Veteran mime artist Marcel Marceau dies

24th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS (AFP) — Marcel Marceau, the French mime artist who for 60 years transfixed international audiences with his stage persona Bip the Clown, has died at the age of 84, relatives said Sunday.

PARIS (AFP) — Marcel Marceau, the French mime artist who for 60 years transfixed international audiences with his stage persona Bip the Clown, has died at the age of 84, relatives said Sunday.

Marceau, who is credited with single-handedly resurrecting the art form of mime after World War II, died Saturday evening "surrounded by his family," his daughter Camille Marceau told AFP.

Marcel Marceau on stage

Further details would be disclosed later, she said, as well as the arrangements for his funeral at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in central Paris.

Tributes poured in for an artist whose whited-out face, striped pullover and expressive genius made him a familiar figure for millions of television viewers around the world from the 1960s.

President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his "emotion, admiration and respect" for a man who "took the stage arts to a peak of perfection," while Culture Minister Christine Albanel said his name was "synonymous with the exacting discipline of mime, which he performed with poetry and tenderness."

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Marceau had "a rare gift: that of communicating with each and every one of us, beyond the barrier of language."

"He spoke in silence. And what is amazing is that -- while so many people speak and manage to say nothing -- for him it was the silence that brought a whole melody of language," said broadcaster and critic Jacques Chancel.

Born Marcel Mangel into a Jewish family in Strasbourg, Marceau fled with his family to the central town of Limoges at the start of World War II. His father died at Auschwitz, and he himself joined the Resistance -- taking the name Marceau after a Revolutionary French general.

A fan of the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, Marceau enrolled in 1946 at the Charles Dullin school of acting in Paris where he fell under the influence of mime specialists Etienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault.

Barrault, who had played the pierrot in the award-winning film "Les Enfants du Paradis", cast Marceau in the same role in a stage production. Acclaim was unanimous, and in 1947 Marceau launched his solo career with the melancholic figure of Bip the Clown.

With his battered opera hat and wilting flower Bip represented the fragility of human life against the vicissitudes of fortune, and Marceau created a series of tragicomic tableaux through the sole medium of gesture and facial movement.

Among his creations were classics such as "The Cage" and "Walking against the Wind", which have since become the staple of amateur pavement performers everywhere. US rock-star Michael Jackson acknowledged Marceau's influence in his famous moon-walk.

Marceau created his own mime company -- the only one in the world at the time -- and began touring internationally in the mid-1950s. He was a huge success on television shows in the United States, and had an almost iconic status in Japan.

In 1978 he created the International Mime School in Paris, and in 1991 founded a new company. Undiminished physically by the years, he continued to perform until 2005, with a tour of Cuba, Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

Marceau also made two memorable film appearances -- in Roger Vadim's "Barbarella" and in Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie", in which he utters the film's only word: "Non". In 2002 he was made a UN goodwill ambassador for the elderly.

He married three times and had four children.

Marceau saw himself as an ambassador for the revival of mime, the "art of silence" -- as he called it -- which had its roots in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, which flourished in the 19th century but then went into steep decline with the arrival of the movies.

But though hailed for his unquestioned genius, he was less successful in creating a lasting movement to carry his profession forward. For some critics, he was too closely identified personally with the form, and the clown alter-ego became something of a cliche.

"He created a genre, a unique genre. But curiousl

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