Actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, the star of the iconic French New Wave film “Breathless,” died at the age of 88, as confirmed by the office of his lawyer on Monday. No cause of death was given.
Belmondo’s acting career spans 50 years. He symbolised a new sort of male celebrity in the 1960s, one defined by sheer virility rather than traditional good looks.
Born on April 9, 1933, in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine into an artistic family, Belmondo’s father was renowned sculptor Paul Belmondo and his mother, Sarah Rainaud-Richard, was a painter.
Belmondo abandoned school at the age of 16 after playing football and training as a boxer. He studied acting at the Paris Conservatory in the 1950s, when one of his professors, Pierre Dux, famously informed him that his future as a leading man was doomed due to his appearance.
According to historian Bertrand Tessier, people would burst out laughing if they spotted an actress in Belmondo’s arms.
French theatre critic Jean-Jacques Gautier wasn’t impressed either, once saying: “Mr Belmondo will never enjoy success with his ruffian’s mug.”
In 1958, the star began performing in small provincial theatres, catching the attention of young director Jean-Luc Godard, who invited him to feature in a short film. Belmondo didn’t take Godard seriously at first.
Belmondo was given his first important role by director Claude Sautet in “Classe tous risques” (Consider All Risks) in which he starred alongside Lino Ventura in 1960. The same year, Godard called Belmondo back to appear in “Breathless” — which became one of the breakthrough films of the French New Wave. The movement, which included Truffaut, grouped filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s who abandoned traditional narrative techniques and were known for their mood of youthful iconoclasm.
Belmondo played opposite American actress Jean Seberg, who appeared as the street-smart aspiring reporter who, in the film’s key moment, sold the International Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Following the huge success of “Breathless,” Belmondo showed the vast array of his talent and his versatility in dramas (“Leon Morin, pretre”), arthouse movies (“Moderato Cantabile”) and blockbusters (“Cartouche”).
In “Un Singe en hiver,” a French classic directed by Henri Verneuil in 1962, Belmondo impressed the legendary Jean Gabin.
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 temper and genius.
With inputs from the Associated Press