French cabaret director 'Michou' dead at 88

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French cabaret director 'Michou' dead at 88
In this file photo taken on February 27, 1989 French Cabaret artist and French cabaret director Michel Georges Alfred Catty, also known as Michou (C) performs at the "Paradis Latin" during a TV show for the centenary of the Parisian cabaret in Paris. Michou died at age 88 on January 26, 2020. Georges BENDRIHEM / AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- Michou, a legend of the Paris night scene who helped inspire the comedy classic "La Cage aux Folles", died Sunday at the age of 88.

A trailblazer who established drag cabaret in France, Michou died in a Paris hospital, Francois Deblaye, a spokesman for his Chez Michou theatre, told AFP.

Michou, whose real name was Michel Catty, was a fixture of Paris nightlife for more than 60 years, unmistakable in his top-to-toe all-blue outfits and chunky dark glasses.

His tiny Cabaret Michou launched drag entertainment in the mid-1950s when it put on shows featuring men caricaturing women personalities of the time.

Michou would recount over the years how one Mardi Gras he dared some male friends to dress up as famous women for after-dinner entertainment in his simple bar in the city's northern Montmartre district.

"I imitated Brigitte Bardot, finishing my number almost naked... for the time, it was very cheeky," he says on his club's website.

He and his friends repeated the performance and soon the barmen and waiters were swapping aprons after their shifts for outrageous gowns, wigs and false eyelashes.

Michou and his camped-up "Michettes" became icons of Paris's saucy nightlife, alongside the larger, more conventional cabarets of the Moulin Rouge, Lido and Crazy Horse.

His entertainment was about mimicking -- not mocking -- the stars of the day, Michou insisted.

"There is a lot of respect in our caricatures. We adore our victims and they know it," he told AFP in 2011.

"We do not ape them. There is never any vulgarity."

Egyptian-born diva Dalida, France's blonde pop queen of the 1970s and 1980s, "loved to come and see herself more crazy than ever," he said.

Such was his fame that he and his club inspired a hit 1978 French comedy film, "La Cage aux Folles" -- later remade in Hollywood as "The Birdcage", starring Robin Williams.

Blue Prince
In 1948, Michou arrived in the City of Light from the small northern city of Amiens, aged 17.

As his reputation grew through his niche cabaret, he had a film cameo in 1973 and was a frequent feature on television in the 1980s, also recording several songs.

Always proudly and flamboyantly gay, even when homosexuality was illegal, Michou was awarded France's highest civilian honour, the Legion d'honneur, in 2005.

His 80th birthday party was a megabash of stars, from fashion's Jean-Paul Gaultier to singing legend Nana Mouskouri.

It was fueled by lots of champagne, his preferred "fountain of youth".

Michou made clear in his 2017 memoires "Blue Prince of Montmartre" that he wants to be buried in a blue coffin, also saying his cabaret should die when he does.

"I want this to disappear with me. That may seem pretentious but the cabaret will not survive after me," he said in a recent interview.

© Agence France-Presse

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