Renowned mime, Holocaust survivor Marcel Marceau dies

A French Jew, Marceau worked with French Resistance to save children.

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September 23, 2007 11:41
2 minute read.
Renowned mime, Holocaust survivor Marcel Marceau dies

marcel marceau bw 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, his former assistant said Sunday. He was 84. Marceau, a Holocaust survivor who performed around the world, died Saturday in Paris, French media reported. Former assistant Emmanuel Vacca announced the death on France-Info radio, but gave no details about the cause. Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau played the entire range of human emotions onstage for more than 50 years, never uttering a word. Offstage, he was famously chatty. "Never get a mime talking. He won't stop," he once said. Marceau's lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions gave life to characters from a peevish waiter to a lion tamer to an old woman knitting. A French Jew, Marceau survived the Holocaust and worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children. His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. Marceau, in turn, inspired countless young performers - Michael Jackson borrowed his famous "moonwalk" from a Marceau sketch, "Walking Against the Wind." In one of his most poignant and philosophical acts, "Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death," Marceau wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes. Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. His father, Charles, a butcher who sang baritone, introduced his son to the world of music and theater at an early age. The boy adored the silent film stars of the era: Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers. When the Germans marched into eastern France, he and his family were given just hours to pack their bags. He fled to southwest France and changed his last name to Marceau to hide his Jewish origins. In 1944, Marceau's father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died. When Paris was liberated, Marcel's life as a performer began. He enrolled in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art, studying with the renowned mime Etienne Decroux. On a tiny stage at the Theatre de Poche, a smoke-filled Left Bank cabaret, he sought to perfect the style of mime that would become his trademark. As he aged, Marceau kept on performing at the same level, never losing the agility that made him famous. On top of his Legion of Honor and his countless honorary degrees, he was invited to be a United Nations goodwill ambassador for a 2002 conference on aging. "If you stop at all when you are 70 or 80, you cannot go on," he told The Associated Press in an interview in 2003. "You have to keep working."

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