Jean-Paul Belmondo, French actor and 'Breathless' star, dead at 88

The actor’s agent confirmed the news to the AFP news agency. French press reported he died peacefully at his home in Paris.

Belmondo began acting in the theater in the 1950s before breaking into film later that decade. His first collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard came in the 1958 short “Charlotte And Her Boyfriend.” Shortly after, while having success on stage, he began to be offered lead roles in film, appearing in the 1960 gangster movie “Consider All Risks” with Lino Venture.

His next lead role was in Godard’s debut feature “Breathless,” which cemented the actor’s position as a leading man of the French New Wave movement. Starring Belmondo as a wandering criminal named Michel, the film was an instant hit, and has had an enduring legacy as a seminal entry in European cinema.

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Jean-Paul Belmondo was one of France's biggest screen stars and a symbol of 1960s New Wave cinema.

Jean-Paul Belmondo was one of France’s biggest screen stars and a symbol of 1960s New Wave cinema. (AFP/AFP via Getty Images)

The 1960s saw Belmondo take on varied film roles in a mixture of genres, also making his mark on Italian cinema with parts opposite Sophia Loren (1961’s “Two Women”) and Claudia Cardinale (1961’s “The Lovemakers”).

He reunited with Godard for the 1961 musical romantic comedy “A Woman Is a Woman,” before teaming with Jean-Pierre Melville for “Léon Morin,” “Priest,” “The Fingerman” and “Manget of Doom.” Belmondo’s films continued to regularly be both commercial as well as artistic successes, with the actor dominating the box office throughout the 1960s, particularly with his action pics such as “That Man from Rio.”

Declining offers to act in Hollywood, Belmondo began producing in the 1970s, forming his own banner Cerito Films. Credits included Claude Chabrol’s “Dr. Popaul,” and “Animal” opposite Raquel Welch. He continued to produce action films and was a strong advocate of genre cinema, defending his films from what he perceived to be snobbery. 

French actor Jean Paul Belmondo and Italian actress Sophia Loren on the set of ‘La Ciociara’.

French actor Jean Paul Belmondo and Italian actress Sophia Loren on the set of ‘La Ciociara’. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Success in France is always looked down on, not by the public, but by intellectuals. If I’m nude in a film, that’s fine for the intellectuals. But if I jump from a helicopter, they think it’s terrible,” he was quoted as saying.

Belmondo was married twice and is survived by three children.

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