France's favourite tough guy Claude Brasseur dies at 84

France's favourite tough guy Claude Brasseur dies at 84

With his rugged physique and dark, lively gaze, he took on many tough guy roles

French actor Claude Brasseur. Credit: AFP Photo

Claude Brasseur, one of France's most beloved character actors -- who died Tuesday aged 84 -- lived as colourful a life off-screen as on it as a daredevil parachutist, Olympic bobsledder and Paris-Dakar rally champion.

With his rugged physique and dark, lively gaze, he took on many tough guy roles, but was equally celebrated for comic appearances including playing Sophie Marceau's father in "The Party" and his brilliant turn as "king of the campsite" Jacky Pic in the "Camping" films.

Brasseur, the godson of the adventure-loving American literary giant Ernest Hemingway, won two Cesars -- the French equivalent of the Oscars -- and was also a hit on the small screen, notably in his 1971 performance as Vidocq, the Parisian criminal mastermind turned policeman.

A life-long bon vivant, Brasseur was a regular in Parisian nightclubs and had a taste for adventure and extreme sports.

In the 1950s he had to pause his budding film career to serve three years as a parachutist for the French army during the bloody war of independence in Algeria.

In 1964, he was picked for the Winter Olympic Games as a member of France's bobsleigh team, but he was badly injured just before the competition began.

He later joked that he had so much metal in his body he should have been picked to play "The Terminator" rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Passionate about cars, Brasseur was a keen rally racer and took part in several Paris-Dakar competitions, winning the 1983 endurance rally across the Sahara as co-driver with Jacky Ickx.

Brasseur was born in well-heeled Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, on June 15, 1936. An only child, he came from a family of artists, spanning back generations, and both his parents were celebrated actors.

He worked on his first film set in 1955 for Marcel Pagnol of "Jean de Florette" fame and appeared for the first time on-screen the following year in one of the acclaimed director's films.

Brasseur went on to make more than 100 films and work with some of French cinema's great directors, including Jean Renoir, Marcel Ophuls, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut.

His television role in 1965 as the amateur sleuth Rouletabille in "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" made him a household name, as did supporting roles in big screen hits such as the 1992 historic drama "The Supper" playing Napoleon's ruthless head of police, Joseph Fouche.

He married Michele Cambon in 1970 and his son, Alexandre, is also an actor.