Loves and losses of an ageing idol
Alain Delon's looks took him into acting and his talents turned him into one of France’s leading stars
HE CUTS quite a serious figure in his rare sorties into the public eye. Alain Delon freely admits that he spends much of his time, having just turned 75, thinking about the past. However, having just hosted the Miss France pageant and with plans to star in a stage production with his daughter, Delon may be overcoming his reclusive instincts.
"I keep saying that my life is behind me," he told La Vie éco in a rare interview. "Only the past has a strong taste for me.
"I’m accused of dwelling in the past, with reason. I do dwell in the past, I admit that."
No longer the brooding, intense youth who played Le Samouraï, his age, lengthy career and international reputation lend him gravitas as today he plays, or is, the wistful legend.
Many had considered that he had given up the big screen for good until, in 2008, a stroke of genius somewhere between film-makers, himself and his agent led to him playing Caesar in Asterix at the Olympic Games; a suitably lofty role, which he obligingly milked for all it was worth.
However, the total number of films he has appeared in since 1980 barely comes close to the number in which he starred during the 1970s, let alone the 1960s.
If Delon spends a lot his private time dwelling on the past, he spends practically all his public time talking about it.
He admits he can no longer watch La Piscine (1969), in which he starred with Romy Schneider, who by then was his former lover, and friend Maurice Ronet, under the direction of Jacques Deray. All three are now dead, and the scenes are too painful to revisit, he says.
If there is one central figure in Delon’s aching nostalgia, it is German actress Romy Schneider, whom he met while filming Christine in 1959.
Although the couple moved in Paris to live together, and even became engaged, they broke up in 1964. Whatever the reasons for the split, it seems Delon never really let go, showing to one journalist the photos he kept of her in his wallet, years after her death. He freely admits she was the love of his life.
Schneider’s death in Paris in 1982 was the result of a combination of pain killers and alcohol, but whether it was suicide or an accident has never been confirmed. It came less than a year after her teenage son was killed in a freak accident, puncturing his femoral artery after slipping while climbing a spiked fence.
Delon did not attend the funeral, but paid his respects the next day. He also arranged for her son to be buried alongside her. In a memorial issue of Paris Match, he wrote: "You were never so beautiful. You know, I learnt some German for you: Ich liebe dich, meine Liebe."
Much later he said that her death at only 43, had at least frozen her beauty, saying: "It’s difficult to admit, but I wouldn’t have wanted to see her at 70. It’s better she went this way."
In February 2008, at the Césars (France’s Baftas), Schneider was given an award marking what would have been the 70th anniversary of her birth. Delon took to the stage to receive it on her behalf, requesting a standing ovation for her.
Delon’s romantic life was never this straightforward. Even while he was with Schneider, he had an affair with the German model and singer Nico (she of Velvet Underground fame), even fathering a son, Ari Boulogne.
Delon has never in fact admitted being Boulogne’s father, despite the latter’s startling resemblance to the former and the fact that he was raised by Delon’s parents. (The actor has another link with alternative music: it is he, caught in the final moments of the film L’Insoumis, who graces the front of The Smiths album The Queen is Dead.)
He married Nathalie Barthélemy in August 1964 and had a son, Anthony, in September. The couple divorced on Valentine’s Day 1969.
His next relationship was with French actress Mireille Darc, which latest 15 years until the couple split in 1982. While shooting a video clip for his song Comme au cinéma in 1987, he met Dutch model Rosalie van Breemen. The couple began a relationship, had two children, but split in October 2002.
It was Delon’s looks that led him into acting. Just back from military service in French Indo-China (Vietnam), he was living in Paris doing odd jobs in the capital when he was spotted by Nouvelle Vague actor Jean-Claude Brialy, who invited him to the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. Although he had no theatrical training, filmmakers were impressed by his talents.
American talent scout David O. Selznick offered him a contract in the United States with the requirement that he first learn English. Although Delon set about studying the language, he was persuaded to pursue his career in France. Most of Delon’s films are French, but he has starred in English-language productions, and still has a strong global reputation despite never having won over the US or Britain in the same way as other French stars have.
His portrayal of Zorro in 1975 was one reason for his popularity in the east: it was one of the first Western films to be screened in China following the Cultural Revolution.
He lent his name to a brand of perfumes and fashion accessories, his Alain Delon sunglasses being particularly popular in Japan after they were worn by Chow Yun Fat in A Better Tomorrow (1986). The glasses even have a website www.danslesyeuxdalaindelon.com.
At the peak of his career, he was caught up in scandal. In 1969, both Delon and his wife Nathalie were question by police over the murder of their former bodyguard, Stevan Markovic.
Markovic’s corpse was found in a wood, wrapped in a mattress. Investigators found a letter from Markovic linking the Delons and a Corsican fighter named François Marcantoni.
The Makovic affair began to absorb France’s political elite when connections were made with Marcantoni and former president Georges Pompidou. Only Marcantoni was convicted.
Delon has dual French and Swiss citizenship, for fairly obvious financial reasons. For many years, he owned a home in Morocco, but sold it in 1993.
Like his female counterpart, Brigitte Bardot, he is a campaigner for animal rights (as well as an ardent dog fan). The pair most recently united to condemn the killing of Canadian seal cubs.
Over his career, he has received awards from the Berlin Film Festival, the Césars and the Marrakech Film Festival. He is also an officer of the Légion d’Honneur.
His most recent plan to star with his daughter Anouska in A Typical Day hit the buffers through funding problems, but Delon appears to be regaining his appetite for the screen, appearing to host Miss France on TF1 at the end of last year.
The shadowy Samouraï may be preparing to re-enter the limelight.
1935 Born in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine
1957 Stars in first film Quand La Femme s’en mêle, as a hitman
1959 Meets Romy Schneider
1964 Splits with Schneider after an affair with Nico and marries Nathalie Barthélemy
1967 Stars in Le Samouraï
1968 Markovic affair
1975 Stars as Zorro
1997 Announces retirement from cinema
2003-04 Makes regular appearance in French TV show Frank Riva
2008 Returns to play Julius Caesar in Asterix at the Olympic Games
2010 Hosts Miss France