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Jean-Paul Belmondo, Star of the French New Wave Classic ‘Breathless,’ Dies at 88

Belmondo wanted to do American features, but didn't necessarily want to play a Frenchman or a heavy, instead seeing himself more as a dashing leading man.

MALE HUNT, aka (LA CHASSE A L'HOMME), Jean-Paul Belmondo, 1964

MALE HUNT, aka (LA CHASSE A L’HOMME), Jean-Paul Belmondo, 1964

Courtesy Everett Collection

Actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 “Breathless” helped usher in the French New Wave, has died at the age of 88. The actor’s lawyer confirmed the report to news outlets on Monday. No cause of death has been revealed. Belmondo starred in nearly 100 features, for both film and television including the aforementioned “Breathless” and “Pierrot le Fou.”

Belmondo was April 9, 1933 west of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Acting didn’t come immediately to Belmondo. He began as a boxer, making his amateur debut in the ring in 1949. The physical changes to his face, according to the actor, compelled him to leave the sport. He would eventually attend a private drama school , transitioning to the Conservatoire of Dramatic Arts in his twenties. He made his stage debut in 1953.

His first film role came in Jean-Pierre Cassel’s 1957 “On Foot, on Horse, and on Wheels,” but he wound up on the cutting-room floor. He did appear in the film’s 1958 sequel, “A Dog, a Mouse, and a Sputnik.” Belmondo met acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard around this time, which led to starring opposite Jean Seberg in “Breathless” as a couple questioning whether to run away to Italy after a crime.

The film brought Belmondo to prominence both in his native France and in the United States, but found the fame overwhelming. He’d appear opposite Sophia Loren in 1961’s “Two Women” — the film that won Loren an Academy Award — and would reunite with Godard in 1961’s “A Woman is a Woman.”

His performances in the 1963 action film “Banana Peel” and 1964’s “That Man From Rio” would bring Belmondo even more fame as an action star, with comparisons to James Dean and Humphrey Bogart. Belmondo wanted to do American features, but didn’t necessarily want to play a Frenchman or a heavy, instead seeing himself more as a dashing leading man. He regularly turned down roles offered to him in the U.S.

Belmondo would be nominated for two BAFTA awards in his career and did win a Cesar — the French equivalent of the Oscars — in 1989 for Claude Leloach’s “Itinerary of a Spoiled Child.”

Belmondo is survived by his three children.

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