Movies | September 6, 2021 12:55 pm

Jean-Paul Belmondo, Iconic French Leading Man, Dead at 88

He is best known for his work in 1960's "Breathless"

Jean-Paul Belmondo
Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of France's biggest screen stars and a symbol of 1960s New Wave cinema, smiles at the photographer in May 1974 during Cannes Film Festival.
AFP via Getty Images

For a rare cohort of actors, there’s one role that transforms them into an icon. For the French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, that role came in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless, which established him as a leading man and as an utterly magnetic onscreen presence. Belmondo’s long career on screen saw him working with a host of his country’s greatest filmmakers, including Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, François Truffaut and Claude Lelouch.

Belmondo died at his Paris home on Monday at the age of 88, The New York Times reports. And with his passing comes a host of tributes to his work on film and what he represented on screen.

Writing at the Times, Rick Lyman pointed to the heart of Belmondo’s appeal in the wake of Breathless. “Mr. Belmondo’s mop of unruly hair, the way he peered at the world through a twisting web of cigarette smoke and the way he obsessively massaged his thick, feminine lips with his thumb were so vivid and evocative that they quickly became global signposts of rebellion,” he noted.

Belmondo worked with Godard again on A Woman Is a Woman and Pierrot le Fou. He worked with Truffaut on the 1969 film Mississippi Mermaid, and with Melville and Lelouch on three films apiece. One of his collaborations with the latter, 1989’s Itinerary of a Spoiled Child, won him the César Award for Best Actor.

After a stroke left him partially paralyzed in 2001, Belmondo spent several years in therapy recovering his strength. For his final role onscreen in 2009’s A Man and His Dog, he addressed the stroke’s effects with candor. In a profile of Belmondo written to coincide with the film’s release, Elaine Sciolino noted that he remained a magnetic presence. “[W]hen the 75-year-old French actor with the blue-green eyes and broken nose smiles, he evokes the image of the charming gangster and cocky seducer he played in films decades ago.”

Belmondo leaves behind an iconic career, an enduring image and a host of acclaim — and a host of indelible work on screen.