Born on July 31, 1914, in Courbevoie, France, Louis de Funès established a film career with small roles before landing the lead in the 1963 comedy Pouic-Pouic, which sent him to stardom. Other major projects followed, including the Le Gendarme series and the blockbuster La Grande Vadrouille. A beloved figure to many, Funès received an honorary César Award before his death on January 27, 1983.
Background and Early Film Career
Louis de Funès was born on July 31, 1914, in Courbevoie, France, of Mediterranean ancestry. His father was a lawyer and diamond broker, and the young Funès was known for being a jokester, inspired by turmoil at home. He worked a variety of jobs during adulthood and was released from French military service during World War II due to a health misdiagnosis.
Funès entered the world of French film in the mid-1940s. Over the course of almost 20 years, he would be featured primarily as an extra or in supporting roles in dozens upon dozens works, including Antoine et Antoinette (1947), Ma Femme Est Formidable (1951) and Frou-Frou (1955). He also landed a prominent part as a butcher in the well-known La Traverseé de Paris (1956).
Funès performed as a pianist in Parisian cabarets as well and continued to develop his stagecraft, eventually earning raves for his performance in Oscar; the play was later turned into a 1967 film for which Funès shared screenwriting credit.
Hit With 'Pouic-Pouic'
The comic actor had his breakthrough lead role in the 1963 Jean Girault film Pouic-Pouic, where Funès played a middle-aged money man who gets embroiled in a farce of switched identities and financial scheming. The movie placed Funès firmly in the spotlight and he became a venerated star of his home country.
Girault and Funès worked together on many more films, and the two followed up Pouic with Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez (1964), where Funès portrayed a maladroit policeman. He played the gendarme role in five more installments, in what became a popular series.
Record-Holding Film Icon
Funès co-starred with fellow comedian Bourvil in the 1964 gangster hijinks movie Le Corniaud, directed by Gérard Oury. The trio reunited for 1966's La Grande Vadrouille, a comedy set during World War II. The outing was a major smash, with more than 17 million people in France alone going to see the film—a record held until the 1990s release of Titanic.
Funès continued his big-screen work into the next decade with fare like L'Homme Orchestre (1970) and Jo (1971), and also continued to collaborate with Oury in La Folie des Grandeurs (1971) and The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (1973), which was eventually released in the United States. Jacob told the story of an ignorant, anti-semitic businessman played by Funès who, in a string of twists, ends up having to pretend to be a rabbi.
Personal Life and Later Work
Though a luminary, Funès preferred the quiet life with his wife, Jeanne, and their two children. (Jeanne was also his agent, and son Olivier appeared in several films with his father.) Funès was also known for his love of rose gardening and organic farming.
By the mid-1970s, Funès suffered from severe heart problems and had to curtail his work. He subsequently made a few more films, including La Zizanie (1978) and L'Avare (1979), which was directed by Girault and was a remake of a Moliere work.
Funès received an honorary César Award in 1980, presented by another comic icon, Jerry Lewis. Some time later, while at home, Funès suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 68 on January 27, 1983, in Nantes, France.
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