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The Only Main Actor Still Alive From Once Upon A Time In The West

From the 1940s through the 1960s, Westerns were cultural behemoths. This was especially true with the spaghetti Western, so called because they were often made by Italian filmmakers. The genre may not be as popular as it once was, but cinephiles hoping to learn more about sensibilities during that time period would do well to go back and revisit some of the best films offered at the time. And when considering Westerns you need to see before you die, few rank as high as 1968's "Once Upon a Time in the West."

It has all the hallmarks that made the genre popular in the first place. There's a wandering hero, Harmonica (Charles Bronson), and a dastardly villain, Frank (Henry Fonda). Frank kills a man and his children, believing it would help his employer get the land he needed, only for a mail-order bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), to inherit the land, putting the two gunslingers on a path toward an ultimate showdown.

Seeing as the film was made in 1968, much of the main cast and crew has passed away over the years. That includes director Sergio Leone, who was among the most prolific filmmakers to make the Western a revered art form. Only one main actor remains alive today — the aforementioned Claudia Cardinale, who's continued acting all these decades later. 

Claudia Cardinale remains an Italian film star

Sergio Leone was a pioneer of the spaghetti Western, often filming on location around Rome and other Italian cities and employing many of the country's actors in his films. Leone did precisely that in casting Claudia Cardinale as the heroine of "Once Upon a Time in the West." Cardinale had previously starred in "8 1/2," a partly biographical film as the lead character, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), is loosely based on director Federico Fellini. She never became a Hollywood fixture outside of "Once Upon a Time in the West" and spent the next several decades appearing in non-American movies, with her most recent appearance being in 2022's "The Island of Forgiveness."

She's won numerous accolades for her acting, including a Career Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Film Festival. Her legacy extends beyond performing, as she's also been a goodwill ambassador for UNESCO since 2000 to help fight for women's rights, but it's clear that all these years later, she still holds an immense passion for the art of film. She spoke with Art Film Fest in 2014 about continuing to stay in this industry, saying, "Most people only live once. But I've lived 141 lives. So that's why." At the time of that interview, she had no intention of slowing down. "I've always got something to keep me busy. I'll leave it to fate to decide how many more films I appear in," she said.

Claudia Cardinale has starred in over 100 movies and TV shows, easily becoming one of the most iconic Italian film stars of all time. "Once Upon a Time in the West" may represent her most well-known performance, but it's merely one of the many "lives" she's "lived" on-screen.