French actor Michel Serrault dies


PARIS -- Tributes poured in Monday for French actor Michel Serrault, best known for his role as the flamboyant drag star in camp comedy "La Cage aux Folles," who died over the weekend. He was 79.

Serrault was adored by the French public and starred in more than 150 movies and TV series during a career spanning more than 50 years.

Born in 1928, Serrault's first success was as Zaza Napoli in the stage production of "La Cage," a role he reprised for Edouard Molinaro's 1978 big-screen adaptation, earning him a Cesar for best actor. Serrault subsequently starred in two French-language sequels. The movie was remade in English as "The Birdcage" starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

President Nicolas Sarkozy led the tributes, describing Serrault as a "monument of the theater, the cinema and of television." Culture minister Christine Albanel called him "an immense talent" with "the gift to bring clear authenticity to the characters he painted."

Despite the international success of "La Cage," Serrault never ventured far outside the French industry. He won another Cesar in 1982 for his performance in the thriller "Garde a Vue" (Under Suspicion), directed by Claude Miller, and picked up the award a third time in 1995 for his role in Claude Sautet's "Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud."

An extremely versatile actor, Serrault also worked notably with directors Bertrand Blier, Claude Chabrol and Mathieu Kassovitz. He enjoyed a late run of boxoffice success in a string of bucolic Gallic hits, including "Le Bonheur Est dans le Pre," "Les Enfants du Marais," "Une Hirondelle a Fait le Printemps" (The Girl From Paris) and "The Butterfly." His most recent role was in the esoteric thriller "Pars Vite et Reviens Tard," directed by Regis Wargnier.