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French actress, singer Marie Laforêt dies age 80

Marie Laforêt in her show "Marie chante Laforêt" l12 September 2005 at Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens.
Marie Laforêt in her show "Marie chante Laforêt" l12 September 2005 at Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. JOEL ROBINE / AFP

The singer and actress Marie Laforêt, nicknamed "the girl with golden eyes" after one of her best known films, has died aged 80. She acted in 35 films and sold more than 35 million albums.

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Laforet died on Saturday in the Swiss town of Genolier, her family announced on Sunday. The cause of death was as yet unknown.

She became famous as a singer releasing her first single Vendanges de l’amour in 1963. 

It was the first of many hits including Ivan, Boris et moi, Il a neigé sur Yesterday (in tribute to The Beatles), Viens sur la montagne, Marie douceur, Marie colère and Que calor la vida.

Singing in French and Spanish, she opened up French pop music and chanson française, drawing inspiration from American and European folk music.

As an actress she starred in films by René Clement, Georges Lautner, Henri Verneuil and Pierre Granier-Deferre, Michel Deville and Jean-Pierre Mocky.

One of the most notable was the La fille aux yeux d’Or  (The Girl with the Golden Eyes), by Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, whom she married after the shoot in 1961.

Her debut film was the 1960 crime thriller Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) starring Alain Delon and directed by René Clement. It was loosely based on The Talented Mr. Ripley by crime writer Patricia Highsmith.

Laforêt did not keep a happy memory of the film or working alongside Delon.  "He's not funny, he's not intelligent. He's all show with nothing inside," she said in an interview in 2004.

Performing as a form of escapism

Maïténa Doumenach, her real name, was born on 5 October, 1939 in Soulac-sur-Mer (Gironde), in the southwest of France, the daughter of an industrialist.

At the age of 38, she revealed she’d been raped by a neighbour when she was three.

"For decades, it was impossible to talk about it," she said.  "Had I not been raped, I would never have exposed myself in that way to the public. It went against my natural shyness. I chose a career that would provide an outlet for my feelings.”

As a young woman she was attracted to the convent, but discovered a passion for theatre at high school in Paris and in 1959 she won an acting competition.

I don’t have a voice, but a timbre

Lafôret also had a career in theatre and was nominated for a Molières theatre award in 2000 for her breathtaking interpretation of Maria Callas.

Asked in 1968 about having three careers in film, theatre and in song she told the Swiss broadcaster RTS she "didn't have three careers, just three ways of expressing herself".

She remained self-effacing. "I don’t have a voice, I have a timbre,” she said, minimising her talent. "I'm ashamed of doing what I do: interpreting pop songs in a superficial way."

She gradually stopped recording, preferring to write and went to live in Geneva where she opened an art gallery.

In 1994, she published a compilation of songs in four volumes, covering her 30-year career.

"My career has been made up of odds and ends but my life has been full from beginning to end," she said.

Married five times, she had three children, two with businessman Judas Azuelos. Her daughter Lisa Azuelos is a filmmaker.

 

Marie Laforêt - key dates:

  • 5 October 1939: born in Soulac (Gironde)
  • 1960: starred in "Plein soleil" by René Clément alongside Alain Delon
  • 1961: starred in "La fille aux yeux d'or" by Jean-Gabriel Albicocco alongside Françoise Dorléac
  • the 60s: hits with songs like "Les vendanges de l'amour", "Viens sur la montagne", "Manchester et Liverpool", "Ivan, Boris et moi", "Mon amour, mon ami"
  • 1969 and 1970: sell-out concerts at Olympia and Bobino 
  • 1972 : decides to stop live performance
  • 1993 : releases "Reconnaissances" - album of her own compositions  
  • 2000 : plays Maria Callas on stage (nominated for a Molière award).
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