- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

PARIS (AP) — Marcel Marceau, the master of mime who transformed silence into poetry with lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions, has died at age 84.

Mr. Marceau’s former assistant Emmanuel Vacca said on French radio that the performer died Saturday in Paris, but gave no details.

Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Mr. Marceau breathed new life into an art that dates from ancient Greece. He played out the human comedy through his alter-ego Bip without ever uttering a word.

Offstage, he was famously chatty. “Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop,” he once said.

A French Jew, Mr. Marceau escaped deportation to a Nazi death camp during World War II, unlike his father, who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mr. Marceau worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children and later used memories of his own life to feed his art.

He gave life to a wide spectrum of characters, from a peevish waiter to a lion tamer to an old woman knitting, and to the best-known Bip.

His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. In turn, Mr. Marceau inspired countless young performers — Michael Jackson borrowed his famous “moonwalk” from a Marceau sketch, “Walking Against the Wind.”

In one of his most poignant and philosophical acts, “Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death,” Mr. Marceau wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes.

He took his art to stages across the world, performing in Asia, Europe and the U.S., his “second country,” where he first performed in 1955 and returned every two years. He performed for Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Tireless, Mr. Marceau took his art to Cuba for the first time in September 2005.

The son of a butcher, the mime was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. His father, Charles, a baritone with a love of song, introduced his son to the world of music and theater at an early age. The boy was captivated by the silent film stars of the era: Mr. Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers.

When the Nazis marched into eastern France, he fled with family members to the southwest and changed his last name to Marceau to hide his Jewish origins.

With his brother Alain, Marceau became active in the French Resistance, altering children’s identity cards by changing birth dates to trick the Nazis into thinking they were too young to be deported. Because he spoke English, he was recruited to be a liaison officer with Gen. George S. Patton’s army.

His father was sent to Auschwitz in 1944.

“Yes, I cried for him,” Mr. Marceau said. But he said he also thought of the others killed.

“Among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who [would have] found a cancer drug,” he told reporters in 2000. “That is why we have a great responsibility. Let us love one another.”

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