PARIS – Jean-Paul Belmondo, star of the legendary French new wave film “Breathless”, whose crooked boxer nose and daring grin made him one of the most famous leading actors in the country, has died. He was 88.
His death was confirmed by his attorney Michel Godest’s office on Monday. No cause of death was given.
Belmondo’s career spanned half a century. Belmondo, who embodied a new type of male star in the 1960s, characterized by sheer masculinity rather than classic good looks, has appeared in more than 80 films and worked with a variety of great French directors, from Francois Truffaut to Claude Lelouch.
His career choices have been just as varied, from acclaimed art-house films to critically lukewarm action and comedy films later in his career.
His unconventional appearance – flat nose, full lips and muscular build – enabled him to play roles from thug to policeman, from thief to priest, Cyrano de Bergerac to unshakable secret agent. Belmondo was also a gifted athlete who often did his own stunts.
He was born on April 9, 1933 in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine into a family of artists. His father was the renowned sculptor Paul Belmondo and his mother Sarah Rainaud-Richard was a painter.
Belmondo played soccer and trained as a boxer before dropping out of school at the age of 16. He began acting in the 1950s at the Paris Conservatory, where one of his teachers, Pierre Dux, famously told him that his career as a leading actor was doomed because of his looks. People would burst into laughter when they saw an actress in Belmondo’s arms, Dux said, according to biographer Bertrand Tessier.
The French theater critic Jean-Jacques Gautier was not impressed either and once said: “Mr. Belmondo will never have success with his bully mug. “
At his last conservatory competition, the jury failed to give him the recognition he thought was deserved – so he gave the jury an obscene farewell gesture.
The star began acting in small provincial theaters and caught the attention of the aspiring filmmaker Godard in Paris in 1958, who asked him to star in a short film. Belmondo did not take Godard seriously at first.
“I talked to my wife about it and she said, ‘Go ahead. If (Godard) harasses you, beat him, ”Belmondo told Liberation newspaper in 1999.
Belmondo got his first major role from director Claude Sautet in “Classe tous risques” (Considering All Risks), in which he played alongside Lino Ventura in 1960. That same year, Godard called Belmondo back to appear in Breathless – what became one of the groundbreaking films of the French New Wave. The movement, which also included Truffaut, grouped filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s who abandoned traditional storytelling techniques and were known for their youthful iconoclasm.
Belmondo starred alongside American actress Jean Seberg, who appeared as an aspiring aspiring reporter who, at the crucial moment of the film, sold the International Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Belmondo sometimes said he starred in Godard’s first film and would star in his last. But he didn’t associate his name exclusively with one director, and worked with most of France’s best filmmakers – and many of Europe’s best-known actresses, including Jeanne Moreau and Sophia Loren.
After the great success of “Atemlos”, Belmondo showed his enormous talent and versatility in dramas (“Leon Morin, pretre”), arthouse films (“Moderato Cantabile”) and blockbusters (“Cartouche”).
Belmondo impressed the legendary Jean Gabin in “Un Singe en hiver”, a French classic from 1962 directed by Henri Verneuil.
“You won’t tell me anymore, ‘If only I had a young Gabin.” You have him! “Gabin told the director of Belmondo.
In Truffaut’s “Mississippi Mermaid” from 1969, Belmondo played a tobacco farmer and starred alongside Catherine Deneuve. Belmondo and Denmark-born Anna Karina played a couple on the run in Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou” in 1965. Belmondo also won a Cesar – the French equivalent of an Academy Award – for his role in Lelouch’s 1988 film Itinerary of a Spoiled Child, his last major hit.
In the second half of his career, Belmondo opted for high-paying roles in commercially successful action films. He played a tough detective in Cop or Hooligan and an ace of World War II in Champion of Champions.
In the 1980s, Belmondo returned to the stage, his first love, and won back the doubting critics. His comeback role was in a 1987 Paris production of “Kean”, about an actor famous for his uncontrollable temperament and genius.
Belmondo, who recovered from a stroke in 2001, leaves three children, Florence, Paul and Stella Eva Angelina. Another daughter, Patricia, died in 1994.