Frédéric Mitterrand Dies: Flamboyant, Controversial Former French Culture Minister With A Passion For Brad Pitt Was 76

Former French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, who was a high-profile and sometimes controversial figure on France’s cultural scene, died on Thursday at the age of 76, his family announced.

Born in Paris in 1947 to a well-to-do family, Mitterrand was the nephew of President François Mitterrand.

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His many activities across half a century included teacher, arthouse cinema owner, cinema and culture commentator, TV presenter, producer and documentary-maker.

He first gained notoriety on France’s cultural scene as the owner of the bohemian arthouse cinema L’Olympic in Paris’ then down-at-heel 14th arrondissement.

After a brief time as a geography and history teacher, he acquired the theater in 1971 at the age of 22 with the help of a loan from the father of one of his former pupils.

It took on a folkloric status for its mixed clientele of locals, cinephiles, neighborhood hoodlums, drag queens and the occasional film star and auteur director of the time.

Over the course of the next 15 years, Mitterrand built a small arthouse circuit under the L’Olympic banner but lost the lot in 1986 due to financial mismanagement.

Mitterrand’s entry into exhibition sector had been spurred by a life-time fascination with cinema and a desire to make films himself.

He achieved the latter ambition in 1981 with first film From Somalia With Love (Lettres d’amour en Somalie), a hybrid work capturing Somalia with a voiceover of love letters written to a lost lover.

His other credits included the 1995 musical film Madame Butterfly, which was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for U.S., as well as bio-docs devoted to Grace Kelly, Lana Turner and Christian Dior.

At the same time, Mitterrand was building a career as a cinema and culture TV commentator, kicking off with Etoiles et Toiles on TF1. It was the first of a dozen mainly cinema-themed shows across the 1980s and ’90s.

In the 2000s, he started to take on more institutional roles.

His carried out cultural missions in Tunisia and Morocco and was briefly the head of the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici in 2008, before being appointed Minister of Culture and Communications under the centre-right government of François Fillon and presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Surviving in the role from 2009 to 2012, he was one of France’s longest serving culture ministers in the high turnover post.

Sarkozy’s then new wife Carla Bruni is reported have endorsed Mitterrand.

He later said he barely knew the former model and singer, but suggested their friends in common, filmmaker and model Farida Khelfa and fashion icon Inès de la Fressange, may have helped his case.

Mitterrand was also one of the country’s first openly gay public figures and ministers, publicly coming out with his 2005 loosely, autobiographical novel A Bad Life.

This work would land him in hot water after far-right politician Marine Le Pen condemned him a few months into his ministership in 2009 for a passage in which the narrator talks about paying for sex with boys during a trip to Thailand.

Mitterrand was already in the eye of a political storm having sparked anger for an impassioned speech in defence of Roman Polanski a few weeks earlier, following the director’s detention at Zurich airport at the request of the U.S. authorities in relation to outstanding 1977 rape charges.

He clung on to his post amid calls for his resignation making a public statement vehemently denying he had paid for sex with underage boys and dismissing claims that the book justified sex tourism.

Mitterrand, who died after a short battle with cancer, remained a high-profile figure right up until the end of his life. His final work was a biography of Brad Pitt, entitled Brad, for whom Mitterrand had a long held passion.

As part of the promotional campaign, which was was published at the same as he announced his cancer diagnosis in the spring of 2023, Mitterrand dressed up as the star for a Paris Match photo shoot.

“I wrote a book about Brad Pitt because I like him. He has the fragility of real men who know how difficult life is. Periods of dark depression – I have them too. Writing about him is a way of sharing them,” he explained at the time.

“I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me, we’ve never met, but maybe he’ll pause for a minute when he discovers this message in a bottle, realizing that he has a friend somewhere in France who likes him, admires him, and understands him.”

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