Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo dies aged 88

Belmondo was known for starring roles in Breathless and That Man From Rio.

Jean-Paul Belmondo

French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo has died aged 88, his lawyer confirmed to AFP News.


“He had been very tired for some time. He died peacefully,” his lawyer, Michel Godest, said.

Belmondo, who was known in France as Bébel, rose to international fame thanks to his role in Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave classic Breathless in 1960 before starring in Philippe de Broca’s That Man From Rio in 1964.

With his crooked nose, courtesy of a brief career in boxing, Belmondo’s rugged appearance was a contrast to that of his contemporaries – and managed to captivate audiences in France and beyond.

Jean-Paul Belmondo
Jean-Paul Belmondo in That Man From Rio

Belmondo was the son of “pied-noir” sculptor Paul Belmondo, and was born and grew up in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. He went to several private schools and pursued acting after contracting tuberculosis.

Despite going onto star in over 80 films – many of which went on to become international blockbusters – Belmondo was told he wouldn’t make it in the industry, with one of his teachers at the Paris Conservatory telling saying: “Mr Belmondo will never succeed with his hooligan’s face.”

He preferred to work on French films, and was usually cast in gangsters and low-lifes roles. Belmondo expanded his collaboration with Breathless director Godard, appearing in 1961’s A Woman Is A Woman.

He also enjoyed an international career which included starring roles in Peter Brook’s adaptation of Moderato Cantabile and Two Women, in which he starred alongside another icon of the time, Sophia Loren.

Despite such prestigious credentials, Belmondo was criticised for moving from arthouse cinema to more commercial projects later in his career.

“When an actor is successful, people turn their back on him and say that he has taken the easy way out, that he doesn’t want to make an effort or take any risks,” he once said. “But if it was so easy to fill cinemas, then the film world would be in much better health than it is. I don’t think I would have stayed in the limelight for so long if I was doing any old rubbish. People aren’t that stupid.”


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