Francis Bouygues, self-made construction millionaire, former TF1 president and founder of major French film studio CIBY 2000, died of a heart attack Saturday in St. Malo.

The 70-year-old entrepreneur had not been seen in public since May 1992, when he went into the hospital. The nature of his illness has never been officially disclosed. Despite reports that he would return to work, it is believed that Bouygues was bedridden for the past 12 months and that he had no active part in running the Bouygues group or CIBY 2000.

Bouygues’ phenomenal business career started with a 12,000 franc ($ 2,100) loan in 1952 from which he built a construction and media empire that reported revenues of 62 billion francs ($ 10.8 billion) last year.

His construction company, the largest in Europe, has been behind some of the most imposing building projects of the last 20 years, including the Channel Tunnel linking France to Britain.

In 1987, Bouygues rocked the French media world by successfully bidding for control of the newly privatized French television network TF1. His 25% stake in the web cost Bouygues aprincely 1.5 billion francs ($ 263 million).

Although he initially took on the role of TF1 president, it was not long before he installed Bouygues group insider Patrick Le Lay at the network’s helm. Under Le Lay, TF1 has carved a dominant 42% market share and reaps more than 50% of all TV advertising in France.

In 1990, Bouygues caused another sensation by launching the ambitious film production project CIBY 2000. At the time the new movie mogul told Variety, “I want to work and create a new business from scratch like I did in construction.” With his son Martin running the Bouygues group since 1989, Francis Bouygues devoted almost all his working hours to CIBY 2000. His longterm strategy was aimed at building up media interests until they accounted for about 50% of the Bouygues group’s revenue.

CIBY 2000 quickly signed production deals with some of the leading European directors. Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar and Bernardo Bertolucci have all worked with the studio, and if David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” proved a box office disappointment, Jane Campion’s “The Piano” rewarded the company with this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes.

With its leading light now extinguished, speculation is bound to develop over the future of the Bouygues group, including its media holdings. Martin Bouygues is regarded as an efficient leader but more timid than his pugnacious father.

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