Renowned Nice Pediatric Hospital Is Scene of Grief Among Families, Reporters

Getty Images

The Fondation Lenval, where eight years ago Angelina Jolie delivered her twins amid an unprecedented paparazzi frenzy, now is the center of a more somber media vigil.

Right now, the distinctive, six-story building with its multi-colored, Mediterranean-blue glass facade overlooking the shimmering Bay of Angels is the saddest place in the south of France.

Inside the Fondation Lenval, Nice’s renowned pediatric hospital, lie maimed children, some of Muslim descent, who were severely injured in Thursday’s deadly truck massacre. Ten children were killed in the attack, including 11-year-old Brodie Copeland of Austin, Texas, whose father, Sean, also died in the attack.

“It was like a war zone out there,” one Nice-area psychologist told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve offered my help to the team of doctors and counselors in place and I’m waiting to be called up.”

The driver of the truck who killed 84 people and injured at least 202, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, drove by the hospital as he zigzagged down the Promenade des Anglais on Bastille Day.

Some children are in comas and one 10-year-old had not yet been identified as of late Friday, according to one doctor at the hospital. Parents came to the hospital frantically searching for their children after they were separated from them in the chaos following the murders, according to Stephanie Simpson, a spokeswoman for the hospital. She said that the children are emotionally as well as physically traumatized.

But almost eight years ago to the day, the hospital was the center of a very different international news story that now seems quaint and somewhat trivial: the birth of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s twins on July 12, 2008.

For three weeks, reporters and paparazzi from all over the world staked out the hospital as Jolie holed up in a sixth-floor suite at Lenval overlooking the seafront. The star fooled all the media by landing stealth-style on the rooftop of the hospital by helicopter after dusk. She checked in early as a precautionary measure prior to her scheduled Cesarean section.

Nothing distinguishes the new, dark side of the French Riviera from the classic France mythologized in Hollywood movies and books and beloved by celebrities more than the stark change that’s occurred in the years since Vivienne and Knox Jolie-Pitt were born at Lenval.

At that time the stakes were high, at least for 2008: Not only did editors want their reporters to beat everyone else with the first news of the twins’ birth, some of the celebrity weeklies were also in bidding wars for photos of the babies. People won, paying a reported $15 million for an exclusive spread on the Jolie-Pitts, their new babies and the rest of the family at home in France.

Angelina had arrived with Brad on the Cote d’Azur in May 2008 to debut two movies, Kung Fu Panda and The Changeling, at the Cannes Film Festival and planned to remain to give birth to her twins in Nice.

In between appearances on the red carpet at Cannes, she and her family led the media on a merry, telegenic chase — from Paul Allen’s Villa Maryland on St. Jean Cap Ferrat, where the family briefly stayed, to Bono’s seaside home in Eze, to the luxe shops of Monaco, rented yachts on the Mediterranean, the Hotel du Cap in Antibes and finally to Miraval, the Pitts’ 1000-acre, 25-bedroom chateau in the tiny village of Correns, 90 minutes southeast of Nice in the Var region.

The twins’ birth and its aftermath were covered as thoroughly and sensationally as terrorist attacks in France are chronicled today. News conferences in French led by the Jolie-Pitts’ medical team just outside the hospital were attended by scores of reporters, many live-translating every detail about Angelina’s pregnancy and delivery on their phones to editors in London and New York.

The media included the usual suspects like the British tabloids and American celebrity weeklies but her pregnancy was covered by venerable outlets like CBS News and the Associated Press as well.

A beaming, handsome Christian Estrosi, then the right-wing mayor of Nice, posed proudly with the birth certificates of both babies. These days, Estrosi, now president of the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) region, is better known for fighting the opening of new mosques in Nice and for trying to prevent Muslim soccer players from praying on the pitch during matches at the local stadium.

Back then, reporters and photographers (including some of the highest-paid paparazzi in the world, who arrived in SUVs armed with high-tech tracking radar, Interpol scanners and who hacked into private jet flight manifestos) openly stalked their prey: pregnant Angelina Jolie.

One denizen from a London tabloid drove his ancient, rattling heap of a car all the way from Canterbury, England, and stumbled around the Fondation Lenval, pretending to mispronounce the names of the Jolie-Pitt children and seeming clueless and incompetent. He was thrown out of a local hotel when he got in a fight with some transsexual prostitutes who sat on top of his car overnight.

It later turned out he was a tough and canny reporter who knew exactly how to ferret out the best intel and was not above paying staffers at the Fondation Lenval for insider details that other reporters on the scene couldn’t get.

Two photographers rented a small Cessna and flew over Miraval. Jolie, looking like “an insect with stick legs and a stomach” happened to be outside when he flew overhead, one of them told me that summer, adding that the image, which ran on the cover of a glossy weekly, sold for $700,000.

"You could get a picture of Jennifer Aniston naked and who cares," the photographer said. "Angelina Jolie is the biggest star in the world right now. Nobody else comes close. That’s why we hunt Angelina — and we do hunt her.”

In contrast, the reporters swarming Nice and the Fondation Lenval this week are often in tears themselves as they talk to parents who have lost children, injured victims and, especially, the one man from the nearby village of Gattieres who lost all the members of his family — his parents, his in-laws, his wife and his 17-year-old son — in a matter of seconds in front of his eyes in the truck attack.

The hunt today on the Cote d’Azur is not for a major movie star but for possible accomplices to Bouhlel and for what, if any, ties he had to the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the murders late Friday. France has been under a state of emergency since last November’s attacks in Paris and now looks to be extended indefinitely.

Under the state of emergency, police have searched more than 6,500 households, the majority belonging to French residents of North African descent, and in some cases ordered them to stop working and to report to local police stations. The police do not need a warrant to enter homes, which they are allowed to start doing after 8:30 a.m.

News from the region often focuses on glamorous areas like Monaco, just up the coast from Cannes, Antibes and St. Tropez. Celebrities ranging from Elton John and Tina Turner to Ringo Starr and Bono have homes on the Cote d’Azur.

Now the stories concentrate on the once little-known, heavily North African-French neighborhoods on the outskirts of cities like Nice and Cannes that police say have become breeding grounds for jihadists. “It’s not fair and French Muslims are being painted with a very dark and bad brush,” said Moustapha Dali, 69, the rector of the mosque in Cannes —18 miles from Nice — who often clashes with local officials he believes are biased against Muslims.

Bekri Boubekeur, the head of Nice’s largest Muslim association, told THR this week that moderate Muslims must step up their fight to prove to the world that ISIS-sponsored terror attacks are have nothing to do with the true spirit of Islam. But the Muslim leaders face an uphill battle.

In the meantime, Angelina Jolie, now 41, and Brad Pitt, 52, likely were grateful to be far away from Nice and the Fondation Lenval this July. Last Tuesday, on the twins’ 8th birthday, two days before the truck massacre, the couple brought Knox and Vivienne to a low-key Hollywood diner, the Griddle Cafe, for a birthday breakfast.

TMZ reported that Knox ate pancakes filled with Oreo cookies, which were covered in powdered sugar and whipped cream.         

comments powered by Disqus