- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Annie Girardot, the perky, gravelly-voiced actress who became one of France’s most enduring and acclaimed modern stars, died on Monday. She was 79.

Girardot, with awards for both film and theater in a decades-long career, had suffered for years from Alzheimer’s disease and a Paris hospital said she died on Monday.

With an enthusiastic nature that never seemed to fail, Girardot captured the hearts of French lovers of cinema and theater.

“The French cinema is a widow today,” said Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand.

Film director Claude Lelouch, who made her his star in six movies, compared Girardot to Edith Piaf, saying she was the stage “equivalent” of the French singing legend. However, Piaf gained worldwide recognition whereas Girardo’s talent stayed closer to home.

Among Lelouch’s films starring Girardo was the 1969 “Un homme qui me plait” (A Man Who Pleases Me) in which she played opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Girardot was acclaimed for her comedic performance in 1954 at the Academie Francaise, but made her movie debut the following year with Andre Hunebelle’s “Treize a table” (13 at the Table). However, it was not until 1960 that her film career was truly launched with Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers” in which she starred with Alain Delon.

During her career, Girardo performed in over 100 films, and won France’s coveted Cesar award three times _ in 1976 for best actress for her role in Jean-Louis Bertuccelli’s “Doctor Francoise Gailland,” for best supporting actress for “Les Miserables” in 1995, and for playing a possessive mother of a musician in Michael Haneke’s “Le Pianiste” in 2001.

Despite her productivity, Girardot was pushed aside by innovative directors like Francois Truffaut, and she spent years sidelined.

French television on Monday repeatedly showed video of her accepting the best supporting actress Cesar for “Les Miserables,” which marked her comeback. Girardot was so overcome with tears she had problems speaking, but managed to say, “I don’t know if the French cinema missed me, but I missed the French cinema crazily.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Girardot’s “surprising mixture of strength and sensitivity” on the screen. He called her decision to take part in a documentary on Alzheimer’s the “last testimony of (her) generosity.”

Girardot is survived by her daughter, Julia. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

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