Bip R.I.P.

As I read Marcel Marceau's obituaries, my mind goes back to the unforgettable night I attended his performance at New Brunswick's State Theatre. His appearance that evening coincided with the launch of the US occupation of Iraq, and given the political climate of the time (France had opposed the invasion), there was nothing worse than being a Frenchman in America. However, the largely student audience cheered him all the way through his act, and I am hopeful that these memories overshadowed the bitterness of his last tour of the United States.

Young Marcel had experienced the horrors and futility of war first-hand-- his family went into hiding when France entered the Second World War, but his father was captured and killed at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Inspired by the silent movies of the time, he prepared for the stage as a mime artist, and in 1947 created the character of Bip, the sad white-faced clown with a beflowered opera hat-- a tribute to Charlie Chaplin's tramp. Bip's bravery and misadventures have captured the hearts of audiences worldwide, reducing entire auditoriums to hysterical laughter and cathartic tears. As he matured, Marceau developed more complex routines, including the "Creation of the World", that blended themes from religion, politics and popular culture. His "Walking Against the Wind" act was said to be the inspiration for Michael Jackson's famous Moonwalk dance. Most importantly, by establishing mime schools in Paris and the Marceau Foundation in the United States, Marcel Marceau has been instrumental in encouraging enthusiasts to pursue the almost lost art of pantomime.

The two minutes of silence held globally in his honour was a fitting tribute to an artist who taught the world that sometimes silence speaks more eloquently than words.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls

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