French actor Noiret, 76, dies

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French film star Philippe Noiret, whose trademark hangdog face delighted cinema audiences, has died, the French Culture Ministry said Thursday. He was 76.

France's TF1 television station said Noiret died of cancer.

Noiret was one of the most prolific and successful actors of his generation, starring in a string of cinema hits over the past five decades, including the hugely popular 1988 Franco-Italian comedy "Cinema Paradiso."

Originally a theater actor, Noiret's honeyed voice and air of comic, world-weary disillusion tempered by outbreaks of explosive anger helped shape the image of French cinema from the 1960s in both popular comedies and art house dramas.

"A giant has left us. He was one of the masters of the stage and screen, one of the most outstanding and captivating figures of theater and cinema," French President Jacques Chirac said.

"With his genius, his humor, his elegance and his composure, he was able to win the recognition of his peers and the hearts of all French men and women. Philippe Noiret will remain as one of our greatest actors," he added.

Noiret made his film debut in 1955 in Agnes Varda's "La pointe courte" but did not really make his mark until 1960, when he played the downbeat uncle in Louis Malle's classic "Zazie dans le metro."

His part as one of a quartet of middle-aged gluttons who form a pact to eat themselves to death in the anarchic comedy "La grande bouffe" ("Blow Out") showed his willingness to take on offbeat and controversial roles.

But he also had enormous success in more sentimental films such as "Il Postino," where he played the exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, or "Cinema Paradiso," where he played a village cinema projectionist who befriends and inspires a young boy.

His comic talent, underlined by a sense of good-humored malice, was a key part of some of French cinema's biggest popular successes, including the 1984 comedy "Les ripoux," in which he played the amiably corrupt police detective Rene.

He also won best actor awards in France for his role in the 1975 film "Le vieux fusil" ("The Gun") and for the 1989 film "La vie et rien d'autre" ("Life and Nothing But"), an intense drama set at the end of World War I.

Born Oct. 1, 1930, in the northern city of Lille, Noiret began his life as an actor with theater studies, touring with the Theatre Nationale Populaire in Paris.

Noiret is survived by his wife, Monique; and a daughter, Frederique.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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