Umberto Eco, Author of ‘The Name of the Rose,’ Dies at 84

Italian scholar in semiotics became writer of unlikely best-selling novels

Umberto Eco, an Italian academic who became an unlikely best-selling author of novels like 1980’s “The Name of the Rose,” died Friday in Milan, according to a spokesperson for his American publisher, Houghton Mifflin. He was 84.

Eco was a longtime professor at Europe’s oldest university, the University of Bologna, and an expert in the field of semiotics who wrote more than 20 nonfiction books about how signs and symbols can be used to interpret cultural history.

But he also wrote for a more general audience, particularly literary novels such as “Foucault’s Pendulum” (1988), about three workers at a small publishing house who hatch their own conspiracy theory, and “The Name of the Rose,” a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the 14th century.

“The Name of the Rose” was soon published in more than 20 languages, including English in 1983, and sold more than 10 million copies.

It was adapted into a 1986 movie starring Sean Connery as Brother William Baskerville and a teenage Christian Slater as his assistant, the novice Adso, in one of the actor’s first big-screen roles.

Eco was said to be disappointed by the movie adaptation and he was reluctant to sell his later novels to studios.

Eco also wrote several children’s books and literary criticism.

Last year, he published “Numero Zero,” a political thriller about a blackmail-obsessed newspaper in modern Italy.

“Umberto Eco was one of the great novelists and scholars of our time,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publisher Bruce Nichols said in a statement. “Yet even more than for his timeless works, we will remember him for his exuberance, his vitality, his intense loyalties, and his wonderful company.”