Louis de Funès: The great comedian died 40 years ago

Nobody had it like him - the high art of the tantrum.

Louis de Funès: The great comedian died 40 years ago

Nobody had it like him - the high art of the tantrum. Of total freaking out. And when his crest swelled and he exploded, Europe wanted to laugh at him half to death. Because he could do it like no other, little Louis de Funès (1.64m) was the tallest.

In his native France, but also in Central Europe, he is unforgotten, although he died 40 years ago - on January 27, 1983. To this day, reruns of his old films still get top ratings. On the anniversary of his death, fans will again decorate his grave with flowers.

No one could express disappointment, impatience, even satanic joy and insidiousness without words like he did. And the role of the choleric, who gets caught up in his temperament and struggles in vain to regain his composure, was written for him.

French newspapers described him as a "man with 40 grimaces a minute", which was often not based on praise but rather contempt, because for most film critics his films were not art but pure slapstick. But the audience loved him madly for it.

He comes from circles in which slapstick was not considered particularly socially acceptable. He was born Louis Germain David de Funès de Galarza on July 31, 1914 in Courbevoie near Paris. His father was the Spanish lawyer Carlos Luis de Funès de Galarza. He came from an Andalusian noble family that forbade him from marrying the commoner Léonor Soto Reguera. So the lovers emigrated from Seville to France, where Louis was born.

Even at school, he supposedly shined more with sports and pranks than with achievements in the main subjects. After all, in 1932 his art-loving mother sent him to the École national supérieure Louis-Lumière film school, which had also trained greats like Hollywood director Fred Zinnemann ("High Noon"). A year later he was fired for a prank involving firecrackers.

An apprenticeship as a furrier was also terminated prematurely because he had shot down a vocational school teacher's canary with a rubber band and hairpins. He then worked as a draftsman, decorator and accountant. And hired himself out as a jazz pianist in various clubs in the Pigalle red-light district of Paris - because he could play the piano "like God", as his second wife Jeanne-Augustine Barthélémy de Maupassant used to say.

In 1942 he went to the renowned Paris acting school Cours Simon, had small theater roles, worked as a radio announcer and ended up in film in 1946. He was then in his early 30s, after the divorce from Germaine Louise Élodie Carroyer (one son) married in the second marriage to said Madame Barthélémy de Maupassant (two sons), a great-niece of the French writer Guy de Maupassant.

His first film appearance in "When Heaven Fails" lasted 40 seconds, and it took almost 20 years and 80 mostly minor roles before he appeared in "Squeak... squeak... who's drilling for oil?" got the first leading role.

Louis de Funès was already over 50 when the first major film success came in 1964 with "The Gendarme from Saint Tropez". He played the role of simple-minded policeman Ludovic Cruchot, who stumbles from one disaster to the next, in five other films. They were all box office hits. This was followed by three comedy films in the "Fantomas" series as a partner of Jean Marais.

In some years, Louis de Funès made three or four films. All of them had an audience of millions, including big box-office hits like "Louis, the rascal" (1965), "Three crash pilots in Paris" (1966), "Oscar" (1967), "The stupid pranks of the rich" (1971), "Breast or Club" (1976), "Louis and His Extraterrestrial Cabbages" (1981) and countless "Balduin" films.

The style was always the same: a hyper-nervous philistine who steps down and bucks up goes crazy, the comic tantrum becomes the focus, supplemented by grotesque facial expressions and gestures. Only the film "The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob" (1973) deviates somewhat from the norm: Louis de Funès plays a racist businessman who gets caught up in the machinations of the secret services and has to disguise himself as a rabbi. This role-playing game also changes its character for the better. It was his most challenging film.

The dubbing, which in some cases deviates significantly from the original dialogues and is perfectly matched to Funès' wisp gestures, also contributed greatly to the overwhelming success in Germany. A dialogue from "Hash me, I'm the murderer" (1971) became a real cult: "No!" - "After all!" - "Oooh!"

In France, Louis de Funès became the most popular actor - and in 1973 he was knighted in the Legion of Honour. His films made him rich: in 1967 he bought the Château Clermont, the ancestral seat of the von Maupassant family, from Le Cellier on the Loire and moved into the 30 rooms of the castle.

The real Louis de Funès is different than in his films: a reserved but allegedly not uncomplicated nature lover who is passionate about growing roses, prefers to work in his garden and can be silent for days. His humor is described as sharp, enigmatic and profound, which is also confirmed by a traditional bon mot: "Blacking out is a wonderful remedy for talkativeness. It works on parrots, it should also be used on people."

His willingness to help is legendary. "He did everything for friends," says his son, the doctor Patrick de Funès of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". When his caretaker's wife complained of a severe headache "and couldn't be picked up at home, it was snowing, so dad activated his contacts with the military. A short time later, an army helicopter landed in our garden and picked up the caretaker! In the hospital it turned out that the woman just had a normal migraine".

Few people know that nobleman Louis de Funès, who generally thinks politicians are idiots, is a die-hard royalist who presides over the annual memorial mass for King Louis XVI, who was beheaded on January 21, 1793. and visited all the victims of the French Revolution.

In addition, de Funès has a serious heart condition. Apparently, this constant artificial excitement has taken a high toll, and he also works like a man possessed: in addition to filming, he still acts in theater and regularly reads works of classical literature on discs. His private life may not be free of stress either; in recent years, the actor has fallen in love with the radio presenter and actress Macha Béranger.

His film partner Michel Galabru describes this liaison in his memoirs: In order to see his beloved regularly, Louis de Funès rented a suite in the Paris Hotel Intercontinental. Reportedly, this relationship lasted for over a decade.

On March 20, 1974, de Funès suffered his first heart attack, and a week later he had a second. From then on, a cardiologist was always present during filming, but on January 27, 1983, Louis de Funès had his third heart attack and died at the age of 68. 2000 people attended the funeral near his castle.

"Le Figaro" wrote about the star, to whom the French Post Office dedicated a stamp in 1998: "Louis de Funès, that royalist who went to mass every Sunday, was obsessed with laughter." He infected millions of people with it.