Michèle Girardon was a French actress who rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s with her roles in various films, both in France and abroad. She was known for her beauty, talent, and versatility, as well as her involvement with the French New Wave movement. However, behind her glamorous image, she struggled with personal issues that eventually led to her suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills in 1975. What drove her to such a desperate act? What were the factors that contributed to her downfall? In this article, we will explore the life and death of Michèle Girardon, and try to understand what caused her tragic end.
Early Life and Career
Michèle Girardon was born on August 9, 1938, in Lyon, France. She began acting at a young age, and made her debut in 1956 in the film Death in the Garden, directed by Luis Buñuel. She played a deaf-mute beauty who caught the attention of both critics and audiences with her eerie grace. She soon became prominent in the French film industry, working with notable directors such as Louis Malle, Éric Rohmer, Pierre Kast, and André Cayatte. She also ventured into international cinema, starring in films such as Hatari!, directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring John Wayne and Hardy Krüger. She had to learn English on the set of this film, as she did not speak it when she was cast. According to a Life magazine profile of the actress in 1961, she was signed to a five-year contract with Paramount Studios.
Girardon was praised for her performances in various genres, from drama to comedy to adventure. She was especially acclaimed for her role in Malle’s Les Amants (The Lovers) in 1958, where she played a woman torn between her emotions and social norms. She also showed her daring side in experimental films such as Kast’s Portuguese Vacations and Cayatte’s Anatomy of a Marriage: My Days with Jean-Marc and Anatomy of a Marriage: My Days with Françoise. She also appeared in Rohmer’s The Girl at the Monceau Bakery, one of his Six Moral Tales. Her career reached its peak in 1963, when she starred in several avant-garde films that cemented her reputation as an artist unafraid to challenge and push boundaries.
Personal Life and Relationships
Despite her success and popularity, Girardon’s personal life was not as happy as it seemed. She had a turbulent relationship with José Luis de Vilallonga, a Spanish actor and aristocrat who was married when they met on the set of Les Amants. They lived together throughout the 1960s, despite the difficulties they faced in their relationship. De Vilallonga was reportedly abusive and unfaithful to Girardon, who suffered from depression and insecurity. She also had problems with alcohol and drugs, which affected her health and career.
In 1972, de Vilallonga finally obtained his divorce from his wife, but instead of marrying Girardon, he ended their relationship and married another woman, Ursula Dietrich. This devastated Girardon, who never married or had children of her own. She felt betrayed and abandoned by the man she loved for more than a decade. She also felt rejected by the film industry, as her roles became fewer and less significant. She lost her sense of purpose and identity, and became increasingly isolated and despondent.
Suicide and Legacy
On March 25, 1975, at the age of 36, Girardon decided to end her life by ingesting an overdose of sleeping pills in her hometown of Lyon. She left behind a note that read: “I am tired of living”. She was buried near Paris in the Cimetière de Bagneux. In a tragic irony, two co-stars in Girardon’s penultimate film Les petites filles modèles (1971), Marie-Georges Pascal and Bella Darvi, also committed suicide at the ages of 39 and 42, respectively.
Girardon’s death shocked and saddened many people who knew and admired her. She was remembered as a talented actress who left a lasting impression on the film industry. Her films are still appreciated today by fans and critics alike. She is regarded as one of the icons of French cinema, especially of the New Wave movement. Her life story is also a cautionary tale of the dark side of fame and fortune, and the importance of mental health and well-being.
Michèle Girardon may have died young, but she lives on through her films and through the memories of those who loved her. She was a star who shone brightly, but also burned out too soon.