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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Mime Marcel Marceau Dies

Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, his former assistant said Sunday. He was 84.

Marceau, a Holocaust survivor who performed around the world, died Saturday in Paris, French media reported.

Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau played the entire range of human emotions onstage for more than 50 years, never uttering a word. Offstage, he was famously chatty.

"Never get a mime talking. He won't stop," he once said.

Marceau's lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions gave life to characters from a peevish waiter to a lion tamer to an old woman knitting.

A French Jew, Marceau survived the Holocaust and worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children.

His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. Marceau, in turn, inspired countless young performers -- Michael Jackson borrowed his famous "moonwalk" from a Marceau sketch.

In one of his most poignant and philosophical acts, "Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death," Marceau wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes.

Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. His father, Charles, introduced his son to the world of music and theater at an early age. The boy adored the silent film stars of the era: Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers.

When Paris was liberated, Marcel's life as a performer began. He enrolled in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art, studying with the renowned mime Etienne Decroux.

On a tiny stage at the Theatre de Poche, a smoke-filled Left Bank cabaret, he sought to perfect the style of mime that would become his trademark. Bip, Marceau's onstage persona, was born.

In one famous sketch, "Public Garden," Marceau played all the characters in a park, from little boys playing ball to old women with knitting needles.

Marceau likened his character to a modern-day Don Quixote, "alone in a fragile world filled with injustice and beauty."