Bernard Tapie, French magnate, actor and politician, dies at 78

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PARIS – Bernard Tapie, a boastful French businessman who has spent his life from wild success to humiliation, knowing everything from high political office to prison cell, died on October 3 in Paris. He was 78 years old.

The cause was cancer, according to a statement from his wife, Dominique Tapie. The ad appeared in La Provence, a newspaper owned by Mr. Tapie in the port city of Marseille, in the south of France, where he was loved because of the extraordinary success he brought to his football team, the Olympique de Marseille, after having bought it in 1986.

“He has led a thousand lives,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a message of condolence to the Tapie family, adding that “Mr. Tapie’s ambition, energy and enthusiasm have been an inspiration to generations of French”.

The president’s praise for a man embroiled in legal issues for decades and who was jailed for five months in 1997 for his role in a football match-fixing scandal was a measure of the fascination exerted by him. pop singer, business mogul. , actor, sports manager, television star and minister of the left-wing government. Mr. Tapie was a lot of things but never less than irrepressible.

His football team – OM, as they were called – was a club of nothing in dire straits when Mr Tapie took over, but through a mixture of insight and swagger he got it. guided to victory in the 1993 Champions League, Europe’s most coveted club competition. No other French team had ever won it. The players, courted on his yacht or the private jet he piloted himself, nicknamed him “the boss”. He was everywhere – on the pitch, in the locker room – and they loved him.

It was typical of Mr Tapie that within two years of a triumph which politicians seized as symbolizing ‘a winning France’, he was found guilty of attempting to bribe a Valenciennes player to start a game. Sentenced to two years in prison, he served 165 days. OM supporters didn’t care. “He will leave a great void in the hearts of the Marseillais,” the club tweeted on the occasion of his death.

For Mr. Tapie, nothing has ever been a surmountable setback. He had the gift of chatter and moving dark eyes that somehow made all the words that came out of him more believable. In a country where power tends to be concentrated among graduates of its elite schools, Mr. Tapie, the strong self-made man of misery to the rich, has exerted a lasting appeal.

Bernard Roger Tapie was born on January 26, 1943 in Paris in a popular family. His father, Jean-Baptiste, was a milling machine operator and his mother, Raymonde (Nodot) Tapie was a nurse’s aide. He had to fight to get out of the harsh northern suburbs of Seine-Saint-Denis. The book he would write in 1986 was called “Winning” for a reason.

He started out as a singer – his singles included “I No Longer Believe in Girls” and “Quick, a Drink” – and entered auto racing only to find himself in a coma after an accident, before turning to business in 1967 with a small company that sold televisions in the east of Paris.

A home appliance company followed, and then something called “Heart Assistance,” which was supposed to provide instant help to people with heart problems through a portable gadget that would call an ambulance with the push of a button.

Mr. Tapie was convicted in 1981 of fraudulent advertising; the company may have had two ambulances, although they said they had five.

Around the same time, a French court ordered him to return four castles he had acquired for a song by the fallen and self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic, Jean-B̩del Bokassa, by persuading him Рwrongly Рthat they had to be seized by the French authorities.

Going high speed in his personal and professional life – he had two children from a brief first marriage – Mr Tapie specializes in the rescue and resale of struggling businesses, from battery makers to bicycle makers . With his cycling team La Vie Claire, he led cyclists Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault to victories in the Tour de France. He built a fortune. The peak of his business career came in 1990 with the purchase of Adidas, the sporting goods company.

As in many of his business ventures, however, Adidas would come to haunt Mr. Tapie. A long legal saga involving the company ensued, involving the sale of its majority stake to Crédit Lyonnais in 1992; a lawsuit he brought against the bank, alleging that it had underpaid for the company; a payment to Mr. Tapie of $ 449 million granted in 2008; and an appeal order to repay that amount in 2017. The case remained pending after his death.

On the contrary, these legal difficulties brought sympathy to Mr. Tapie, especially after being diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

Besides his wife, he is survived by the two children of his first marriage, Nathalie and Stéphane; two children with his wife, Laurent and Sophie; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Even in poor health, Mr. Tapie continued to give interviews. He always had a knack for communication, realizing before his time that in modern times it mattered more than anything. Like former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, then former President Donald J. Trump in the United States, he seized on television to establish his notoriety. He had his own television show, called “Ambitions”, in the mid-1980s. Through it, he did a lot to make words like “entrepreneurship” and “success” less suspect in a France still wary of the rich, self-taught or not.

These gifts drew him to President François Mitterrand, who asked to meet with Mr. Tapie in 1987 and saw him as a showman who could be an effective communicator for the left, using plain, crude language. A debate in 1989 between Mr. Tapie and the far-right anti-immigrant leader Jean-Marie Le Pen remains legendary for the demolition by Mr. Tapie of his opponent.

Addressing a meeting of the Le Pen National Front in 1992, Mr. Tapie, elected MP for Marseille in 1989, postulated the idea of ​​seizing the immigrants, cramming them into a boat and sinking the boat off the coasts of France. There was crazy applause, according to a story by writer André Bercoff.

Mr. Tapie impassive: “I was not wrong about you. I just spoke of a massacre, and you applauded. Tomorrow, look at yourself in the mirror while you shave or put on makeup and vomit.

Mr. Mitterrand appointed Mr. Tapie minister of town planning in 1992, but he had to resign after 52 days because of yet another legal problem. The case was settled in Mr. Tapie’s favor and he returned to government in 1993, but the defeat of the left that year ended his ministerial career.

There was still time for other companies, including the acquisition by Mr. Tapie of the newspaper La Provence. His acting career resumed with a theatrical performance in Paris in “Flight over a Cuckoo’s Nest” in the mid-1990s. Close to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, he has become a frequent visitor to the Élysée Palace. between 2007 and 2012. His opinions – on business and world affairs – have been researched and reported, even in his later years.

“To make the French love you again, you just have to get sick,” Mr. Tapie commented. National mourning and considerable adulation at his death seemed to prove him right.


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