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The actor also starred in Madame Bovary, Three Coins in the Fountain, The Swan, The V.I.P.S and Can-Can

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February 15, 2015 04:35 PM

Hollywood has had many quintessential young Englishmen, but from the late 1940s through the early ’60s, there was only one quintessential young Frenchman: Louis Jourdan.

The star of the 1958 Best Picture Oscar winner, Gigi, whose film roles also included those in Madame Bovary, Three Coins in the Fountain, The Swan, The V.I.P.S and Can-Can, Jourdan died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills, reports Variety. He was 93.

As was told in a 1985 PEOPLE profile, Jourdan – real name Gendre – and his two brothers grew up in the South of France, where their parents managed hotels in Cannes, Nice and Marseilles. He learned English from tourists (“The music of the language was always around,” he told the magazine), studied drama in Paris and played a number of roles in French films until the war interrupted. When the Gestapo arrested his father, Jourdan and his brothers joined the underground Resistance.

His film debut took place in France, in 1939’s Le Corsaire, and he continued to act in movies during the war. In 1946, he and Berthe Frederique “Quique” Jourdan, his childhood sweetheart to whom he would remain married for six decades (she died last year), were brought to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind) and cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1947 thriller The Paradine Case.

From then on, Jourdan was regularly cast in debonair roles in movies he later dismissed, despite his always displaying an effortless screen charm that made him a familiar presence to American audiences.

“I never see my movies,” he told PEOPLE in 1985. “When they’re on television I click them away. Hollywood created an image and I long ago reconciled myself with it. I was the French cliché.”

When his boyish good looks began to fade – though only ever so slightly – he graduated to playing villains in such projects as the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy and a TV version of Dracula. He also appeared in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, in 1982.

That same year also brought his greatest personal tragedy, when he found the body of his only son, Louis Henry, then 29, slumped across an antique bed in the Jourdans’ Beverly Hills home. Louis Henry, who suffered from depression, had apparently taken an overdose of drugs. The police labeled it a suicide.

Among his very last roles was in the 1986 NBC movie Beverly Hills Madam, starring Faye Dunaway.

Still, when it comes to remembering Louis Jordan, it will be for Gigi, based on the novella by Colette, directed by Vincente Minnelli and the winner of nine Oscars. The quintessential young Frenchman starred as the older suitor of the blossoming gamine played by Leslie Caron – another debonair role that earned Jourdan both a Golden Globe nomination and the distinction of being in one of the great MGM musicals of all time.

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