Photo Credit: Jean-Paul Belmondo à l'enregistrement de l'émission "Vivement dimanche" réalisée à l'occasion de son 80ème anniversaire - Own work - CC BY-SA 3.0

Jean-Paul Belmondo, the French actor who was one of the biggest icons of post-war cinema in the country, died on Monday, his lawyer confirmed to AFP. He was 88.

“He had been very tired for some time. He died peacefully,” the lawyer said.

The actor, who was face of the French New Wave in the 60s, had films like Breathless (1960), A Woman Is a Woman (1961), and That Man from Rio (1964), among others, to his credit. Despite gaining massive stardom, Belmondo, lovingly called Bebel in France, never stepped into Hollywood.

Born to sculptor Paul Belmondo and painter Sarah Rainaud-Richard in 1933, Belmondo showed an early penchant for sports and briefly ventured into boxing in his teens. He later studied acting at the Conservatoire of Dramatic Arts.

Belmondo made his first appearance on screen in the 1956 short film Moliere, prior to which he performed in the theatre. After playing small roles in several films, he worked with Jean-Luc Godard on the short film, Charlotte and Her Boyfriend (1958). The director dubbed for Belmondo as the actor was called away for mandatory military service. It was the first of a series of collaborations between the two.

Before Godard could cast Belmondo in a feature film, his fellow critic Claude Chabrol roped in the actor for his 1959 thriller À double tour (Web of Passion). However, it was Godard’s Breathless, alongside American actress Jean Seberg, that catapulted Belmondo to fame internationally.

He reunited with Godard for A Woman is a Woman and Pierrot le Fou (1965).

Alongside his acting career, Belmondo launched his own production banner, Cerito Films, and backed films like Dr Popaul (1972), Stavisky (1974), Incorrigible (1974), and Fear Over the City (1975), among others.

Salman Rushdie, the author of books like Satinic Verses and Midnight’s Children, penned a tribute to the actor in his blog. Recalling his days as a student when he watched Belmondo in Breathless and Pierrot le Fou, he wrote, “His beaten-up deadpan face and long loose-limbed body were perfectly suited for Godard’s murderous farces, those tragicomedies which seemed to capture the mood of that decade and hold up surprisingly well in this decade, also tragicomic, also murderous.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron called Belmondo a “national treasure” and wrote: “He will forever remain The Magnificent. Jean-Paul Belmondo was a national treasure, full of panache and bursts of laughter, with loud words and swift body, sublime hero and familiar figure, tireless daredevil and magician of words. In him, we all found ourselves.”

France will reportedly observe a national ceremony on Thursday to honour the actor.

Actor Kristen Stewart paid tribute to Belmondo right before the screening of her film Spencer at the ongoing Venice Film Festival, where he had received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 2016.

Jean-Claude Van Damme took to Twitter and wrote, “RIP, Sir Jean-Paul Belmondo. I am sorry to hear the sad news. All my love to the Belmondo family.”

Belmondo was married twice, to Elodie Constantin (1952-1968) and Natty Tardivel (2002-2008). He is survived by his children, Florence Belmondo, Paul Belmondo, and Stella Belmondo.