Italian film and stage actor. His international popularity was based on ‘spaghetti westerns’ of the 1960s. In Italy he was active in left-wing politics and gave commanding performances in a succession of films with political themes.
Volonté was born in Milan and studied at Rome's National School of Dramatic Art. He made his stage debut in 1957, going on to play a wide range of roles and to make his first film, La Ragazza con la valigia/Girl with a Suitcase, in 1960. In 1964 his stage production of the Swiss dramatist Rolf Hochhuth's The Vicar, which indicted the wartime stance of Pope Pius XII, was banned after one performance.
In the cinema, Volonté appeared under the pseudonym John Wells as the sadistic chief villain in Per un pugno di dollari/A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and as a crazed killer in its sequel Per qualche dollari in piu/For a Few Dollars More (1965). In the succeeding years he took leading roles in a number of more serious Italian films. As well as his playing of a corrupt police chief in Indagine su un cittadino al di spora di ogni sospetto/Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1969), these included two works by Francesco Rosi, Il caso Mattei/The Mattei Affair (1972) and Lucky Luciano (1973), in which Volonté gave a memorable impersonation of the Italian-American gangster. In one of his last films, Porte aperte/Open Doors (1990), his performance as a judge investigating a murder case contained in full measure the intelligence and authority of his best-known portrayals.