Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the beloved French undersea filmmaker and explorer whose name became synonymous with both ocean discovery and environmental protection, died of a heart attack early Wednesday morning at his home in Paris.
He was 87 and had been in ill health with a respiratory ailment for some time.
During a film career that earned him Oscars and Cannes Film Fest awards, Cousteau, bedecked in his trademark sea-blue tunic and red beret, became a familiar figure through his books and films. In the U.S., he was particularly well known for his TV series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” first shown in the U.S. in 1965.
Cousteau toured the world in the Calypso, a converted British minesweeper equipped with a marine laboratory. It sank in Singapore last year, and Cousteau’s 52-year-old widow, Francine, is rebuilding it.
Cousteau’s first feature film was “The Silent World,” which he directed with Louis Malle in 1956. Pic won the Golden Palm at Cannes and the Academy Award for best docu. Another Oscar went to his second feature, 1964’s “World Without Sun.”
Cousteau, born June 11, 1910, in Bordeaux, France, was equally known for his setting up the first manned underwater station in 1962, and for championing a variety of environmental causes designed to protect the world’s great bodies of water.
“Jacques Cousteau was a source of great inspiration to me in his use of television to showcase the Earth’s wonders and to warn of the dangers of careless treatment of our natural resources,” said Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner in a statement.
Turner’s association with Cousteau dates to 1982, when TBS began running “Undersea World” and contracted with the Cousteau Society to produce and air new original specials chronicling Cousteau’s explorations. TBS has since aired more than 80 hours of Cousteau originals, and is honoring his memory with a two-hour special on July 6 and 7.
Filmmaker David Wolper hailed Cousteau as “one of the few explorers and scientists who was able to communicate to the world through film,” while President Clinton praised his “rare insight and extraordinary spirit.”
Cousteau is survived by wife Francine and by Jean-Michel, his son from first wife Simone.