosophy and literature at the University of Turin, earning a B.A. in the former in 1954. Two years later, he returned to teach at his alma mater, and served as cultural editor of Radiotelevisione Italiana, the government’s broadcasting system.
During the late 1960s and ’70s, he developed and composed most of his theories on semiotics, writing landmark books on the study: The Absent Structure (1968), A Theory of Semiotics (1975), and The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (1979). He fortified his semiotics research throughout his life, publishing philosophical works including Semiotics and Philosophy of Language (1984), The Limits of Interpretation (1990), and Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition (1997).
Eco worked as a guest lecturer at a handful of American universities in the ’80s and ’90s, such as Columbia and Harvard. He also founded the Department of Media Studies at the University of the Republic of San Marino in 1988.
In 1980, he published his debut novel, The Name of the Rose, a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in 1327. The book was adapted for the silver screen Sean Connery and F. Murray Abraham starred in the 1986 film, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates).
“I have always had a narrative impulse,” he told The Guardian in 2011. “I wrote stories and beginnings of novels at the age of 10 or 12. I then satisfied my taste for narrative by writing essays. All my researches have the structure of a whodunit.”
Eco also produced a number of essays throughout the years, notably his 1990 collection Travels in Hyper Reality. Eco’s last published work was Numero Zero, released January 2015. The author said he wanted to be remembered for his work in semiotics rather than his fictional works, but in later years he came to accept that his novels would be part of his legacy.
“At the beginning, I had the impression that my novels had nothing to do with my academic interests,” he told The Guardian. “Then I discovered that critics found many connections, and the editors of the Library of Living Philosophers decided that my novels had to be taken into account as a philosophical contribution. So I surrender. I accept the idea that they match.”