Eddie Constantine, 75, American actor who became famous in Europe by portraying American tough-guy characters in films, died Feb. 25 in Wiesbaden, Germany, of a heart attack.
Born in Los Angeles to Russian immigrant parents, Constantine was sent by his father, an opera baritone, to Vienna to study voice. On return to the States, however, the only singing appearance he made was as part of the chorus in a Radio City Music Hall production. After a few extra parts in films, Constantine followed his then-wife, ballet dancer Helene Mussel, to Paris when she joined the Ballet de Monte Carlo. In Paris, he began singing in nightclubs.
Through a friendship with Edith Piaf, Constantine achieved popularity as a recording artist.
Constantine was discovered in Paris by film director Bernard Borderie, who in 1953 cast him as detective Lemmy Caution, which became his signature role. He became famous portraying the tough, American, whiskey-drinking ladies’ man in a series of French action thrillers and as the hero of Peter Cheyney mysteries. Film credits of this period include “F.B.I. Seeks Lemmy Caution,””Hot Lips — Cold Steel” and “In Blonde Satan’s Spell.”
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Constantine later starred in films of other genres, but his fame was mainly based on his tough, American persona and his trademarks — a cigarette hanging from his lip, a glass of whiskey in one hand, a beautiful blonde on his arm.
In 1965, Constantine starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s futuristic sci-fi classic “Alphaville.” His popularity waned during the late ’60s, but with the rise of the new German filmmakers in the 1970s, his screen career was revived. In 1975 he starred in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Beware of a Holy Whore.” He also starred in German television dramas in the 1970s and ’80s and was the subject of a recent film retrospective in Germany. Constantine was the author of a novel, “La Proprietaire,” an English-language translation of which was published in the U.S. in 1976 as “The Godplayer.”
Eventually, Constantine became a French citizen.
Survived by his third wife, Maja Faber-Janssen, and a daughter, Mia Belle Marie.