His contributions to French cinema made "Bebell," as he was affectionately known, a New Wave icon, one who graduated from early, anti-heroic roles to more mainstream portrayals.
Born April 9, 1933, in a Parisian suburb, Belmondo was the son of a trained sculptor. As a child, Belmondo's penchant for fighting led to his famously accordioned nose, and a brief flirtation with amateur boxing as a teenager contributed to his rough-hewn look. He took up acting when he feared losing his looks entirely, studying diligently at the Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique.
His breakthrough was in filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" (1961), an instant movie classic in which he established his detached, counter-culture on-screen persona. Incredibly for a film held in such high regard, it was shot without a script in place, powered by improvisation.
Other memorable Belmondo performances are contained in films like "Moderato Cantabile" (1960), "Seven Days, Seven Nights" (1960), "Two Women" (1961), and his departure from intellectualism, the spy thriller "That Man from Rio" (1964), said to be his favorite of all his films. His gradual slide into box-office-friendly fare was aided by the use of his own production company, and the pleasure he took from executing his own stunts, not unlike Tom Cruise decades later.
He won the Cesar in 1989 for "Itineraire d'un enfant gate" and enjoyed many mid-career highlights, including in the TV film "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1990). He worked steadily, save for a pause following a 2001 stroke. His final film was 2008's "A Man and His Dog," and he later appeared in the 2009 short "Allons-y! Alonzo!" before retiring for good.
As was befitting a brooding French film star, Belmondo's love life was storied. Married to ballerina Elodie Constantin when he began his career, they later divorced, and he was said to have embarked upon numerous affairs, including with fellow sex symbols Ursula Andress and Laura Antonelli. He was married a second time, to Nathalie Tardivel, but the marriage did not last.
Belmondo is survived by his daughters Florence and Stella, and by his son Paul. His first child, Patricia, preceded him in death in 1993.