Enzo Maiorca 'Big Blue' freediver dead at 85

Maiorca was the first man to dive to a depth of 50 metres (164 feet) on a lungful of air and without a respiratory aid.

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Italian free diving legends Umberto Pelizzari (R) and Enzo Maiorca pose play

Italian free diving legends Umberto Pelizzari (R) and Enzo Maiorca pose

(Umberto Pelizzari/AFP/File)
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Renowned freediver Enzo Maiorca, whose rivalry with Frenchman Jacques Mayol was immortalised in the 1988 Luc Besson film "The Big Blue", has died aged 85, Italian media said on Sunday.

Maiorca was the first man to dive to a depth of 50 metres (164 feet) on a lungful of air and without a respiratory aid.

He eventually set a personal best of 101 metres in 1988 at the age of 57.

"I was breaking records step by step. I obeyed the doctors and didn't dive deeper than 160 feet," Diver magazine quoted him as saying in an interview on its website.

"And as I progressed I was learning more and coming to realise that the doctors were building walls based on beliefs that were wrong. Even Aristotle claimed a man could dive no deeper than 30 feet," he said.

Maiorca was born in 1931 in Syracuse on the island of Sicily, where he also died. His great rival Mayol died in 2001.

"The Big Blue" placed the spotlight on a risky competitive sport in which divers, with no tanks or air tubes, seek to descend as far as they can on one breath. Blackouts and lung damage are common perils.

French actor Jean Reno played Maiorca in "The Big Blue," with Rosanna Arquette as the love interest and Jean-Marc Barr as Mayol.

Maiorca, though, was unhappy with Reno's portrayal, saying he had been stereotyped as a mafioso-style uneducated Sicilian.

He got the film banned in Italy until an edited version, in which contested scenes were deleted, was issued in 2002.

Having been a keen spearfisher in his younger days -- something he gave up in 1967 after a "titanic struggle" with a "combative grouper" -- Maiorca dedicated himself to defending the marine environment during his later years.

He briefly went into politics, serving as senator between 1994 and 1996 with the National Alliance, a conservative successor to the post-fascist Italian Social Movement party.

Among the many who paid tribute to Maiorca was Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano who described him as a "great Sicilian, an explorer of the seas, who revolutionised the world of freediving".

"It's a sad day, but I want to remember you with your smile, your easygoing nature, your lust for life, your love for the sea," fellow Italian freediver Umberto Pelizzari said on Facebook.

The record depth for unrestricted freediving today, as recognised by the rule-making body for the sport AIDA, is 214 metres for men and 160 metres for women.

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