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ROME (Reuters) - Mario Monicelli, 95, who directed some of postwar Italy's most famous films and launched the careers of some of the country's greatest actors, jumped to his death from a Rome hospital window on Monday, Italian media said.
Monicelli directed such classics as "I Soliti Ignoti," (Big Deal on Madonna Street), "The Great War," "For Love and Gold," and the "My Friends" series with Ugo Tognazzi and Philippe Noiret.
The reports said he jumped from the fourth floor of Rome's San Giovanni hospital, where he was being treated for terminal prostate cancer.
Monicelli, known as a genius of the Italian comedy, also directed serious films such "The Great War," a story set in World War One, and "A Very Little Man," which tells the tragic tale of an average man who takes justice into his own hands after his son is killed in a robbery.
He was nominated for an Oscar four times but the award always eluded him. He made about 70 films and wrote nearly all the screenplays himself.
He made his first short film when he was 19 and made his directorial debut in 1949 by directing the Italian comic genius Toto, a partnership that would help make them both famous.
He worked with some of postwar Italy's greatest actors, including Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Anna Magnani, Claudia Cardinale and Monica Vitti.
His 1958 film "Big Deal on Madonna Street" tells the story of a band of hapless thieves who try to break into a house and wind up drilling through the wrong wall.
A landmark of Italian postwar cinema, it helped launch the careers of Mastroianni, who went on to make "La Dolce Vita" with Federico Fellini, as well those of as Gassman and Cardinale.
Monicelli received numerous awards, including a Golden Lion for his career at the Venice Film Festival.
Monicelli was a master at telling tales of ordinary people thrust by fate into difficult circumstances.
In the 1985 film "Let's Hope It's a Girl," he directed Liv Ullmann, Catherine Deneuve and Philippe Noiret in a story about how two sisters hold an extended family together when the male members make a mess of things.
In the "My Friends" series with Tognazzi and Noiret, he chronicles the antics of a group of middle-aged men who play practical jokes on strangers.
A native of Tuscany, Monicelli remained active into old age and had cameo appearances in numerous films that he did not direct.
He had a small role in "Under a Tuscan Sun" in 2003 with Diane Lane and Raul Bova. He played an old man who stops every day to place flowers at a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary, and serves as an inspiration to Lane, who plays an American trying to rebuild her life after a failed marriage.