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Michel Colucci, aka, Coluche, was a popular and controversial French comedian whose humor had a strong political and satirical bent; he was also a noted film actor and an activist who worked on behalf of the poor. Colucci was born on October 28, 1944, shortly after Paris had been liberated by Allied troops. Colucci's mother Simone was a florist and his father Honorio painted houses; Honorio died in 1947, leaving Simone to raise Michel and his brother. Colucci was a lackadaisical student and left school as a teenager; after several years of working odd jobs and a short and unpleasant stay in the Army, he was working with his mother when he decided to try his hand at singing. In 1968, Colucci and Romain Bouteille founded Café de la Gare, a Paris nightspot that featured a variety of entertainment, including a satirical revue; Colucci became part of the cast and developed skills as a comic in a cast that also included Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere. Café de la Gare became a sensation, but the other members of the cast were troubled by Colucci's alcoholism; he left to form his own group, La Vrai Chic Parisien, and eventually struck out on his own. As a solo act, Colucci honed his trademark comic persona as Coluche wearing blue and white striped coveralls and a yellow T-shirt as he spoke in a blunt, straightforward manner (Colucci regularly used off-color words in his act long before it was common for French comics). In 1970, Colucci made his screen debut in Claude Berri's Le Pistonne, and earned a reputation as a skilled actor in both comic and dramatic roles, winning a Cesar Award (the French Academy Award) in 1984 for his performance in Tchao Pantin. A passionate spokesman against racism and for economic justice, in 1981 Colucci announced his plan to run for the French Presidency, and polls had him winning 15% of the vote before he abandoned his campaign. In 1985, Colucci founded Les Restos du Coeur, an ambitious charitable program to feed the poor in France; the group served over eight million meals to the needy in its first year, but the comic would not live to see its long-term success. An enthusiastic motorcycle racer in his spare time, Colucci died in 1986 when his bike crashed into a truck in an accident some have suggested may have been part of a plot to take his life. ~ Mark Deming

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October 28, 1944

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'80s, '90s, '00s