16/07/2024
Norwich, GB 15 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

ALBERTO ZAMPERLA, aged 71

NO TO BOREDOM, YES TO LIFE

Born in Pieve di Soligo, near Treviso in Italy, his parents were Letizia and Antonio. They were devout Catholics.

Alberto came from a long-established family of showmen. Back in 1831, his great great grandfather had fallen in love with a circus rider. He married her and became an acrobat.

After that, all the family throughout the generations were in the entertainment industry. As well as showmen, they were acrobats, stuntmen and even once, a human cannonball.

His father got involved in the design of roller coaster rides. Alberto claimed he was riding in them, even before he had learned to walk.

As his parents were constantly travelling, Alberto was educated at a boarding school in the Veneto, which was run by priests.

In the early 1960s, his father founded his own company, the Zamperla Amusement Group. They created roller coasters and rides, and ultimately branched out into designing and running amusement parks.

Zamperla Amusement Group logo (courtesy Zamperla)

As soon as he left school, Alberto joined the family firm.

Aged 22, his father sent Alberto to North America. Ostensibly, it was to develop new markets for coin operated devices that the company had designed as well as selling family-friendly rides. Alberto later realised it was also to broaden his horizons.

Living away from Italy and strong family ties (as well as the influence of the Catholic church), “freed my mind.”  He went initially to Montreal and then moved to New Jersey. It left him with a life-long love of America.

Alberto began to design things himself.

He created the Zamperla Bull. The client had to pull the horns together as a test of strength.

Alberto also designed the ‘Punchball’, which featured in the 1980 film ‘Urban Cowboy’ starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.

Whilst he was in the USA, Alberto worked on the Victoria Gardens theme park, located in Central Park, New York and owned by the Trump organisation. He worked closely with a young Donald Trump (although he was not very impressed by him).

When Alberto returned to Italy, he married Paola. They had two sons, Antonio and Alessandro.

He quickly became renowned as a visionary designer of rollercoasters and rides. The family firm began to design amusement parks all over the world, including in Guatemala and in Pyongyang in North Korea.

In 1988, Alberto worked on the Tom Hanks film, ‘Big’. A boy is told he is too young to ride a rollercoaster. Disgruntled, he puts a coin into a Zoltar machine which grants him one wish. He chooses to be ‘big’. Alberto designed the Zoltar machine.

In 1994, Alberto took over the running of the company from his father. It went from strength to strength. He was soon designing over 200 rides a year including ones for Alton Towers, Peppa Pig World and Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Disneyland in Anaheim, California, employed Alberto to create it’s ‘Dumbo’ ride. It was such a success that he was employed to make seven of the twelve rides for Disneyland, Paris.

Other theme parks Alberto worked on included Universal, Paramount and Six Flags.

The wealth he accumulated, enabled Alberto to buy and convert an old monastery outside Venice into a luxury home. He also owned an apartment in the city as well as one in Manhattan.

Alberto’s monastery (courtesy Financial Times)

He even designed his own coat of arms (which features on all of his rides).

Alberto had a love of history and tried to incorporate it into his work. He built a theme park in the Crimea, when it was part of Ukraine (before the Russians annexed it).

Controversially, he decided to design it in a manner that honoured the Tsarist regimes, when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire.

“The proposals drew on the castles built by the Tsars.” It caused outrage in Ukraine.

Alberto was controversial in his home city of Venice as well. He wanted to build a theme park on an old rubbish dump on one of the islands.

Despite buying the land, nothing happened. The Venice council said it would spoil the city skyline. He claimed they would not let him build it because he had not bribed them enough.

Subsequently, Alberto decided to stand for the office of Mayor of Venice. His election posters showed him standing next to a giant Ferris wheel. His campaign slogan was, “No to Boredom, Yes to Life.”

He campaigned on the platform of making Venice independent from the rest of Italy and re-establishing the Republic which had been destroyed by Napoleon in 1797. This, he said, would enable the Veneto to be free from the corruption caused by southerners.

Napoleon in 1797 (courtesy Pinterest)

He was not elected mayor.

At the same time, Alberto’s wife left him, when she found out he had a third son, Adriano, from an affair with a Brazilian woman.

He moved out, into a flat within the confines of the old monastery. However, despite supposedly being separated, Alberto and Paola still did everything together.

He was a great believer that all children, regardless of circumstances, should be able to enjoy his rides. He deliberately made them disability friendly. He even built an adventure village in Florida, designed especially for children with special needs.

In 2010, Alberto was approached by Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City.

He was asked to rebuild the Luna amusement Park on Coney Island. This had opened in 1903 and was famous for its wooden ride built in 1927, called ‘The Cyclone’. The park had millions of visitors until a large part of it burned down during the Second World War.

The site had gone to wrack and ruin, with many ‘undesirables’ using it (it was notorious for drug dealing). Consequently, as Alberto cleared the site (with police protection), he met great local resistance and faced many threats.

One anonymous call threatened to break his legs if he continued. He believed it was from the New York Mafia. Nevertheless, he persisted.

Luna Park cost $47 million to refurbish. He kept the original wooden ‘Cyclone’, which plunged 85 feet at 60 mph. The park also included the ‘Steel Thunderbolt’, which turned the riders upside down at least four times during their journey.

Alberto rode the Thunderbolt on a frequent basis, believing adrenaline was good for him.

Alberto always considered Luna Park as his greatest achievement – and the crowds flocked back.

He also tried to persuade Michael Bloomberg to stand for US President instead of Donald Trump – unsuccessfully.

Alberto kept working, being reluctant to retire. “I have a mania. I can’t stand still for more than two weeks. It’s my gypsy spirit.”

Bizarrely, he had a massive collection of rubber ducks.

In 2019, Alberto was inducted into the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Hall of Fame, following his father’s footsteps.

In 2021, Alberto decided it was time to step down and decided to hand over control of the business to his two Italian sons. Antonio was put in charge of manufacturing and Alessandro was given the responsibility of running the amusement parks.

Ironically, Alberto died on the very day that the fastest roller coaster in the world was commissioned, for the ‘Playland at the Prie’, in Vancouver, Canada. It will reach speeds of 72mph.

His death was announced by the Zamperla Amusement Group, “We have lost an indomitable visionary and pioneer, who has revolutionised the amusement industry whilst bringing fun to billions of people, thanks to his endless creativity.”

Tributes flooded in. Luna Park called Alberto, “A giant of the amusement industry and a man of immense generosity.”

Amanda Thompson, CEO at Blackpool Pleasure Beach said, “Alberto Zamperla, rest in peace. You will be missed by us all. A wonderful man who has become a true industry legend. This is a sad time for our industry as we remember all the magic he has created for so many.”

A further tribute came from his son, Alessandro. “He was so passionate about the human connection and the ability to provide that moment where you don’t think about much else but just having pure joy or fun…For those who got a chance to meet him, it definitely left a very positive impact because of his energy. He definitely lived life to its fullest.”

RIP – Rides = Intense Pleasure

 

 

 

 

Previous Article

JOAN BARTHOLOMEW, aged 97

Next Article

DESMOND STANFORD, aged 101

You might be interested in …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *