Perhaps forever to be known as “The Best Don Quixote Who Never Was,” French actor Jean Rochefort has died at age 87, according to AFP.
Rochefort was hospitalized in August and died overnight on Sunday, AFP reported, according to Deadline.
One of the most loved, iconoclastic figures of French cinema in the last 70 years, Rochefort first began appearing in films in 1955.
Both a romantic leading man and character actor, Rochefort was a three time César honoree equally skilled in dramatic and comedic roles. He starred in a number of successful, critically praised French films which attracted international audiences including Ridicule and The Hairdresser’s Husband.
Valued by directors such as Robert Altman and Luis Bunuel, Rochefort achieved instant world-wide recognizability as the sinister moustached Colonel Louis in 1972’s black comedy The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe opposite Pierre Richard.
Rochefort last appeared onscreen in 2015’s Floride, portraying an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
Rochefort’s popularity and international bankability was such that in 2000, director Terry Gilliam cast him to star as Quixote opposite Johnny Depp (as Sancho Panza) and Vanessa Paradis. Doomed from the start, the attempted film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is revered as one of the greatest films never made.
Plagued with troubles including a flash flood washing sets away, scenes interrupted by NATO jet flyovers and funding issues, the project ultimately collapsed after Rochefort was airlifted away for emergency surgery. The aborted film served as the subject of the award-winning Lost In La Mancha documentary.
Last June, after years of attempted reboots, Gilliam finally wrapped production on a newer version of the project, this time starring Jonathan Pryce and Star Wars‘ Adam Driver.
In a statement posted to his Facebook, Gilliam wrote in tribute to Rochefort, “DON QUIXOTE IS DEAD, BUT WILL LIVE FOREVER!”
“I am absolutely stunned, especially as we are in the final stages of editing The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” said Gilliam. “He was the 1st and utterly iconic Don Quixote, the beginning of the film’s long journey. He was a great actor, a brilliant comedian.. brave and determined to continue shooting despite being in severe pain. His was the face and spirit of The Knight of the Mournful Countenance. ”
Added Gilliam, “When I saw him a couple of years ago he seemed to be growing younger, not older. I imagined that, like Quixote, he was capable of living forever. That he should be gone is unbelievably sad. Farewell, Jean.”