Jean-Paul Belmondo, the charismatic actor whose singular performances in films like Breathless made him the face of the French New Wave, died on Monday at his home in Paris. He was 88. His lawyer and agent confirmed the news to the French press, with no cause of death given.
Belmondo, who had a short stint as an amateur boxer before turning to acting, made his film debut in Claude Chabrol’s 1958 film Les Tricheurs. His first project with French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard, the short Charlotte and Her Boyfriend, also arrived the same year. Belmondo’s true breakthrough came with his starring role as the magnetic Michel opposite Jean Seberg’s Patricia in Godard’s Breathless, which was released in 1961 and instantly catapulted the actor to critical and commercial success. He dominated the French box office for decades following Breathless, starring in several films from other French New Wave giants like Chabrol’s Web of Passion and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Léon Morin, Priest. Belmondo also made his mark as an action star with films like That Man From Rio and Greed in the Sun, and starred opposite Sophia Loren in 1961’s Two Women. The actor resisted making the transition to Hollywood, remarking in an interview, “Why complicate my life? I am too stupid to learn the language and it would only be a disaster.” Belmondo is survived by his three children.