Jean-Paul Belmondo's battered face, laconic style and roguish smile captured the imagination of French 1960s youth, reports BBC News.
Belmondo, who has died at his Paris home aged 88, was the cool rebel of the new wave of French cinema typified in Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 film classic, A Bout de Souffle.
His moody performance as a doomed thief and Humphrey Bogart fan struck a chord and saw him dubbed the Gallic James Dean.
Later, he forsook arts cinema to become a highly bankable commercial actor, as at home in comedy as in drama.
Jean-Paul Belmondo was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris on April 9th 1933, the son of Paul Belmondo, a sculptor whose statues grace many a Parisian park.
The intensely Bohemian atmosphere of his upbringing had a formative effect on him.
He failed at school and became an amateur boxer. In his short-lived career, he won 15 of his 23 bouts before giving up to concentrate on acting.
His trademark bumpy nose, however, was a result of a fight in the school playground rather than the ring.
After performing on stage in provincial theatres, his movie break came with the role of Laszlo in Claude Chabrol's 1958 film Les Tricheurs.
On the strength of his forceful portrayal, he was given his first starring role in A Bout de Souffle.
One critic described him as "a bewitchingly ugly man."
His cult image carried him through several action films such as Les Distractions and La Novice.
Determined not to be stereotyped, Belmondo also accepted more demanding roles such as the idealistic intellectual of Vittorio de Sica's La Ciocara in 1961, and as the young country priest in Philippe de Broca's swashbuckling Cartouche the following year.
He also enjoyed comic roles, in Godard's Une Femme est une Femme, and, particularly, in De Broca's L'Homme de Rio, in which he played a suave, unflappable secret agent.
By the mid-60s, he had switched completely to the commercial mainstream and formed his own production company, Cerito.