Top 15 Most Famous French People of All Time

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Throughout French’s history, there were many remarkable people whose works and achievements have gained reverence from French people as those works have influenced on French society and mindset of its people since the past. Despite many passing years, their works still echo in their heart. These are the 15 exceptional individuals whose achievements made French people feel proud of their existence.

15. Jules Verne (1828-1905)

Remarkable science-fiction novels such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days were all Jules Verne’s greatest imaginative works. Not only was he one of the most famous science-fiction novelist in France, but also was well-known in some parts of Europe. Later, due to his noticeable novels which fascinate a lot of readers, some film producers decided to produce films according to his novels. He was born on February 8, 1828. He showed his interest in writing short stories and poetry since he was young, while his father wanted him to focus on his law study. Consequently, this gave him pressure as he needed to decide what he liked and what his father chose for him. Within his lifetime, he wrote more than 60 science-fiction books, which allowed him to receive the title as “Father of Science Fiction”. He died on March 24, 1905 due to diabetes.

14. Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695)

Jean de la Fontaine, one of the famous French writer, was known for his poets, fables, and tales. He was born on July 8, 1621. At a young age, he spent a lot of effort into his writing. One of his best works was La Fontaine’s Fables containing 12 books released from 1668 until 1694. In fact, the first 6 books of La Fontaine’s Fables were inspired by Aesop, while the other was from the stories of the Eastern. All his works always displayed insight meaning related to human behaviors, and some lines from his work have been used in French standard linguistic. His other well-known literature was Contes et Nouvelles en vers published in 1664. He died on April 13, 1695.

13. Fernandel (1903-1971)

Fernandel, whose full name was Fernand Joseph Désiré Contandin, was one of the famous comedians, singers, and actors. Born on May 8, 1903, Fernandel grew up in Marseille of France. He also was the first person who gained his fame as a comedian at music-hall revues, Operettas, and Vaudeville. Before reaching his current height as a famous comedian, he used to perform at music halls. In 1930, he became well-known in the motion picture film which made him famous for more than 40 years with his wide grin trademark as a top 10 famous comedians in France. Throughout his lifetime, he filmed in more than 100 movies. His talent in humor made people of all ages around the world fascinated. According to Marcel Pagnol, a famous film director at that time, said that Fernandel could even make those who wanted to cry laugh again. In spite of his death, his works still entertain people nowadays. He died on February 28, 1971 due to heart-attack.

12. Georges Brassens (1921-1981)

Having been recognized for his well-versed poet, music, and song along with his guitar, Georges Brassens was a very well-known French singer, who was born on October 22, 1921 in Sète, France. Since childhood, Brassens was a gifted child with the talents of poetry. However, he committed a crime of stealing from his family. As a result, the school expelled him. He then moved to Paris in 1940 and worked in a car factory, but he decided to quit since the profits went to German at the time of World War II. He spent most of his time composing poets. Eventually, his fame rose after World War II due to his poets. Most of his poets had insight meanings which indirectly criticized deception and self-righteousness of the people in French society at that time. In 1981, he died because of cancer.

11. Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974)

Marcel Pagnol was a very remarkable playwright, film director, and novelist from the 1920s to 1960s. He was born in Aubagne, France on February 28, 1895. In his youth, he was into writing novels as well as poetry. Before moving to Paris, he was an English teacher in Marseille. Later on, he worked as an assistant master at a school named “Lycée Condorcet” when he moved to Paris, but his living was not very good at that time. His life started to change when his play named “Topaze” was shown on stage at Théâtre des Variétés, which allowed him to gain his popularity since then. His other next successful plays were Pagnol, Marius, Fanny, and César, which were on show in the late 1920s until the 1930s. As he saw the potential in talking film industry, he cooperated with Paramount Pictures to put his shows called “Marius” in the cinema. Since then, he focused on film productions. As his plays became more and more successful, he became a very rich man. In 1932, he founded his film company in Marseille and Paris. All of his achievements in film productions were revered and recognized by French people on March 27, 1947. He received 3 honor awards for his films: New York Film Critics Circle Awards for “Regain –HARVEST” in 1939, New York Film Critics Circle Awards for “La Femme du Boulanger -The Baker’s Wife” in 1940 and New York Film Critics Circle Awards for “Jofroi” in 1950. He died on April 18, 1974 because of cancer.

10. Edith Piaf (1915–1963)

Given a nickname as “The Little Sparrow”, Édith Piaf was born on December 19, 1915 in Belleville, France. At that time, she was a popular songwriter and singer in the late 1930s. Throughout her lifetime, she wrote a lot of songs, which mostly were related to love, sorrow and loss. Her very popular songs during the 1940s were L’Accordéoniste, Hymne à l’amour and La Vie en rose, which allowed her to gain her popularity in her career. Besides, not only was she a songwriter and singer, but she was also a great actress that was known locally and internationally. Before reaching her current stand during that time, she experienced a lot of hardship and desperation. He used to be a street performer with her father. However, due to her father’s characteristics, she decided to pave her own path by singing around Paris. For her personal life, she married several men during her lifetime. Regarding her health, she was not really in good shape as she drank too much alcohol as well as use too much drug which later led her death on October 10, 1963. Despite her dark side, her songs were still recognized for its persistence and passion by many French.

9. Jacques Cousteau (1910–1997)

Born on June 11 in Saint-André-de-Cubzac village of France, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a well-known researcher, explorer, documentary host, and photographer. In addition to this, he also invented the scuba-diving device called “Aqua-Lung”. What made Cousteau become interested in the underwater field was when he rehabilitated after a serious accident in 1933. He started to involve himself in the underwater subject since then. During World War II, he spent a few years doing some experiments as well as researches under the sea. To be able to stay under the water longer, he first invented the Aqua-Lung device with Émile Gagnan’s assistance in 1943. He later developed a waterproof camera that was able to endure the deep water pressure and also made him the first person to film the documentary underwater. His first 2 documentaries were Épaves (“Shipwrecks”) and Par Dix-huit mètres de fond (“18 Meters Deep”) filmed in 1943. In 1948, he, Philippe Tailliez, scientists and other expert divers explored in the Mediterranean Sea to uncover the Roman shipwreck. This became the first underwater archeology research. He died on June 25, 1997 due to heart-attack.

8. Molière (1622-1673)

Molière, whose original name was Jean Baptiste Poquelin, was a renowned French comedy writer, actor, and poet in the 17th century. He was born on January 15, 1622 in a rich family. At an early age, he was sent to Parisian elementary school and graduated at a very famous school named Jesuit Collège de Clermont. He founded Illustre Théâtre in 1943, but it went bankrupt due to debt for setting up his theatre. During the time he started his stage performance career, he met a lot of hardship as he traveled to different places to perform. However, in the faithful year of 1658, he performed a show for Philippe I, Duke of Orléans that allowed him to gain his popularity. All the recognitions were from his shows which started from a farce to a great comedy. The most famous of his work was Le Tartuffe. Unfortunately, Le Tartuffe was banned as the churchmen at the time believed that it was against the religious. King Louis XIV also banned him from performing for 5 years. In spite of this, his other literary works were admired and translated in other languages. He died at the age of 51 on February 17, 1673 because of tuberculosis.

7. Bourvil (1917-1970)

André Bourvil was one of the most prominent singers and comedians in the French film industry during the 1950s and 1960s. He had a passion for making people entertained since at a very young age. He was born on July 27, 1917 in Prétot-Vicquemare, France. At the time of World War II, he joined the army as a trumpet player. After leaving the army in 1940, he had a lot of jobs, but he did not get any success in those careers. Living and enduring with hardship for several years, he started to write and perform songs in the name of Bourvil at night clubs in Paris. However, his life changed in 1944 after he encountered Michel Fortin, Pierre-Louis Guerin, Jean-Jacques Vital, Claude Auntant-Lara, and Gerard Oury. He began to gain his popularity dramatically in the film industry as a comedian actor along with many records of his songs released. Unfortunately, he died from a disease of terminal bone-wasting in 1970 at the age of 53 after he completed shooting his last film “Le Mur de I’Atlantique”. His legacy still lives on as his films and songs are still popular in French people’s hearts.

6. Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

Victor-Marie Hugo was very popular in France during the 1880s. He was very talented for his excellent skill as a dramatist, essayist, novelist, playwright, and poet. Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in a minor noble family. Not only was he famous for artistic, but also his cause of actions which led the revolution to overthrow the French monarch. At his time, there were corruption and injustice in society. He used his poems, novels and other literary devices as the means to lead the revolutionary. He used his literary skills to infer the situations of French society during that time, which significantly influenced working-class people. Those of his famous novel works were The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris) and Les Misérables. King Napoleon III exiled Hugo and accused him as a traitor of the country during his reign in 1851. While he was in his exile period, he wrote pamphlets, named Napoléon le Petit and Histoire d’un crime which opposed Napoleon III. However, those pamphlets were not allowed to be published. He died because of pneumonia on May 22, 1885.

5. Coluche (1947-1986)

Coluche was one of the famous comedians in France during the late 1960s. He was famous for his fight against the inequalities, racism, joblessness, homelessness, and other humanitarian acts. He was born in 1947 in a poor family. His actual name was Michel Gérard Joseph Colucci. Before he reached his peak in career, he once started his comedian performance at Café Gare where he met a lot of famous actors and actresses. Later on, his career as a comedian was steadily popular. In 1981, he wanted to stand for the presidential election because he would like to establish a better society for French people especially to help the poor. However, he decided to quit this dream as there was so much pressure on him from the other competitive parties. In spite of giving up for present himself in a presidential election, he requested the government set up a law that allowed people to pay less tax when they help the charity. He founded “Les Restaurants du Coeur” which was an association that served food for poor people for free. In the first year of this, it provided 8.5 million meals to poor people in Paris, and many artists contributed their money to help the association as they took him their role model. He died in a motorcycle accident on June 19, 1986.

4. Marie Curie (1867–1934)

Marie Curie was known for her greatest achievement in Physics and Chemistry. She, furthermore, was also the first woman receiving the noble prize twice throughout her life. She was actually Polish and born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. Her successful life started after she married Pierre Curie, and they both received inspiration from Henri Becquerel in the field of radioactivity. As a result, they worked together and made a breakthrough which allowed them to discover radium and polonium. The couple received their first Nobel Prize in 1903. However, her husband died on April 19, 1906, before she made another remarkable accomplishment in developing X-rays, which made her receive the second Nobel Prize. The couple had 2 daughters. Following the footsteps of her parents, the firstborn named Irène Joliot-Curie involved in the field of radioactive elements and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Marie Curie died at the age of 66 on July 4, 1934.

3. Abbé Pierre (1912-2007)

Abbé Pierre an iconic hero for French people because of his humanitarian performance during World War II. He was born in Lyon on August 5, 1912. He took the lead to re-establish his society. Additionally, during the time of 1940s, he crossed the border and hid his real identity in order to help Jewish peoples, and he saved many lives of Jews at the concentration camps. He established a project named “Emmaus Project” in 1949. Emmaus Project focused on helping the homeless people in France and those who experience great poverty. After World War II, France was in crisis when its economy was at the downfall. He worked on raising charities in order to ask people to contribute some help in society. With his encouragement, he motivated a lot of French to contribute during the crisis. His actions really put all of the French to admire him. He died on January 22, 2007, at Val-de-Grâce Hospital, Paris, France.

2. Louis Pasteur (1822–1895)

Known as the founder of microbiology science and a well-known French chemist and biologist, Louis Pasteur was one of the most reverence people in France. He left behind the world with his remarkable achievements which later saved the world and many lives. He was born in Dole, France on December 27, 1822. Throughout his life, he put all of his efforts into researching and studying microbiology. He proved the world of his breakthrough by providing the correctness of the theory of germ. What is more, he also invented the process of pasteurization in 1862. His finding made the food industries around the world change. By practicing the process of pasteurization, it allows the food to be kept longer. According to his theory, pasteurization is able to eliminate or deactivate the process of organisms that cause spoilage or disease. Moreover, he also developed vaccines for anthrax in 1881 and rabies in 1886. Due to his remarkable contributions to the world, he received a lot of awards such as the Albert Medal, Copley Medal, Leeuwenhoek Medal, Montyon Prize, and Rumford Medal. He died on September 28, 1985 at the age of 72 at Hauts de Seine, France.

1. Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970)

Charles De Gaulle, one of the most famous French people ever, was born on November 22, 1890, at Lille, France. He was a very well-known individual who made a lot of achievements during World War II and post-World War II. He became a commander leading French soldiers to fight against Nazi the period of World War II. Due to his popularity, the French citizens voted him to become the president of the Fifth Republic in 1959. France was on declined in the time of the Fourth Republic. However, he put all of his efforts into re-establishing the country during his presidency. He improved the economy of France and tried his best to keep the country independent. Moreover, he dedicated himself to make sure France would not be under the control of the 2 super-powerful countries – the Soviet Union and the United States. His ambition was to make France become one of the powerful countries. Therefore, he initiated the nuclear weapons projects allowing him to gain reverence from the country’s military. There were also other achievements that he accomplished during his lifetime. However, he resigned from his position as France president in April 1969 due to the reform of politics and economy. He married his wife, Yvonne de Gaulle, in 1921, and they had 3 children. One of his child named Philippe, who was born in 1921 and became a senator and French Admiral. He died on November 9, 1970.

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