Agnelli was born in New York to Italian parents (his maternal grandmother was American). After studying at Atlantic College, he read modern literature and oriental philosophy at Princeton University.
After leaving Princeton he travelled in India, pursuing his interest in oriental religion and mysticism, and Iran, where he met Ayatollah Khamenei and was reported to have converted to Islam. According to La Repubblica Agnelli's preoccupations became increasingly erratic, "Mysticism, Franciscanism, drugs, Buddhism, lectures against Capital, praise of the poor, criticism of the behaviour of Fiat.
As an adult Agnelli claimed to be the heir apparent to the Fiat empire, but his father, who had already been unhappy with Edoardo's timidity when he was a child, ensured that he would not inherit it. The only official position which the younger Agnelli held in the family businesses was as a director of Juventus football club, in which capacity he was present at the Heysel disaster.
In November 2000, 46-year-old Agnelli's body was found, near Turin, on a river bed beneath a motorway viaduct, on which his car was found too. The viaduct is known as the bridge of suicides. The death was suspected by investigators to have been a suicide.
A 2001 Iranian documentary film claimed that Agnelli was the victim of a Zionist plot to prevent a Muslim becoming head of Fiat, in spite of the fact that he was not an heir to Fiat. Corriere della Sera wrote that, after Agnelli's death, "fundamentalists in Iran decided to construct the myth", and an Iranian television crew came to Italy to make a documentary the following year. In 2003, the documentary was circulated by FARS, a press agency linked to Iran's revolutionary guard. According to Corriere della Sera, the story is also enshrined at the Museum of Martyrs of Islam at Imam Sadiq University, Iran, which contains a portrait-shrine dedicated to Agnelli.
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