Showbiz vet was also accomplished tap dancer

Dapper all-around entertainer Jean-Pierre Cassel, whose five decades in show business encompassed well over 100 films and some 50 plays, died of cancer April 19 in Paris. He was 74.

Born in Paris as Jean-Pierre Crochon, he attended acting classes at the Cours Simon, eventually opting for the stage name Cassel.

An accomplished tap dancer, Cassel was befriended by Gene Kelly who cast him as an extra in 1957′s “The Happy Road.” Cassel made his name in light comedy, working on many occasions with director Philippe De Broca, whose “The Lovers” (1960) put the insouciant young man on the map.

Cassel also excelled in more serious fare with wry touches, including Jean Renoir’s “The Elusive Corporal” (1962) in the title role, Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) and Claude Chabrol’s “A Judgment in Stone” (1995).

He had a prominent role in Jean-Pierre Melville’s French Resistance drama “Army of Shadows” (1969), distributed to great acclaim in the U.S. last year, 37 years after the fact.

Cassel co-starred with Brigitte Bardot in Michel Deville’s “L’Ours et la Poupee” (1971).

Like his son Vincent after him, Cassel also made his mark in English, playing Louis XIII in Richard Lester’s irreverent “The Three Musketeers” (1973) and “The Four Musketeers” (1974), in addition to roles in “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” (1965), “Is Paris Burning?” (1966), “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?” (1978) and Robert Altman’s “Ready To Wear” (1994). He had previously played Dr. Paul Gachet of Van Gogh portrait fame in Altman’s “Vincent and Theo” (1990).

Father and son appeared together in Mathieu Kassovitz’s 2000 hit “The Crimson Rivers.”

Recent stage roles included the twisted patriarch in the Gallic legit version of pioneering Dogma pic, “Festin.”

Cassel had acted up a storm of late, appearing as a bone-chillingly imperious father in “Bunker Paradise” last year as well as acing a cordially vicious industrialist in “Fair Play.”

Three films in which he’s featured are currently in French theaters: “Counter-Investigation” as a doctor; “Congorama” as a mute elderly man and thesp Roschdy Zem’s helming debut “Bad Faith,” a local hit in which Cassel plays Cecile De France’s athletic father.

Cassel will be seen as a clergyman in Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” in competition in Cannes next month. He appears as a hoofer in Alain Berliner’s “J’aurais voulu etre un danseur” (Gone for a Dance), which hits Belgian screens next week and will be seen alongside Michelene Presle this coming September in “Les sapins bleus”; Cassel co-starred, with Presle and Jean Seberg, in De Broca’s “L’Amant de cinq jours” in 1961. Cassel will also be seen as comic book staple Panoramix when megaproduction “Asterix at the Olympic Games” is released in early 2008.

Cassel penned a well-received memoir, “A mes amours.”

Survivors include three children: actor Vincent, rap musician Mathias and actress Cecile.

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