Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, his former assistant said Sunday. He was 84.
A French Jew, Marceau survived the Holocaust — and also worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children.
His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. Marceau, in turn, inspired countless young performers — Michael Jackson borrowed his famous "moonwalk" from a Marceau sketch, "Walking Against the Wind."
Famous for the sad clown Bip (Photos: AFP)
Marceau performed tirelessly around the world until late in life, never losing his agility, never going out of style. In one of his most poignant and philosophical acts, "Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death," he wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes.
"Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?" he once said.
Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. In 1944, Marceau's father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.
When Paris was liberated, Marcel's life as a performer began. He enrolled in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art, studying with the renowned mime Etienne Decroux.
On a tiny stage at the Theatre de Poche, a smoke-filled Left Bank cabaret, he sought to perfect the style of mime that would become his trademark.
Bip — Marceau's on-stage persona — was born.
Marceau once said that Bip was his creator's alter ego, a sad-faced double whose eyes lit up with child-like wonder as he discovered the world. Bip was a direct descendant of the 19th-century harlequin, but his clownish gestures, Marceau said, were inspired by Chaplin and Keaton.
Remembering the master
A relative of Marceau, Israeli singer Yardena Arazi, said that her mother and Marceau, who were cousins, hid together in the French countryside during World War Two. According to Arazi, towards the end of his life the great mime's financial situation was dire.
"Although he was a national hero in France who received all the honors of an international artist, he remained very much alone, broke and very ill. My uncle took care of him. This is a sad ending to a magnificent career that has left its imprint on this field."
Revived the art of mime
Yoram Boker, Marceau's student and one of Israel's most prominent mime artists, said he feared that the art would die with the master. "Most of his students were more occupied with copying him than with finding their own route. Mime is slowly dying because of the gap between the fast rhythm of our times and the art of pantomime, which is slow and meditative.
Yisrael Gurion, another Israeli mime artist who was one of Marceau's protégés and toured with his company in Europe and the US, was shocked to hear about the legend's death.
"I was very influenced by him, by the lyrical approach that accompanies me to this day... Marcel Marceau has transformed pantomime, which was until he showed up an elitist, fossilized art that appealed to very few people, into a popular form of art," he said.