Gérard Philipe (4 December 1922 – 25 November 1959) was a prominent French actor who appeared in 34 films between 1944 and 1959.
Born Gérard Philip in Cannes, France, he was of one quarter Czech ancestry from his maternal grandmother and three quarters French ancestry.
As a teenager Philipe took acting lessons before going to Paris to study at the Conservatoire of Dramatic Art.
When he was 19 years old, he made his stage debut at a theater in Nice; and the following year his strong performance in the Albert Camus play, Caligula, brought an invitation to work with the Théâtre national populaire (T.N.P.) in Paris and Avignon, whose festival, founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, is France’s oldest and most famous.
Philipe made his film debut in Les Petites du quai aux fleurs (1943) and after a few more minor film roles, he rocketed to fame as a result of his performance in Claude Autant-Lara’s Devil in the Flesh (1947).
Adored by women for his good looks, Gérard Philipe was also a very talented actor and highly regarded by his peers.
He played roles as diverse as Faust and Modigliani and he was sought out by France’s preeminent directors for his versatility and professionalism.
In 1951, Philipe married Nicole Fourcade (1917–1990), an actress/writer, with whom he had two children. She adopted the pseudonym, Anne Philipe, and wrote about her husband in two books, the first called Souvenirs (1960) and a second biography titled Le Temps d’un soupir (No Longer Than a Sigh, 1963).
Recognized worldwide for his talent, he was at the pinnacle of his career when he died from liver cancer while working on a film project in Paris, a few days short of his 37th birthday. (His doctors concealed from him the nature of his disease.) He is buried in the village cemetery in Ramatuelle, Var near the Mediterranean Sea coast.
To commemorate the centenary of the cinema in 1995, the French government issued a series of limited edition coins that included a 100 franc coin bearing the image of Philipe.
Among the most popular French actors of modern times, he has been elevated to mythic status in his homeland, not least because of his early death at the peak of his popularity. In 1986, his portrait appeared on a French commemorative postage stamp.
There is a film festival named in his honour as well as a number of theatres and schools (such as the College Gérard Philipe – Cogolin) in various parts of France.
In Germany he has been scarcely less respected than in his native country; a cultural centre is named after him in Berlin.