Claude Brasseur 1936 -2020

I know I’m supposed to be on holiday, but I read today of the death of Claude Brasseur and felt the urge to write about him. Why? Well, because he was a fascinating man… And the winner of the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1983 – as co-driver of no less a figure than Jacky Ickx. Brasseur also raced and rallied with Simca.

Born into a famous acting family, his great grandfather Jules Brasseur having been a celebrated actor. Claude’s grandfather Albert was Jules’s son-in-law and Albert’s son Pierre was another thespian. Claude grew up surrounded by famous names, including his godfather Ernest Hemingway. His parents’ circles of friends included the poets Louis Aragon and Jean Cocteau, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the singer Jacques Brel and actors Jean Gabin and Yves Montand.

He started out working as a photographer’s assistant for Paris-Match and briefly considered a career in journalism but he turned quickly to the theatre, taking to the stage in 1955 and making his first film the following year. He would go on to appear in 90 movies, winning two Césars and becoming a chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur for his services to the cinema. He would also become a TV star.

He paused his career in 1957 to do his National Service, as a paratrooper in Algeria, during the war of independence. When he returned from the war Brasseur turned his attention to bobsleighs and won two French championships. He married a model and stylist – Peggy Roche – but she would later leave him to become the lesbian partner of the author Françoise Sagan…

Brasseur’s ambition was to go to the Olympics in 1964 in Innsbruck and he represented France in the World Championships in 1963, but a training accident left him with serious head injuries and he decided to focus on the cinema. In the 1970s he raced and rallied Simcas, with the Stars Racing Team and then at New Year in 1979 he found himself in the company of a group of friends, skiing in the Alps, among them the celebrated F1 and Le Mans driver Jacky Ickx. They saw TV coverage of the Paris-Dakar and decided as a joke that they would take part in the race across the Sahara. In the days that followed, Ickx asked him if they might actually do it. And Brasseur agreed. Two years later the pair took a Texaco-sponsored Citroen on the event. It was not a success but a switch to a Mercedes 280 GE the following year was more successful and in 1983 the two took the Mercedes to victory. They then turned their attention to convincing Porsche and Rothmans to try the raid rally event. They didn’t win by their team-mate Rene Metge took victory in 1984…

Brasseur decided he had done enough and as he was approaching 50 decided to retire from competition. He remained a huge figure in the world of French film and TV.

His son Alexandre is now a star of French cinema…

Right, back to holidays.

13 thoughts on “Claude Brasseur 1936 -2020

  1. Merci Joe pour cet hommage à C Brasseur , acteur respecté et co-pilote a ses heures effectivement. Vous êtes décidément surprenant et délicat. Merci d avoir partagé cette biographie avec vos lecteurs anglais, nos amis anglais ; we are all race fans.
    Bonnes vacances.

    1. Très bien dit, et j’ajoute que les lecteurs américains apprécient également! This post also reminds us of what an incredibly versatile driver Ickx was outside of Formula 1, where he never quite got the success he deserved.

  2. Happy holidays Joe. I hope you and yours are well. I’ve really enjoyed your journalism over the years, subscribing to GP+ as well as having Crippen, Saboteurs and an eBay The World Atlas of Motor Racing (sorry- the only way I could easily find it). Cheers!

    I remember a work of yours about the history of Christian Christmas. Enjoyed that. Maybe you could dig it out.

    Best and warm wishes!

  3. Great life story. Thanks for the insight Joe. Merry Christmas to you and the family and all the best for 2021.

  4. Amazing story! These men are the inspirations.

    BTW it’s just been reported that Hublot has pulled Ferrari sponsorship…

  5. Joe, another, like you, who was a damned good writer with literary and history knowledge, Mike Lawrence, has just toppled off his perch too.

      1. Hi Joe. I was lucky enough to have met Mike and have hung out with him for a week in England some years ago. Just a delightful, different human being. To learn he was kind to you when you’re a young journalist just makes me happier.

  6. A very interesting life. Thanks for the post. Hopefully there will be no more passings to draw you back from your holiday.

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