In theory there's a rule saying that the passato prossimo is to be used when the fact you are telling has some relationship with the present, whereas the passato remoto is for facts that are completely over. For example, when you say someone's date of birth you ought to use the passato prossimo if the person is still alive, but the passato remoto if they are already dead:
- Alessandro Manzoni (passato da un pezzo a miglior vita) nacque nel 1975 a Milano.
- Valerio Evangelisti (vivo e vegeto) è nato nel 1952 a Bologna.
In fact we don't follow that rule, but we rather sometimes choose to use the passato remoto to convey some solemnity to the speech.
The passato remoto in everyday speech is still used by old people in some southern regions like Sicily, but it sounds very dialectical. Common urban people don't usually do that, neither in the north nor in the south.
Hope it helps :)