(from France24, 6/9; via the Drudge Report; Photo: French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo poses at the 23rd Lumières awards ceremony in Paris on February 5, 2018. © Francois Mori, AP.)

Actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of postwar French cinema’s biggest stars, whose charismatic smile illuminated the screen for half a century, has died aged 88 in his Paris home.

With his devil-may-care charm, Belmondo was the poster boy of the New Wave, France’s James Dean and Humphrey Bogart rolled into one irresistible man. With his boxer’s physique and broken nose, his restless insouciance chimed with the mould-breaking French cinema of the 1960s.

Director Jean-Luc Godard, the New Wave’s brilliant enfant terrible, cast Belmondo in his breakout role as a doomed thug who falls in love with Jean Seberg’s pixie-like American in Paris in “Breathless” (1960).

The film floored critics and audiences worldwide and, with François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows”, changed the history of cinema.

Time magazine in 1964 declared Belmondo the face of modern France. 

“The Tricolour, a snifter of cognac, a flaring hem – these have been demoted to secondary symbols of France,” it said.

“The primary symbol is an image of a young man slouching in a cafe chair … he is Jean-Paul Belmondo – the natural son of the Existentialist conception, standing for everything and nothing at 738 mph.”

A boxer’s charm

Yet Belmondo was far from a sauve intellectual and spent most of his career in he-man roles that played on his raw sex appeal.

Despite making his name as a charming gangster, the actor was brought up in the bourgeois Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of a renowned sculptor, Paul Belmondo. 

Born in 1933, he performed poorly at school during World War II but was a talented boxer, winning three straight round-one knockouts in a brief amateur career.

He then trained at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art.

His first foray into cinema in 1957 in the forgettable comedy “On Foot, on Horse and on Wheels”, ended up on the cutting-room floor.

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