Jean Cocteau was one of the most multi-talented artists of the this century, a true renaissance man - he was a novelist, playwright, director, poet, essayist, painter, set designer, and actor. Cocteau was active in a great many art movements, but he always remained an individual apart and a poet at heart, both literally and in his attitude as reflected in the life that he lived and that within his work. He is now regarded as one of the most important avant-garde film directors.

Cocteau was born in Maisons-Lafitte into a wealthy family in 1889. His father was a lawyer and amateur painter, who died when Cocteau was ten, but had a lasting influence on his son. Cocteau published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, at the age of 19 and gained fame with his involvement as writer and supervisor in Parade (1917), a ballet produced by Serge de Diaghile, with sets by Pablo Picasso and music by Erik Satie. In 1919 appeared Le Potomak, a prose fantasy that established Cocteau's reputation as a writer. 
    During World War I Cocteau served as an ambulance driver on the Belgian front. Soon after the war he met the future poet and novelist Raymond Radiguet, whose early death led him to an addiction to opium and a period of cure. He turned in the 1920s to the psychological novel with Thomas the Impostor (1923), and Les Enfants Terribles (1929), and collaborated with Stravinsky on Oedipus-Rex, an opera-oratoria. In 1929 he was hospitalized for opium poison.
    In the 1930s Cocteau started to make films, first of which, The Blood of a Poet, was based on his own private mythology. His greatest play, The Infernal Machine, was also written before WW II. As the result of a bet with the newspaper Paris-Soir, Cocteau completed the itinerary imagined by Jules Verne in Around the World in Eighty Days, depicting his travels in My First Voyage (1936). His close friendship with young Jean Marais started in 1937, when Marais played the role in the play Knights of the Round Table, and he designed since then roles especially for Marais in his succeeding works. 
    In the 1940s Cocteau returned to filmmaking, producing Beauty and the Beast (1946) and later Orphée (1950). Cocteau continued leading an active life until 1953 when ill health forced him into semi-retirement. He then had his face lifted and started to wear leather trousers and matador's capes. In 1955 he was elected to Belgian Academy and the Acadèmie Française. Cocteau died in Milly, outside Paris, on October 11, 1963. He was preparing a radio broadcast in memory of Edith Piaf and when he head she had expired, he exclaimed: 'Ah, la Piaf est morte, je peux mourir,' and sank into a coronary himself. 

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