Noted Director Henri Verneuil Dies at 81

PARIS (Combined Sources)–The popular French film director Henri Verneuil died Friday in a Paris clinic at the age of 81–the Academy of Fine Arts reported.

Born to Armenian parents under the name Ashod Malakian in the Turkish city of Rodosto–Verneuil fled to France in 1924 with his family to avoid persecution. During a career that spanned over 45 years–he made more than 30 feature films–many of them starring the most popular actors in France–such as Jean Gabin–Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

After a brief career as a journalist–Verneuil turned to the cinema in 1947–making some 30 shorts before directing his first feature-length film in 1952 with the popular comic actor Fernandel.

He went on to make five films with Gabin–six with Belmondo and three with Delon.

Arguably his best and most popular film–the crime thriller "The Sicilian Clan"–was shot in 1969 and starred Delon–Gabin and Lino Ventura.

Often called "the most Hollywoodian" of French directors–Verneuil also made two films with Anthony Quinn–"The 25th Hour" in 1967 and "Guns for San Sebastian" in 1968.

In 1996–he received a Cesar–the French version of the Oscar–for lifetime achievement in cinema.

Verneuil was a naturalized French citizen of Armenian ancestry. In 1991–he directed Mayrig–a film dealing with the Armenian genocide starring Omar Sharif and Claudia Cardinale. In 1996–Verneuil was awarded an honorary Cesar–France’s equivalent of the Oscar–for lifetime achievement in film.

Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian sent a message of condolence to the family of a prolific French-Armenian filmmaker Henry Verneuil.

"It is with great sorrow and sadness that we have learned about the death of Henri Verneuil. He was an artist advocating for hefty ideas of human’sm both as a filmmaker–journalist and writer. A bright testimony to this are the awards and praises his works received in France and in other countries–as well as the popularity he enjoyed in Armenia and in the Diaspora. I express my condolences to the relatives of Henri Verneuil–his friends and his fans. We are all mourning over the death of the great artist and Armenian," president Kocharian’s message reads. A condolence letter was also sent by the head of the Armenian Church Catholicos Karekin II.

Also offering condolences were French president Jacques Chirac–as well as the chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of Europe–Hilda Tchoboyan.

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