France’s most recognisable personality, a businessman, sports club owner and politician Bernard Tapie, has died at the age of 78.
Tapie, who had battled stomach cancer for the past four years, died peacefully, surrounded by his family, they said in a statement.
At one time he owned Adidas, Olympique Marseille and was a minister under President Francois Mitterrand.
He also had a string of legal problems and served time in jail.
Tapie’s wife Dominique and his family announced his death with “immense sadness”. They said he wished to be buried in Marseille, “the city of his heart”.
President Emmanuel Macron was among the many to pay tribute to him, saying his “ambition, energy and enthusiasm… were a source of inspiration for generations of French people”.
Bernard Tapie grew up in the working class suburbs of Paris.
He began his career as a singer, then a race car driver and then discovering a talent for buying up failing businesses and selling them off.
He demonstrated his wealth by buying the Olympique de Marseille football club, which won the French championship while he was their owner. However, he was accused of match-fixing and the club was stripped of its league championship title and later relegated to a lower division.
He also bought a cycling team that twice won the Tour de France, was the majority shareholder of the sportswear brand Adidas and owned a number of newspapers.
In the 1990s, he dabbled in politics, briefly became urban affairs minister and later elected as a leftist French and European parliament MP in Marseille.
He also had a lifelong interest in entertainment. In 1966, aged 23, he recorded songs under the name Bernard Tapy, but failed to make much of impact.
He returned to singing in the 1980s, after making his name as a corporate raider, and collaborated with acclaimed songwriter Didier Barbelivien.
In the 1990s, he appeared in major films including Claude Lelouch’s Men, Women: A User’s Manual, as well as plays. Over the past 20 years he has starred as a police inspector in a TV drama and hosted a number of chat shows.
Tapie’s late career as a showman took off as his empire crumbled amid a string of legal problems from the late 1990s.
He served time in jail for match fixing and other charges concerning corruption, tax fraud and misuse of corporate assets.