One of Italy's best-loved performers, Troisi (pronounced Troy-EE-zee) had worked his way through the cabaret circuit and TV in the 1970s to emerge as a top comedic performer in films. He was born outside of Naples, Italy to a large family and began performing as a teenager in local theater productions. At age 14, he suffered a bout of rheumatic fever which left him with a weakened heart, yet he went on to become one of the founders of the comedy trio La Smorfia/The Grimace. They were immediately successful and made numerous appearances on Italian TV. Troisi worked at perfecting a comic style that was delicate and more melancholic than the typical gag-based, vulgar humor popular in 1980s Italy.
Troisi segued to films as writer, director and star of "Ricomincio da Tre/Starting Over From Three" (1981), a comedy in which he was a clumsy, shy man coping with the effects of feminism. It proved to be a popular success and went on to break Italian box office records. His second effort "Scusate Il Retardo/Sorry I'm Late" (1983) fully established Troisi as a comic talent. Exploring the problems of modern couples, the film used monologues, gestures and other components of Neapolitan theater to achieve its effects. He teamed with Roberto Benigni as co-author and co-director on the fantasy "Non ci Reste che Piangere/Nothing Left to Do But Cry" (1985), which found the pair miraculously transported back to the year 1492 where they encounter Leonardo Da Vinci and attempt to alter history by traveling to Spain to stop Columbus' voyage. While it allowed each actor to excel at his specialty (Benigni delivering amusing monologues, Troisi expertly conveying his uncertainty and insecurities), the mixture of
In "Le Vie del Signore Sono Finite/The Ways of the Lord Are Finite" (1985), Troisi portrayed a barber who psychosomatically becomes paralyzed from the waist down when his French fiancee breaks their engagement. He went on to work with Ettore Scola in "Splendor" and "Che Ora e/What Time Is It?" (both 1989), in which he was paired with Marcello Mastroianni, and "Il Viaggio di Capitan Fracassa/The Voyage of Captain Fracassa" (1990), as an impoverished aristocrat who falls in with a troupe of actors in 17th Century Italy.
Troisi is perhaps best known as the star of Michael Radford's "The Postman (Il Postino)" (1994). Adapted from a novel by Antonio Skarmeta, "The Postman (Il Postino)" depicts the unlikely relationship between a mailman (Troisi) and famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret). Prior to the filming, Troisi had undergone a heart operation and was in ill heath during much of the filming. He died of a heart attack the day after filming was completed. "The Postman (Il Postino)" went on to become a critical and box office success and earned Troisi a posthumous Oscar nomination for Best Actor.