August 20, 2008

Theatre Producer Lived Life to Full

Bertrand Castelli, a characteristic Frenchman whose career spanned film, painting and theatre, and who was perhaps best known as producer of the Broadway hit Hair, has died at 78.

He died in Mexico after being hit by a speedboat.

He was renowned as having a lust for life and being a friend of the famous.

He died after a collision with a boat while enjoying his daily two-hour swim off the Yucatan coast on August 1.

Mr Castelli, who was born in 1929 in France and moved as a young man to New York in the 1950s and then on to Hollywood, had lived for the past 15 years in a seaside hotel not far from Cancun where he devoted his time to painting, writing and swimming.

His daughter Pandora Castelli said a memorial service would be held in New York on September 28 and another in Paris later on.

A self-made celebrity, Mr Castelli spent his adolescent years in wartime Paris. "I wanted to be Picasso, I wanted to be Stravinsky," he said.

He met and spent time with both of them later, along with mime artist Marcel Marceau, film-maker Louis Malle and singer Charles Aznavour.

In the United States he was befriended by the likes of Gene Kelly, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury.

In Paris, the hardship of the war years prompted the teenager and his friends to paint and to create ballets, operas and plays, and by the time he was 17 he was touring Germany operating the lights for a small circus - gaining skills that were to propel him into ballet and opera in Paris.

Discovering the power of advertising, he gained fame and funds by creating a ballet involving dancers dressed as posters who each advertised different products with companies like Cartier Cointreau and Perrier queueing up to take part.

From staging ballets in Paris, he took off for New york in search of new adventures at the age of 24 and then went to work for MGM in Hollywood.

In 1968 he hit world headlines with the seminal hippie musical Hair, not only Broadway's first rock musical but also the first to show male and female nudity.

Mr Castelli, who took the musical across the world in the language of each country, wrote that "I was able to discover many great talents" including Diane Keaton, Donna Summer or Julien Clerc, in his home country, France.

Through his life he adopted a Hair-like hedonistic lifestyle, smoking cannabis up to his last days and enjoying the company of people far younger than himself, said 22-year-old Etienne Gondran, who runs a gallery by the Maroma Beach resort where he died.

At the time of his death, Mr Castelli was writing a play entitled The Billionaire and had been planning to travel to Paris to see his nephew Jean-Michel Ribes, director of one of Paris's biggest theatres, Theatre du Rond-Point.

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