As an aspiring businessman and actor, Bernard Tapie has played many roles during a roller coaster career that has embraced success and scandal to almost equal extent. The flamboyant Frenchman, who died at the age of 78 from cancer, was a wise entrepreneur, a film and stage star, politician, government minister, president of the Olympique de Marseille football club, presenter of television, owner of a successful cycling club and press baron. .
Champion for some, charlatan for others, his talents displayed were numerous and varied, but not always legally, even if he always denied any fault. The elephant in praise after his death was his recurring relationship with French justice, including convictions for football match-fixing and tax evasion that earned him several months in prison.
In his tribute to Tapie, French President Emmanuel Macron underlined these contradictions by observing that he was “boastful, charismatic, attractive” and that “the golden legend intertwined with the shadows of his judicial sagas – lost trials, heavy sentences – decisions he has challenged all his life ”. Yet, added Macron, “Tapie’s ambition, energy and enthusiasm have been a source of inspiration for generations of French people.”
Tapie had emerged from a poor background to make his fortune buying and taking over failed companies, and flaunted his wealth with what some saw as Trump flair. But he also gave large sums to charities – often discreetly – and devised projects to help young unemployed people.
His political affiliations were equally ambiguous: first elected as an independent member in 1989, he served two terms as minister of urban affairs in the socialist cabinet of President François Mitterrand in the early 1990s, and was elected a second time in 1993 as a member of the Left Left Radical Movement, of which he was the head. Having become a MEP in 1994 for the same party, he was forced to give up politics because of his legal problems and then lent his support to the center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Every time he was knocked down, Tapie got up. His motivation, like his personal motto, was “to win”. He took the hits and rolled with the critics and suddenly, for four decades, his name was never far from the headlines.
Her death came just days before a French court ruled on a complex legal battle that plagued the last decades of Tapie’s life. The “Adidas controversy”, which he would call the biggest of all the ‘stupid mistakes’ of his career, dragged on for nearly 30 years after Tapie sold his majority stake in then-struggling sports company Adidas to a group of private investors to avoid conflict interests when he was government minister in 1993.
A year later, Adidas was again sold for more than double the price. Tapie sued the partly state-owned Crédit Lyonnais bank, claiming it had deliberately undervalued the company. In 2008, an arbitration panel awarded Tapie 403 million euros in damages, payable from public funds, causing a national outcry.
In 2015, an appeals court overturned the sentence and ordered Tapie to repay the money with interest. But the businessman, famous for his tan and fluffy hair, said all the money was gone, saying: “I’m broke. Ruined. ”Since then, the case has rebounded with judgments and appeals.
Tapie was born and raised in a working-class suburb of Paris, the eldest of the two sons of Jean-Baptiste Tapie, a refrigeration engineer, and his wife, Raymonde (née Nodot), a nurse. The family of four lived in a tiny apartment with no bathroom and toilet at the back of the courtyard, but young Bernard was happy. “I don’t know any child happier than me,” he said.
After school was over, Tapie began selling televisions by day while singing in Parisian clubs at night. At one point, he dreamed of becoming a pop singer (releasing a single that flopped), then a Formula 3 driver. But he gave up those early enthusiasms to devote himself to business.
At 30, he had made his fortune by taking over bankrupt companies. Later, his cycling team, La Vie Claire, which he created with cycling champion Bernard Hinault, won the Tour de France twice – in 1985 and 1986 – and he owned the Olympique de Marseille between 1986 and 1994, while holding a significant stake in the Marseille daily La Provence.
In Marseille, he will always be a local hero. The Olympique de Marseille football club was in debt and languishing in 17th place in the French championship when it took over in 1986. Six years later, with the help of star players acquired at great expense, the he team won the Champions League, a feat like no other. The French club have been successful so far.
In 1995, however, it was revealed that Tapie had offered a bribe to rival French team Valenciennes for underperforming against Marseille in a league game in the run-up to the League final. of the 1993 champions, so his players can stay fresh for the big game. Tapie was sentenced to eight months in prison after being found guilty of corruption, and Marseille was stripped of its title of champion of France, but not of its honors in the Champions League.
On his release, banned from football and politics, Tapie began to work as an actor, playing several roles including that of Benoit Blanc in the film Hommes, Femmes, Instructions for use by Claude Lelouch in 1996 and a police inspector. . in a dozen 90-minute episodes of the popular television series Commissioner Valence (2003-08). In 1998, he collaborated with French rapper Doc Gynéco on the song C’est Beau la Vie (La vie est belle), and two years later he made his theater debut, receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of the role of Jack Nicholson of Randle McMurphy in Flight Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
In addition to serving a sentence for his match-fixing conviction, Tapie was convicted twice for tax evasion, first in 1997 when he was sentenced to 18 months, including 12 months suspended, and again in 2005, when he was sentenced to three years in prison, including 28 months suspended. In the latter case, he was accused of having charged personal expenses, including staff at his Paris home and a yacht, on his company’s account. However, he did not return to prison as the court ruled that his sentences could be counted against the eight months he had already spent in prison.
Despite his transgressions, in 2017, the year he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, Tapie told The World that he was largely satisfied with his life. “When you won the Tour de France, the Champions League, you were a minister, singer, actor… what didn’t I do? he said. “I can’t say that I haven’t been spoiled rotten with life.”
Hinault, who had become close to Tapie, said of his friend: “He wanted to touch everything. He may have made a mistake in getting into politics, but it was his choice. There are those who win and those who lose. He was in the first category.
In 1973, Tapie married Michèle Layec and they had two children, Nathalie and Stéphane. The marriage ended in divorce, and in 1987 he married Dominique Mialet-Damianos, with whom he also had two children, Laurent and Sophie. Dominique survives him, as well as his four children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandson.