Jean-Paul Belmondo, French Actor and Star of ‘Breathless,’ Dies at 88

Belmondo became the face of the French New Wave in film

Jean-Paul Belmondo
Jean-Paul Belmondo circa 1964 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Jean-Paul Belmondo, the French cinema star best known for his performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” in 1959, has died, his lawyer confirmed to the news agency AFP on Monday. He was 88.

A cause of death has not been made public.

Belmondo skyrocketed to international fame after appearing in Godard’s 1959 New Wave French classic “Breathless,” and became one of the country’s biggest stars throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

Born in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the young Belmondo started out as an amateur boxer and, in fact, had an undefeated record. But after spending years pursuing a career as a fighter, he later recalled, “I stopped when the face I saw in the mirror began to change.”

His spent his later teen years at a private drama school and started to perform comedy sketches in the French provinces. After studying for three years at the Conservatoire of Dramatic Arts, his professional acting career began in 1953 when he appeared on stage in “Medee” and “Zamore,” and later began touring.

His first film role — a small part in 1957’s “On Foot, on Horse, and on Wheels” — ended up on the cutting room floor, but he was in the final cut of his next film, “A Dog, a Mouse, and a Sputnik,” which was also a bigger part.

A string of supporting roles carried him through the late ’50s, but it was his standout performance in a stage production of “Oscar” that caught the attention of filmmakers and led to offers for lead roles. Among those was Jean-Luc Godard, who cast him as the Bogart fancying French criminal Michel in his feature-length debut “Breathless.” The role made Belmondo a big star in the French New Wave, and drew international recognition him, co-star Jean Seberg and Godard.

He followed up “Breathless” with a few films, the most successful being a comedic role in the anthology movie “Love and the Frenchwoman,” the Italian film “Two Women,” which earned Sophia Loren an Academy Award, and in “The Lovemakers” opposite Claudia Cardinale.

After appearing in the popular 1963 comedy “Banana Peel” with Jeanne Moreau, he appeared in the action-adventure film “That Man From Rio” that was a huge hit in France, with one critic comparing him to Humphrey Bogart and James Dean. After taking small roles in 1966’s “Is Paris Burning?” and 1967’s James Bond spoof “Casino Royale,” Belmondo took a short break. Upon his return, he formed his own production company, Cerito Films, intent on making films for himself.

Notable later roles included a womanizing physician in 1972’s “Dr. Popaul” with Mia Farrow, a cop in 1975’s “Fear Over the City,” a stuntman opposite Raquel Welch in 1977’s “Animal” and a secret service agent in 1981’s “The Professional.”

Following a 26-year absence from theater, he returned in a 1987 production of a Jean-Paul Sartre-written adaptation of the Dumas novel “Kean,” and he later took on the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac in Paris.

He is survived by a number of children and grandchildren.


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