Jean Champion, one of French cinema’s most reliable character actors, died May 23 in his hometown of Chalon-sur-Saone. Cause of death was not specified, but the actor had been in failing health for some time. He was 87.
Champion tread the boards with theater greats Jacques Copeau, Jean Daste, Jean Vilar and Georges Pitoeff before embarking on a film career.
His early supporting roles included parts in “Cleo from 5 to 7” by Agnes Varda (1961), “Muriel” by Alain Resnais (1963) and Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964).
Champion appeared regularly in made-for-TV movies and dramatic fare, including the 1965 cult series “Belphegor” and most recently in Roger Vadim’s adaptation of Sacha Guitry’s “My Father was Right” in 1996.
Champion was perhaps most familiar to offshore audiences as Bertrand, the conciliatory producer of the film-within-the-film “Meet Pamela,” in Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” (1973). That same year, Champion showed his range by portraying a tough, inflexible civil servant in Claude Goretta’s “The Invitation.”
Champion also appeared in Luis Bunuel’s “The Phantom of Liberty” (1974), Joseph Losey’s “Monsieur Klein” (1976), Bertrand Tavernier’s “Clean Slate” (1981) and also that director’s “Life and Nothing But” (1989).
In 1991, Champion published his autobiography, “Troisieme Couteau,” an incisive and amusing account of his position as a rarely noticed but all the same illustrious supporting player.
He is survived by his wife and his daughter, Isabelle, a film historian and author.