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Jean Rochefort Dies: French Actor Was Famously to Appear in ‘Don Quixote’

French actor Jean Rochefort, who rose to prominence in the 1960s and was equally adept at arthouse dramas and crowdpleasing comedies, appearing in “The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe” and “Pardon Mon Affaire” as well as Patrice Leconte’s “The Hairdresser’s Husband” and “Ridicule,” has died. He was 87.

Rochefort died in a Paris hospital on Sunday night. The actor’s death was confirmed by his daughter Clemence, one of his five children.

Rochefort last starred opposite Sandrine Kiberlain in Philippe Le Guay’s “Florida,” which world-premiered at Locarno in 2015 and was nominated for Variety Piazza Grande Award.

His potential English-language breakthrough, as the Don Quixote character in Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” was famously abandoned during production. The struggles to get this feature off the ground were later memorably chronicled in the documentary “Lost in La Mancha.”

A pillar of French cinema, Rochefort made his leap into the limelight in the 1960s, initially mainly in costume dramas that were well-suited to the actor’s aristocratic composure and self-possession, such as “Cartouche” (1962), from helmer Philippe de Broca, about the famous 18th century brigand, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo.

After co-starring in a series of period adventure films, such as the popular “Angelique” series from helmer Bernard Borderie, the actor took on more clearly comedic roles that fit his emerging public persona as someone of wit and intelligence, including in a staggering seven-time collaboration with two directors. With Yves Robert, he made 1970s cult comedies including “The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe” and the Golden-Globe nominated “Pardon Mon Affaire” and its popular sequel “We Will All Meet in Paradise,” while director Patrice Leconte directed the versatile actor in arguably his most wide-ranging performances in dramatic comedies such as “The Hairdresser’s Husband” and “Ridicule,” both from the 1990s.

Rochefort, known for his lanky figure and trademark mustache, was born in Paris, and started studying acting in 1949 in the French capital, where he would finally be accepted into the Conservatoire and study alongside some of the other talents of his generation, such as Claude Rich, Bruno Cremer and frequent future co-stars Belmondo and Jean-Pierre Marielle. Throughout his career, Rochefort continued to work in the theater, doing several plays each decade after a start at the Paris-based Compagnie Grenier-Hussenot at the start of his career.

“Cartouche,” his first collaboration with director de Broca — three more would follow — acquainted Rochefort with horseback riding, a lifelong passion that came to an abrupt halt in 2000, when a double hernia on the set of “Don Quixote” meant the actor couldn’t ride anymore and production had to be halted.

That the actor didn’t lose his enthusiasm for the sport was demonstrated in 2004, when Rochefort was a broadcast commentator discussing the equestrian events during the Athens Summer Olympics (he had already done TV hosting duties in the 1980s, for the French version of Disney Channel’s “Welcome to Pooh Corner”). One of the two short documentaries he directed in the 1970s was a portrait of a rider, and in 2011, he co-wrote a book, together with art historian Edward Vignot, about various works in the Louvre that featured horses.

The actor first won the Cesar, the French Oscar, in 1976 for his supporting work in costumer “Let Joy Reign Supreme” from helmer Bertrand Tavernier, with whom he also made “The Clockmaker,” in which he played alongside his friend Philippe Noiret. Rochefort won the best actor statue two years later for his work in Pierre Schoendoerffer’s naval drama “The Drummer Crab.” He was nominated another four times between 1980 and 1997 before being awarded an honorary Cesar in 1999 and hosting the Cesar ceremony in 2008.

While doing the promo rounds for Fernando Trueba’s elegiac black-and-white drama “The Artist and the Model,” set in Occupied France, Rochefort announced that he’d decided not only to stop acting onstage but also in films, since most of the screenplays he received were about “how to get rid of grandpa.” However, he returned to the screen in “Floride.”

Rochefort is survived by his wife, Francoise Vidal, and five children: Marie and Julien, from his first wife, Alexandra Mocswa; Pierre, from actress-helmer Nicole Garcia; and Louise and Clemence, from Vidal. Pierre and Julien are also actors; Pierre appeared in Benoit Jacquot’s 2012 costumer “Farewell My Queen,” while Julien co-starred with Rochefort senior in 2007 TV pic “Hautot pere et fils,” where they played father and son.

Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report.

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