Bruno Cremer was born in Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, in the eastern suburbs of Paris, France. His mother, a musician, was of Belgian Flemish origin and his father was a businessman from Lille who, though born French, had taken out Belgian nationality after the French armed forces refused to accept him for service in the First World War. Bruno himself opted for French nationality when he reached the age of 18. His childhood was largely spent in Paris.
Bruno attended the Cours Hattemer, a private school. Having completed his secondary studies, he followed an interest in acting which had interested him since the age of 12 and trained in acting from 1952 at France's highly selective Conservatoire national supérieur d'art dramatique (English: French National Academy of Dramatic Arts).
His career began with ten years spent acting in live theatre, playing roles drawn from works of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Jean Anouilh. Aged already 30, he created the role of Thomas Becket in the 1959 world premiere of the Anouilh's Becket, and held Anouilh in veneration all his life. Later Cremer played Max in a French production of Bent by Martin Sherman in 1981. He regarded his basic profession as that of a stage actor, though he gravitated firmly to films.
It was in 1957 that Cremer had his first credited part in a film, Quand la femme s'en mêle (When a woman meddles), which starred Alain Delon. However, it was in 1965 that Cremer’s career really began to prosper, with the film La 317e section, (The 317th Platoon), directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer and set in Indochina during the French colonial wars. From then onwards, Cremer became a popular actor and appeared in over 110 productions for cinema and television.
While Cremer tried to avoid labels and typecasting, he tended to be offered tough-guy roles, often military men. Examples from various points in his career include Section spéciale (1975), La légion saute sur Kolwezi (1980) and Là-haut, un roi au-dessus des nuages (2004).
Special Section (French original title: Section spéciale), released in 1975, is about a kangaroo court set up in collaborationist Vichy France to ensure judicial convictions of innocent people so as to mollify the Nazis. A French language film directed by the Greek-French film director Costa-Gavras, it features Cremer as Lucien Sampaix, a Communist-leaning journalist.
The 1980 film La légion saute sur Kolwezi (English Operation Leopard), directed by Raoul Coutard, is a documentary-style portrayal of a real-life operation headed by the French Foreign Legion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1978 to rescue foreign hostages. Cremer plays a military commander. Pierre Schoendoerffer’s 2004 film Là-haut, un roi au-dessus des nuages (Above the Clouds), based on his own novel, ''Là-haut''. Cremer played the Colonel.
Some 30 other film parts of Cremer included releases by both French and foreign directors. In 1967, for example, came the film The Stranger (Italian: Lo straniero), directed by Italian director Luchino Visconti, based on the novel L'Étranger by Albert Camus, and starring Marcello Mastroianni. The 1976 release The Good and the Bad (French Le Bon et les Méchants) was directed by Claude Lelouch, with Cremer playing Inspector Bruno Deschamps.
The next year, 1977, came the thriller Sorcerer (French Le Convoi de la peur), based on Georges Arnaud’s novel Le Salaire de la peur and directed by a William Friedkin fresh from the successes of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). In Sorcerer, Cremer played the fraudulent Paris banker Victor Manzon, starring alongside Roy Scheider. In 1989 Cremer starred in Jean-Claude Brisseau’s film drama White Wedding (French Noce Blanche) with Vanessa Paradis.
From 1991, he became a universally known figure in France and elsewhere for his televised portrayal of George Simenon’s Commissaire Maigret, a role he played until 2005, totalling 54 episodes. During this period his cinema film commitments were few, though he did appear in 2000 with Charlotte Rampling in (Under the Sand), written and directed by François Ozon, in 2001 in José Giovanni’s Mon père, il m'a sauvé la vie, and in 2004 in Pierre Schoendoerffer’s Là-haut, un roi au-dessus des nuages (Above the Clouds).
Cremer was made an officer of the Légion d’honneur in 2008.
An inveterate smoker of Punch brand cigars, he died of a cancer of the tongue from which he had suffered for several years, in a Paris hospital on Saturday, 8 August 2010, aged 80. His funeral service was held in Paris on 13 August 2010 at the church of Saint Thomas of Aquinas, in the VIIth arrondissement. He is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery, Paris.
His part autobiography appeared in 2000 under the title, Un certain jeune homme (A certain young man). In it he covered not the whole of his life, but only his early career, until the death of his father.
Married twice, Cremer had a son, Stéphane, by his first wife, and by his second wife, Chantal, whom he married in 1984, two daughters.The 317th Platoon (1965)
Is Paris Burning? (1966), directed by René Clément) - Colonel Rol-Tanguy
Shock Troops (1967)
The Killer Likes Candy (1968)
Les Gauloises bleues (1968)
Bye bye, Barbara (1969)
The Time to Die (1970)
Lover of the Great Bear (1971)
Sans sommation (1973)
Sorcerer (1977, directed by William Friedkin)
L'Ordre et la sécurité du monde (1978)
A Simple Story (1978)
La Légion saute sur Kolwezi (1980)
Fanny Pelopaja (1984)
Noce Blanche (1989, with Vanessa Paradis)
Taxi de nuit (1993) - Silver, le taxi
Sous le sable (2000) - Jean Drillon
Mon père, il m'a sauvé la vie (2001) - Joe
Là-haut, un roi au-dessus des nuages (2003) - Le colonel