Delon became one of Europe's most prominent actors and screen sex symbols in the 1960s. He achieved critical acclaim for roles in films such as Rocco and His Brothers (1960), Purple Noon (1960), L'Eclisse (1962), The Leopard (1963), Lost Command (1966) and Le Samouraï (1967). Over the course of his career Delon worked with many well known directors, including Luchino Visconti, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, Michelangelo Antonioni and Louis Malle.
Delon acquired Swiss citizenship on 23 September 1999, and the company managing products sold under his name is based in Geneva. He resides in Chêne-Bougeries in the canton of Geneva.
Delon was born in Sceaux, Seine (now Hauts-de-Seine), Île-de-France, a suburb of Paris. His parents, Édith (née Arnold) and Fabien Delon, divorced when Delon was four. Both remarried, and Delon has a half-sister and two half-brothers. His paternal grandmother was Corsican, from Prunelli-di-Fiumorbo.
When his parents divorced, Delon was sent to live with foster parents. When they died, his parents shared him but the arrangement proved unsatisfactory. He attended a Roman Catholic boarding school, the first of several schools from which he was expelled because of unruly behavior. Teachers once tried to persuade him to enter the priesthood because of his aptitude in religious studies.
At 14, Delon left school, and worked for a brief time at his stepfather's butcher shop. He enlisted in the French Navy three years later, and in 1953-54 he served as a fusilier marin in the First Indochina War. Delon has said that out of his four years of military service he spent 11 months in prison for being "undisciplined".
In 1956, after being dishonorably discharged from the military, he returned to France. He had little money, and got by on whatever employment he could find. He spent time working as a waiter, a porter, a secretary and a sales assistant. During this time he became friends with the actress Brigitte Auber, and joined her on a trip to the Cannes Film Festival, where his film career would begin.
At Cannes, Delon was seen by a talent scout for David O. Selznick. After a screen test Selznick offered him a contract, provided he learn English. Delon returned to Paris to study the language, but when he met French director Yves Allégret, he was convinced that he should stay in France to begin his career. Selznick allowed Delon to cancel his contract, and Allégret gave him his debut in the film with Edwige Feuillère, Quand la femme s'en mêle (1957) (Send a Woman When the Devil Fails).
Marc Allegret cast him in Be Beautiful But Shut Up (1958), which also featured a young Jean Paul Belmondo. He was then given his first lead, supporting Romy Schneider in a period romance, Christine (1958), based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler. He and Schneider began a highly publicised romance in real life. The film was the seventeenth most popular movie at the French box office that year.
Delon was given the lead in a comedy, Women are Weak (1959). This was a big hit in France and was the first of Delon's films to be seen in America. Delon made some personal appearances in New York to promote the movie. He was a known associate of Vojislav Stanimirovic and frequented Mr Stan's establishments owned and operated in Manhattan
Also very popular was Way of Youth (1959) with Bourvil and Lino Ventura.
Delon then made two films which ensured his international reputation. In 1960, he appeared in René Clément's Purple Noon, which was based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. Delon played protagonist Tom Ripley to critical acclaim; Highsmith herself was also a fan of his portrayal. The movie was a hit in France and on the art house circuit in English speaking countries.
He then played the title role in Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers (1960). Critic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said Delon's work was "touchingly pliant and expressive." John Beaufort in the Christian Science Monitor said:
"Rocco's heartbroken steadfastness furnishes the film with the foremost of its ironic tragedies ... [I]ts believability rests finally on Mr. Delon's compelling performance."
Delon made his stage debut in 1961 in the John Ford play Tis Pity She's a Whore alongside Romy Schneider in Paris. Visconti directed the production which broke box office records. He was reunited with Rene Clement in the Italian comedy film about fascism, The Joy of Living (1961). It was a minor success. More popular was an all-star anthology film Famous Love Affairs (1961); Delon's segment cast him as Albert III, Duke of Bavaria, opposite Brigitte Bardot.
Around this time Delon was mentioned as a possibility for the lead in Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O'Toole was cast instead, but then Delon was signed by Seven Arts to a four-picture deal, including a big budget international movie of the Marco Polo story and The King of Paris, about Alexander Dumas.
Neither project came to fruition. Instead he was cast by Michelangelo Antonioni opposite Monica Vitti in L'Eclisse (1962), a major critical success, even though audiences were small. More popular was another all-star anthology film, The Devil and the Ten Commandments (1963); Delon's segment cast him with Danielle Darrieux.
Producer Jacques Bar was making a heist film with Jean Gabin with backing from MGM, Any Number Can Win (1963). Gabin's co star was meant to be Jean-Louis Trintignant until Delon lobbied Bar for the role. He took the film's distribution rights in certain countries instead of a straight salary. Because this had never been done before in France, this was known as "Delon's method." The gamble paid off well, with Jean Gabin later claiming that Delon earned ten times more money than he did as a result. However, in 1965 Delon claimed "no one else has tried it since and made money." Nonetheless, the experience gave Delon a taste for producing. He also signed a five-picture deal with MGM, of which Any Number Can Win was the first.
His reputation was further enhanced when he worked with Visconti again for Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. This was the seventh biggest hit of the year in France; Any Number Can Win was the sixth. The Leopard was also widely screened in the US through 20th Century Fox.
Delon was now one of the most popular stars in France. He starred in a swashbuckler, The Black Tulip (1964), from a novel by Alexandre Dumas, another hit.
Joy House (1964), which reunited him with Rene Clement and co-starred Jane Fonda, was filmed in French and English versions. The latter was distributed by MGM, but it was not a success.
In 1964, the Cinémathèque Française held a showcase of Delon's films and Delon started a production company, Delbeau Production, with Georges Beaume. They produced a film called The Unvanquished (L’insoumis) (1964), where Delon played an OAS assassin. It had to be re-edited because of legal issues. Despite being distributed by MGM, audiences were small.
Typecast as a "Latin Lover", Delon spent the next few years focused on making it in Hollywood. He was quoted in 1965 as saying:
I don't know whether I'll succeed or not. If I were to concentrate on working entirely here and flop it would be a disaster for me in Europe. Everything would dissolve and I would have nothing. My dream is to do one picture a year in America and one in Europe... [But America is] the top, the last step. It's a kind of consecration... If you want to be an international star you must establish yourself in American pictures, because only they will get adequate world wide distribution. It takes only a year for an American star to become known throughout the world. But European actors consider it a big break to get their pictures shown in New York. Because of my accent I would not attempt to play Americans. I am working on removing the distinctly French inflections from my speech so that I can play all continental nationalities.
He started with a small part in an all-star anthology for MGM, The Yellow Rolls Royce (1965), opposite Shirley Maclaine. It was popular although Delon had little to do.
He had his first English-language lead in Once a Thief, where he co-starred with Ann-Margret. It was based on a novel by Zekial Marko who had written Any Number Can Win, but it was not as successful. It was financed by MGM who announced Delon would appear in a Western Ready for the Tiger directed by Sam Peckinpah, but the film was never made.
Instead Delon signed a three-picture deal with Columbia, for whom he appeared in the big budget action film Lost Command (1966), playing a member of the French Foreign Legion, alongside Anthony Quinn and Claudia Cardinal. The studio also announced that he would appear in the biopic Cervantes, but this was never made.
Universal Studios used Delon in a Western, opposite Dean Martin, Texas Across the River. Ray Stark wanted to use him in The Night of the Iguana and This Property is Condemned. He did not appear in either film but was in that producer's Is Paris Burning?, directed by Rene Clement, playing Jacques Chaban-Delmas. This was a massive hit in France but performed disappointingly at the US box office - as did all of Delon's Hollywood financed films.
Delon remained a massive star in France. Along with Steve McQueen and Sean Connery he was one of the biggest stars in Japan. However he could not make headway in America.
After six Hollywood movies Delon returned to France to make The Last Adventure opposite Lino Ventura. It was one of Delon's most popular films of the 1960s but was not popular in America.
He was meant to reteam with Visconti in The Stranger but did not end up playing it. Instead he appeared on stage in Paris, Les Yeux Creves and made Le Samourai with Jean-Pierre Melville, which became another classic.
He played an amnesiac in Diabolically Yours (1968) for Julien Duvivier and had a role in another all-star anthology, Spirits of the Dead (1968); his segment was directed by Louis Malle and co-starred Brigitte Bardot.
He had another attempt at English-language cinema with Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) with Marianne Faithfull for director Jack Cardiff. It was a surprise hit in Britain.
Far more popular at the French box office was Farewell Friend (Adieu l'ami), where Delon and Charles Bronson played former legionnaires who get involved in a heist. The film helped turn Charles Bronson into a genuine star in Europe.
While making the thriller The Swimming Pool (1969) with Romy Schneider, Delon's friend and bodyguard Stefan Markovic was found murdered in a rubbish dumpster on the outskirts of Paris. The subsequent police investigation revealed allegations of sex parties involving celebrities such as Delon and members of government including future French president Georges Pompidou whose wife was allegedly the focus of a series of compromising photos at one such party. Corsican crime boss François Marcantoni also became embroiled in the scandal after a note left by Markovic stated his belief that if anything happened to him it would be because of Delon and Marcantoni. The affair gained notoriety throughout France and in the French press as the Markovic Affair. In a 1969 BBC interview Delon was questioned about his alleged involvement in the death of Markovic, rumours of his involvement in sex parties, and Delon's own sexual tastes.
Reporter: People, once more, don't say it straight to your face but they suggest very very strongly that you have homosexual tastes ?
Delon then starred in a series of gangster films. First was Jeff (1969), for his own production company, Adel. The Sicilian Clan (1969) teamed him with Lino Venura and Jean Gabin, and was a blockbuster. Even more popular was Borsalino (1970), which Delon produced and co-starred opposite Jean Paul Belmondo. Neither of these broke through in the US the way Delon hoped. Neither did The Red Circle, despite Delon appearing with Yves Montand.
For a change of pace he produced a romantic drama, The Love Mates (1971), which was not a success. Neither was a comedy Easy, Down There! (1971).
In the early 1970s Delon made another attempt at the English speaking market. The Assassination of Trotsky (1972) for Joseph Losey was poorly received but Red Sun (1972), with Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune, did well.
In France he appeared opposite Simone Signoret in The Widow Couderc (1971). He made his third film with Melville, Un flic (1972).
He produced and starred in a romantic drama, Indian Summer (1972), then made some thrillers: Shock Treatment (1973), and Tony Arzenta (1973).
In 1973, he recorded with Dalida "Paroles, paroles", a popular French-language version of the Italian song "Parole parole".
He tried again for Hollywood stardom with Scorpio (1973), with Burt Lancaster for director Michael Winner. It was only a minor hit.
In France he made The Burned Barns (1973) and Creezy (1974). He produced Two Men in Town (1974) which re-teamed him with Jean Gabin, and Borsalino & Co. (1974), a sequel to his earlier hit.
After another gangster thriller, Icy Breasts (1974), Delon returned to his first swashbuckler since The Black Tulip, playing the title character in the 1975 Italian-French film Zorro.
He made some more crime filmes: The Gypsy (1975), Flic Story (1975) (with Jean Louis Triginant), Boomerang (1976) and Armaguedon (1976).
In 1976, Delon starred in Monsieur Klein, which won him the César awards (French equivalent of Oscars).
Then it was back to crime for a series of thrillers which he produced as well as starred in: Man in a Hurry (1976), Death of a Corrupt Man (1977), Le Gang (1978), Attention, The Kids Are Watching (1978).
In 1979 Delon stated only a quarter of his business activities involve films:
I have a helicopter business, build furniture, promote prize fights, and race horses... I star in two or three pictures a year in France. They make tremendous profits around the world. My pictures are the most popular in Russia. I am a superstar in Europe. I would like to be a star in America. In order to do so I would have to live and work in Hollywood. I can't do that. My Adel productions makes at least one film a year. I do everything from A to Z. I find a story, hire writers, choose a director, collect a cast, and then put it all together. I even handle the finances, distribution, and publicity. I refuse to accept the director who thinks himself a genius and tries to put his stamp on my films. It is my stamp that counts... I don't mean to sound egotistical. The simple truth is that I am an enormous star all over the world. I like that because it enables me to live well.
In 1979 he made a final attempt at Hollywood stardom, signing with agent Sue Mengers and starring in The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979). The film was not a big success.
Delon returned to French films which he produced: The Medic (1979) and Three Men to Kill (1980).
Teheran 43 (1981) was a change of pace. Then it was back to crime: For a Cop's Hide (1981), Le choc (1982), Le Battant (1983) (which Delon directed}.
He was awarded the Best Actor César Award for his role in Bertrand Blier's Notre histoire (1984), and portrayed the aristocratic dandy Baron de Charlus in a film adaptation of Marcel Proust's novel Swann in Love in the same year.
The thrillers resumed: Parole de flic (1986), The Passage (1986 film), Let Sleeping Cops Lie (1988), and Dancing Machine (film) (1990).
One notable film during this time was Jean-Luc Godard's Nouvelle Vague in 1990, in which Delon played twins.
Delon's last major role was in Patrice Leconte's Une chance sur deux in 1998, another box office disappointment.
Delon announced his decision to give up acting in 1997, although he still occasionally accepts roles.
In 2001, Delon starred in French TV cop drama Fabio Montale. He played an aging cop dressed in stylish clothes, a "signature Delon" role audiences were familiar with. The show was a big hit.
In 2003, Delon tried to recreate the success of Fabio Montale and produced and starred in another French TV cop drama Frank Riva. The show did well but was not as successful as Fabio Montale.
In the 1970s Delon expanded his interests. He bought trotters and promoted fights.
Since the formation of a perfume label in his name, Delon has had a variety of products sold under his name including wristwatches, clothing, eyewear, stationery and cigarettes.
Delon's sunglasses brand became particularly popular in Hong Kong after actor Chow Yun-fat wore them in the 1986 crime film A Better Tomorrow (as well as two sequels). Delon reportedly wrote a letter thanking Chow for helping the sunglasses sell out in the region. The film's director John Woo has acknowledged Delon as one of his idols and wrote a short essay on Le Samourai as well as Le Cercle Rouge for the Criterion Collection DVD releases.
In 2009 and 2015, Christian Dior used images of the young Alain Delon and excerpts of his 1960s films The Swimming Pool and The Last Adventure respectively in the Eau Sauvage cologne advertising campaigns.
On 20 March 1959, Delon was engaged to actress Romy Schneider, whom he met when they co-starred in the film Christine (1958).
During their relationship, he had an affair with German actress, singer and model Nico. On 11 August 1962, Nico gave birth to a son, Christian Aaron "Ari", fathered by Delon. The child was raised mostly by Delon's parents.
In December 1963, Schneider and Delon decided to break the engagement.
On 13 August 1964, Delon married Nathalie Barthélemy. Their son, Anthony Delon, was born in September. Delon filed for divorce in late 1967 but they continued to live under the same roof. The couple divorced on 14 February 1969.
In 1968, during the shooting of the film Jeff, he met French actress Mireille Darc with whom he started a 15-year relationship, lasting until 1982.
In 1987, Delon met Dutch model Rosalie van Breemen on the set of the music video for his song "Comme au cinéma" and started a relationship. They had two children: Anouchka (25 November 1990) and Alain-Fabien (18 March 1994). The relationship ended in October 2002.
During an interview in 2013 Delon came out in support of the French far-right political party National Front, saying "The National Front, like the MCG [Geneva Citizens’ Movement] in Geneva, is very important…I encourage it and I perfectly understand it".
Alain Delon lives in Chêne-Bougeries in the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland with his two youngest children.
Alain Delon was good friends with, among others, Argentine world champion boxer Carlos Monzon.
On 1 October 1968, in the village of Élancourt, Yvelines, on the western outskirts of Paris, the dead body of Stevan Marković, ex-bodyguard of Delon, was found in a public dump.
Alain Delon and a Corsican gangster Francois Marcantoni came under investigation. One of the factors pointing in that direction was a letter of Stevan Markovic to his brother Aleksandar where he wrote: "If I get killed, it's 100% fault of Alain Delon and his godfather Francois Marcantoni."
Later, the investigation involved the former French Prime Minister (and later President) Georges Pompidou after a few press articles and a testimony of Borivoj Ackov.
He testified that he was present at parties with the wife of Pompidou, Stevan Markovic and Alain Delon.
The death of Stevan Markovic provoked a lot of rumors, suggesting the existence of group sex photos with Pompidou's wife. Pompidou himself accused Louis Wallon and Henri Capitant for using the French espionage service SDECE with an aim to set him up. After becoming President of the Republic, he named Alexandre de Marenches as the head of the SDECE in order to reform it. Assisted by Michel Roussin, his principal private secretary, de Marenches expelled a "secret agent" involved in investigation Jean-Charles Marchiani.
In 1969 Delon was given four months in jail by an Italian court for assaulting an Italian photographer.
In 1970 it was reported that Delon, through a friend Mr Stan purchased a copy of the original manuscript of Charles De Gaulle's 1940 speech to the French encouraging them to resist the Germans. Delon paid 300,000 francs for the manuscript then returned it to the government.
Delon's favorite actor was John Garfield. He also admired Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Robert Walker.At the 45th Berlin International Film Festival, he won the Honorary Golden Bear.
At the 2008 César Awards on February 22, 2008, he presented the César Award for Best Actress to Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose.
Delon appears on the cover of the 1986 album The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths.
He was made Officier (Officer) of the Ordre national du Mérite in 1995.
He was made Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion d'honneur on 21 February 1991. He was promoted to Officier (Officer) in 2005.
The song "Beautiful Killer" on Madonna's twelfth studio album MDNA is a tribute to Delon.
The song "A Look From The Screen" of Russian band Nautilus Pompilius is a tribute to Delon.