Obituary: Bernard Tapie, a vibrant and controversial French businessman


IN THE SPRING of 1985, Bernard Tapie appeared in a brand new French tv programme, “Le jeu de la vérité” (Recreation of Reality). It often starred entertainers reminiscent of Alain Delon and Elton John; Mr Tapie was the primary businessman to participate. A painful austerity plan was squeezing the economic system. On the present he took calls from manufacturing facility house owners who had misplaced their companies, from staff forged out of their jobs. None of them might fairly consider what had occurred. Agency, but attempting to be truthful, he listened rigorously earlier than replying. After which it was his flip to reveal his soul, for intimate revelation was what “Le jeu de la vérité” was actually all about.

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Stepping onto the stage, he swayed gently to the beat. His three-piece was extra a dressing up than a go well with: the jacket a bit of boxy, the plum sq. peaking out of his pocket like a tongue searching for a kiss. His tie gleamed pearly-pink, and his buoyant chestnut hair shone brighter than Julio Iglesias’s. He closed his eyes and stretched out an arm. “J’aurais voulu être un artiste,” he crooned. “Pour pouvoir faire mon numéro…” Standing earlier than a rose-lit, double white staircase that ascended who knew the place, he appeared to be sporting lip gloss.

Born in 1943 below the German occupation, he grew up together with his youthful brother in a flat with imply little home windows, the higher a part of a small two-storey home in a suburb of Paris. Not as blue-collar as neighbouring La Courneuve, nor as weighed down by historical past as Drancy to the south, the place France’s Jews had been rounded up earlier than being deported to extermination camps in Germany and Poland, Le Bourget was house to France’s first civilian airport. Like lots of the newly affluent travellers who handed by, with out wanting up, on their manner into town, from an early age he wished out. In a faculty {photograph}, buddies drape an arm about his shoulders as he puffs out his chest with angle.

To some he was Robin Hood in a blazer, to others a short-trousered Antichrist. A born ringleader, he was typically in bother. Later he would boast of getting an engineering diploma, however he barely completed highschool. He wished to be Jean Gabin, star of the Moulin Rouge and lover of Marlene Dietrich. This gosse de banlieue, the boy from the mistaken facet of the tracks, poured his vitality into getting gigs singing at golf equipment whereas promoting TVs on the facet. His first single, “Je ne crois plus les filles” (I don’t consider ladies anymore), did fairly properly, however the subsequent two had been a flop.

What he was good at, he discovered, was hustling and earning money. In his 20s he had his first tax audit, his first chapter (of a small enterprise that offered hi-fi and residential home equipment), and his first run-in with the authorities (whereas driving an untaxed Lamborghini). Beginning with two firms that made paper, he moved into shopping for distressed companies, typically for as little as one franc, stripping out the property and letting them founder or flip over and stand up once more. He even starred in a TV advert for certainly one of his corporations, a battery-maker known as Marvel. Within the clip he strikes like a twister by an workplace. “What retains Tapie going?” the tagline asks. “Me? I run on Marvel!” Within the last seconds, an assistant takes out his batteries and he keels over. As he hits the ground, he winks.

Success introduced him to the eye of bankers, politicians and opportunists. Sport, with tv, was the brand new nexus of energy, not solely in France however wherever younger women and men hungered for a unique form of hero. Backed by his financial institution, state-owned Crédit Lyonnais, he purchased Adidas, a sports-shoe model with a fantastic historical past, however which had fallen on laborious instances. Inside two years he had began to show it round. He restored an extended, elegant crusing yacht, and in 1988 it made the quickest monohull crossing of the Atlantic. The Tour de France biking race was gained twice by a crew sponsored by his agency, La Vie Claire, a series of outlets promoting well being merchandise. On the similar time, Olympique de Marseille (OM), his soccer membership, started its bid to win the French championship 4 years in a row. In 1993, on the second try, OM beat the favourites, AC Milan, 1-0 in a shocking last, the primary time a French crew had ever gained the European Champions League. As he stumbled onto the pitch, he wiped away tears.

Marseille is a metropolis of immigrants. As his status grew among the many Marseillais, it was inevitable that he started to curiosity the nation’s strongest politicians. Gaston Defferre, the mayor of Marseille, was a detailed buddy of the socialist president François Mitterrand. When the 2 males, the mental president and the performer-capitalist, met for the primary time for lunch, they talked for almost 4 hours. He persuaded him to run for workplace. His bravura assault in a tv debate (the place else) on the Nationwide Entrance chief, Jean-Marie Le Pen, proved his political nous.

Naming him urban-affairs minister to handle the malaise in poor areas of excessive unemployment was impressed. Ever the performer, he would head into the banlieues, and shout at those that watched him from behind closed home windows. “Come on down. And I’ll let you know what the plan is.”

Mitterrand was impressed by his vitality. However when weakening, bodily and politically, the aged president was now not capable of defend him. Having witnessed how a working-class outsider might confound the established French system of politics and patronage, many each on the left and the appropriate had been glad to see him introduced low, first by prices of corruption and match-fixing in soccer, then by greater than 20 years of litigation with Crédit Lyonnais over the sale of his shares in Adidas, and by the collapse of a lot of his enterprise empire. He even went to jail.

From the ashes

Marina Zenovich, who spent three years following him for her documentary, “Who Is Bernard Tapie?”, says he had the “charming attractiveness of Warren Beatty, the bravado of Donald Trump, the charisma of Invoice Clinton. And he fell from grace like O.J. Simpson.” The day he died, his eldest son, Stéphane, who knew him higher than most, posted a photograph on Instagram of the 2 of them, mic in hand, jamming collectively onstage: “Au revoir mon Phénix.”

This text appeared within the Obituary part of the print version below the headline “Coeur de lion”

20211009 cna1280 - Obituary: Bernard Tapie, a vibrant and controversial French businessman

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