Sergio Leone was born on January 3, 1929 in Rome, Italy. His father, Vincenzo, was a famous director and his mother, Edvige, was an actress. As a youth, he had an intense interest in filmmaking and started working on films when he turned eighteen.
In the early 1950s, Sergio began writing screenplays for historical epics. He also worked as an assistant director at Cinecitta Studios, where he had the opportunity to work on the films Quo Vadis in 1951 and Ben-Hur in 1959. In 1959, he also had his first opportunity to work as a full director on the film Gli ultimi giomi di Pompei as a replacement for the previous director that fell ill. In 1961, he was allowed to direct a full film: The Colossus of Rhodes.
In 1964, Sergio decided to start making western films, commonly called spaghetti westerns since htey were made in Italy. His first western, "A Fistful of Dollars", was a major success and starred a young Clint Eastwood. The film was based on Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo, where a samurai plays two warring families against each other for profit.
In 1965, Leone followed up on the film's success by reuniting with Eastwood to make "For a Few Dollars More". The film continued the story of "The Man With No Name" and was once again a commercial success. In 1966, the final, and arguably best, film in the series was released: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Although it had a lukewarm reaction from critics at the time of release, it is currently regarded as one of the best films ever made.
In 1967, Leone produced what he hoped would be his best western: "Once Upon a Time in the West". The film starred Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and Claudia Cardinale in a sweeping tale of railroad barons and pioneers. The film was a massive hit in Europe, but didn't do so well in the United States. It has since gained a large cult following and is regarded as one of Leone's best works.
In 1971, Leone directed "A Fistful of Dynamite" after the studio decided to replace Peter Bogdanovich with him. The film followed a Mexican revolution involving two individuals played by Rod Steiger and James Coburn. The film was not as popular as some of Leone's prior works, but was still a moderate success.
In 1984, he directed his gangster epic "Once Upon a Time in America". He had previously been offered the opportunity to direct "The Godfather", but turned it down so he could focus on the screenplay for this film. The film starred Robert De Niro and James Woods and followed the lives of four young Jewish children from their youth through prohibition and the mid 20th century. The film was cut by the studio in the United States, resulting in a box office flop, but the uncut film did very well in the rest of the world, despite its four hour running time.
Sergio Leone died on April 30, 1989 from a heart attack. He had been rather obese for most of his life, and this likely contributed to his early death.