Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rene Zacchini left circus to serve in Florida House, Tampa and circuit court

TAMPA — For a while, Rene Zacchini seemed destined to take after his famous family — daredevils and acrobats who could shoot themselves out a cannon further and higher than anyone else.

He performed at Army bases and state fairs and enjoyed the camaraderie. But by the time he finished college, the youngest member of the Flying Zacchinis had chosen another path.

He became a lawyer, then a circuit judge. He ran for office and served two terms in the state's House of Representatives, where he chaired a committee on consumer fraud.

Mr. Zacchini died April 13 of kidney failure. He was 80.

"He wanted to give the Zacchini name a good boost from another direction," said his brother, Hugo Zacchini, better known as the "Human Cannonball."

Mr. Zacchini was the youngest of five children of Edmondo Zacchini, who perfected the human-cannonball act, flying 100 feet through the air. Edmondo's father, Ildebrando Zacchini, started the family business more than a century ago with a traveling circus that toured Europe and Africa. The family moved to Tampa in the mid 1930s.

Mr. Zacchini graduated from Plant High School in 1947. He attended the University of Florida, joining his family over the summer at state fairs in places like Wisconsin and Minnesota.

After shows, Mr. Zacchini and Hugo watched bejeweled dancers from Chicago and New York.

"We loved those shows," Hugo Zacchini said.

Then Mr. Zacchini met Joan Shipley in Gainesville. "They started going out, and boom," his brother said.

They married in 1954, the same year Mr. Zacchini graduated from the University of Florida's law school and was drafted into the Army. Hugo also was drafted.

The Army put the brothers to work staging an acrobatic variety show for troops across the country and in the Far East.

In 1956, Mr. Zacchini returned to Tampa and set up a law practice.

He ran for state representative in 1962. He won the seat despite being derided by a few locals.

"They would make inferences that maybe he was happier in tights than in a suit," his brother said. "It would kind of upset him."

Mr. Zacchini ran again in 1964, defeating his opponent by a 2-to-1 margin.

He chaired a legislative committee investigating commercial fraud, particularly in the home-repair market.

He advocated for statewide laws that would make it easier to prosecute fly-by-night companies that set up a business in one part of the state and conducted it in another.

"For years, lawyers have been reluctant to take such cases, because the chances of recovery are so slim," Mr. Zacchini lamented in 1966.

In 1968, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco appointed Mr. Zacchini to serve as his assistant city attorney, a position he held for four years.

"He came from a prominent show-business family, but he was very quiet," said Greco. "He took all of his responsibilities very seriously."

He continued to visit his family performances at fairs and circuses, where he and his brother would recall their younger years.

"We always had that to fall back on," his brother said. "I wasn't too much interested in Tampa politics or whatever. But he was interested in what I did on the road."

In 1972, Mr. Zacchini was elected to a circuit judgeship, and served on the bench six years.

He returned to private practice, retiring in 1992 to get a real estate license and manage the family's properties.

Mr. Zacchini and his wife moved to Sarasota eight years ago.

As he lay in recent weeks at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Hugo Zacchini sat by his bed. He reminded Mr. Zacchini about the old days with the circus, and the good times they had.

"I hope it brought him some good memories," he said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

>>Biography

Rene Anthony Zacchini

Born: March 28, 1930.

Died: April 13, 2010.

Survivors: Wife Joan; brother Hugo; one grandson; and several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Rene Zacchini left circus to serve in Florida House, Tampa and circuit court 04/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 11:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Estimated 5,000 people marvel at MOSI over solar eclipse

    Human Interest

    Packing pinhole cereal box viewers, cardboard glasses and curiosity, solar gawkers gathered outside Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry on Monday for a show that required no ticket.

    At center, Sophia Butter, 8, and Kristina Butera, both of Valrico, watch the sun through eclipse viewing glasses during a solar eclipse party Monday at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. MOSI will reopen after renovations on November 18. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  2. Florida State sees plenty of upside in Dade City native Jacob Pugh

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — No, Florida State senior Jacob Pugh is not as versatile as teammate Derwin James.

     Florida State Seminoles linebacker Jacob Pugh (16) and Florida State Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) celebrate after sacking the Miami quarterback Saturday October 8, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
  3. Tampa officer treated for knee injury after police truck, police SUV collide

    Accidents

    Times staff

    TAMPA — A Tampa police officer was treated and released for a knee injury when his unmarked police truck collided with a patrol SUV while the officers were tracking a stolen car, a police spokesman said.

  4. Waiting for the eclipse: 'Everyone thinks this is cool'

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Hunter Holland came to school Monday with a NASA space T-shirt and solar viewers in his button-up shirt pocket. But he'd rather be in Missouri.

    Jayda Hebert (front, center), 11, uses her protective glasses to watch Monday's solar eclipse with her cousin, Judah Adams (back left), 11, and her brother Jake Hebert (right), 9, while with their family at St. Petersburg Beach. "We're skipping school for the eclipse," her mom, Sarah Hebert, said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  5. Second person resigns from Hillsborough diversity council after Confederate activist appointed

    Blogs

    TAMPA — A second person has resigned symbolically from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the appointment of a known activist of Confederate causes to the panel. 

    Two people have resigned from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the inclusion of David McCallister, a leader of the local branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.