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The ‘Shakespearean’ family saga gripping France

Alain Delon
An old friend of Alain Delon says he was ‘the most handsome man in the world’ - Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Alain Delon, the great French actor and heartthrob of the 1960s, has often made it clear how he would like his death stage-managed. “I want to die in my bed with my family around me,” he told magazine Paris Match 20 years ago.

Facing the final curtain after multiple strokes, the ailing 88-year-old’s apparently simple wish has never looked so unobtainable. In the past week, a vitriolic feud between the former actor’s three children has burst into public view bearing all the hallmarks, as his youngest son Alain-Fabien put it, of “a Shakespearean tragedy”.

The setting, however, is neither Hamlet’s Elsinore nor Macbeth’s Castle Inverness, but Douchy, a sprawling 300-acre domain in the Loiret, south of Paris, the country home of the star of The Leopard and The Swimming Pool.

The real-life intrigue hinges on an alleged tussle for Delon’s €245m (£210m) inheritance amid bitter sibling rivalry for the attentions of a monstre sacré of French cinema who in 2018 said of his sons and grandsons: “I’m not sure I’ve been a good father to them or a good grandfather. Have I been up to the task? I don’t think so.”

Hostilities erupted on 4 January when Anthony, 59, who is also an actor, told Paris Match he had reported Anouchka, 33, his half-sister, to the police for allegedly hiding their father’s suffering for years.

Alain Delon and Anouchka Delon
Alain Delon with Anouchka - Anthony Ghnassia/Getty Images for Kering

Anthony alleged she had been “abjectly” manipulating their father to control his life and move him to Switzerland, where he has also been a resident since 1985.

Delon, the embodiment of 1960s Gallic male sex appeal, had affairs with some of the most glamorous women in France, including the actresses Romy Schneider, Mireille Darc and possibly Brigitte Bardot, along with Dalida, the singer.

In 1964, he married Nathalie Delon, also an actress, who gave birth to Anthony a month after the wedding. He had his two other children, Anouchka, born in 1990, and Alain-Fabien, in 1994, with Rosalie van Breeman, a Dutch model with whom he lived for 14 years.

The actor has never hidden the fact that Anouchka is his favourite, calling her “my Romy”, “the love of my life, perhaps a little too much compared to the others”  – sons included. He had a stage play written for the pair to act in Paris. She was the only one of the three children to accompany him to Cannes when he received an honorary Palme d’Or in 2019.

Anouchka, a Swiss resident and based in Geneva, works for the company that handles his business interests and is the sole executor of his will. Rubbing salt into the wound, Delon has chosen to bequeath her half of his fortune. The sons will share the rest.

Only a few months ago, the siblings had appeared united when they took legal action to expel Hiromi Rollin, 66, Delon’s housekeeper and former “lover”, from Douchy, claiming that she was trying to take control of him to benefit from his fortune.

She was ejected from the estate but prosecutors last week rejected their demand for charges to be brought against her.

But relations then quickly soured. In his Paris Match interview, Anthony said his sister had hidden from her brothers the fact that their father had undergone five cognitive tests in a Swiss clinic between 2019 and 2022 after his strokes. The tests showed a “cognitive decline which placed my father in a position of weakness and vulnerability,” he said.

He suggested that his sister had tried to “manipulate” the rest of the family, prompting media speculation that he was planning to seek power of attorney over his father’s health and welfare and financial affairs.

Alain with his son Anthony
Alain with his son Anthony - Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

While their father had made it clear he would prefer to die in Douchy, she was bent on him returning to Switzerland for “check-ups” for tax reasons, he claimed. There is no inheritance tax between a father and daughter under Swiss law, however, it must be proved Delon lives half the time in Switzerland, otherwise, she faces “huge” French death levies, he said. Fiscal experts concur.

Anouchka, an actress who will appear in a feature film released in France this month, hit back with a prime-time TV interview in which called her brother jealous and vengeful and announced plans to sue him for slander.

“The only reason I wanted him to come to Switzerland is so he can be treated. For years, he’s had check-ups every two months. It’s indecent to pass this off as tax evasion. I’m my father’s daughter, not the daughter of a wallet,” she said.

“I’m being made to pay for my father’s trust in me. Of course, I’m paying for this preference. It’s my cross to bear”.

Christophe Ayela, who until this week was the lawyer for both Alain Delon and his daughter, said that the former actor was “extremely shocked by the media outburst orchestrated by his son Anthony” and would lay a legal complaint against him. “He cannot stand the aggressiveness of his son Anthony, who keeps telling him that he is senile.”

Alain Delon
Delon was the embodiment of 1960s Gallic male sex appeal

Then in a coup de théâtre, the screen icon’s youngest son Alain-Fabien, 29, himself an actor  – and like his father once, a Dior muse – entered the fray.

Delon junior, who called himself the family’s “ugly duckling” with whom relations were long distant and strained, has for months been caring for his father in Douchy, where his sister has her own, separate villa with a swimming pool in the grounds.

Alain-Fabien posted what he said was a recording of Anouchka that he secretly made with his phone after dinner at Douchy. In it, Anouchka can be heard warning “papa” repeatedly that he and she were the victims of a plot by the two sons.

“They are burying me and they are making you out to be gaga. You have to watch out. I am supposed to be a fool who’s manipulating her father,” Anouchka apparently says. “The trap is going to snap shut on you…” Her father, who friends say can barely talk and then only in a whisper, cannot be heard. Anouchka has so far not responded to the recording. The Telegraph has approached her lawyer for comment.

Both his sons wrote books in which they detailed their harsh upbringing by a dad who wanted them to “act like a man”. Anthony recounted how he raised a whip to him, saying: “I wouldn’t even use this on my dogs”. Alain-Fabien remembered being dragged by his hair.

However, both say they have buried the hatchet with the “old Samurai”  – who has a huge fan base in Japan  – and have taken turns caring for him, alongside a nurse and bodyguards.

Delon with wife Nathalie and baby son Anthony in 1964
Delon with wife Nathalie and baby son Anthony in 1964 - Gianni Girani/Reporters Associati & Archivi/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty

In media appearances over the past week, Anthony has denied his sister’s claims that the fight is over the inheritance. “All these stories about money, inheritance, these conjectures, make me sick, because it’s not about that,” he told French TV channel, CNews.

Meanwhile, Alain-Fabien said he would continue to look after his father and was also filing a legal complaint against his sister for “abuse of weakness”.

“If my sister is really so aggrieved…why doesn’t she take my place?” he asked, adding that while playing “the darling daughter worried about his health,” she hadn’t even “turned up for Christmas” and when she did appear it was for a quick peck on the cheek before “returning to her ivory tower” in Switzerland.

He also accused her of employing “mafia” tactics by getting security guards to spy on him, he claimed.

By way of response, Ayela contacted the public prosecutor for Montargis, Jean-Cédric Gaux, warning that the film legend was “in danger” as his two sons had stopped life-saving treatment, the nature of which is not publicly known, and replaced it with “fruit juice” and visits by a GP unaware of his condition.

He asked for “a special agent” to be urgently appointed to protect the ex-actor whose “mission” would be to allow a visit to France by his Swiss doctor. Failure to do so could cause his “premature death”.

Anouchka received unexpected support from Hiromi Rollin, who said: “With this treatment, he had a few good years ahead of him. Whoever decided to stop his treatment has condemned Alain.”

Anthony’s lawyer, Laurence Bedossa, also contacted the prosecutor, asking for an independent medical expert to examine his father.

Finally, the prosecutor said a doctor would be sent to assess “Alain Delon’s situation”. That could see him placed under “judicial protection” – a status for adults no longer able to manage their interests alone.

1962 film Plein Soleil, aka Purple Noon, made Delon a star
1962 film Plein Soleil, aka Purple Noon, made Delon a star

Both sides have hailed the decision as a victory but will the truce hold? Either way, friends are appalled at the very public squabble. Brigitte Bardot broke her silence this week to say: “It’s lamentably mediocre to soil the image of Alain, a sublime icon who represents France with panache!”

His old friend Marc Bonnant, lawyer to many stars, told the Telegraph that the spat resembled a “late teenage crisis” from offspring clumsily expressing “their sadness at not being up to a totally exceptional father”.

“He was the most handsome man in the world. He leaves them with his solitude and his superiority.” It is uncertain whether Delon’s wish to reunite his family in his final hours will hold. However, when it comes to his burial, they can rest assured, there will be no preferential treatment.

He once told Paris Match: “In my property, I have a cemetery with 45 dogs I have had throughout my life. In the middle, I’ve built a chapel in which there are six places. I will be buried beside my dogs.”