Robert Castel, Actor and Father of “Pied-Noir” Humour, Died at the Age of 87

Entertainment
Robert Castel at the funeral of Jean Lefèbvre, in 2004

CINEMA: Robert Castel was known for his sketches on stage and on television, as well as for supporting roles in the cinema

He was considered the father of ” Pied-Noir” humourThe actor, humorist and musician Robert Castel died this Saturday in Paris “from a long illness,” said his family. He was 87 years old. Born May 21st, 1933 in Bab El Oued, Robert Moyal, whose real name is, is the first to bring the spirit of this popular district of Algiers to the metropolitan scene. His father, known under the name of Lili Labassi, is one of the masters of chaâbi, this music with Arab-Andalusian sounds and Berber rhythms, typical of the neighbourhood. Robert Castel learns the tar (the traditional tambourine), the guitar, and accompanies him in his concerts.

A teacher, then a musical critic after his studies in literature, he joined the Regional Center for Dramatic Art in Algiers in 1957, where he met two apprentice comedians, Lucette Sahuquet and Marthe Villalonga. Together, the troupe puts on La Famille Hernandez , a series of scenes from Algerian life, which allows the metropolis to discover folklore and the typical expressions of the Pieds-Noirs. The play, scheduled for 15 performances, made the Parisian public laugh to tears and Castel finally performed “Robert the stammerer” more than 1,700 times.

Edith Piaf, Pierre Richard or Isabelle Huppert by his side

In 1962, he left the newly independent Algeria for good and moved to Paris with Lucette Sahuquet, whom he married. The couple inaugurated their duet sketches that year, notably at the Olympia where they played the first parts of Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich and Philippe Clay.

In the 70s, the comedian, lively and provocative, multiplies the television sketches with his favourite partner or Enrico Macias. For the big screen, this brown actor, with a clear forehead, who speaks with his hands, abandons his favourite register.

Mainly confined to supporting roles, he cumulates appearances, alongside Edith Piaf in Les Amants de demain  by Marcel Blistène, Pierre Richard in Le Grand blond avec une shoe Noire by Yves Robert, or Isabelle Huppert in Dupont Lajoie by Yves Boisset. He turns in total in more than thirty films, until the beginning of the 2000s.

“Nostalgia”

He was discreet a few years before returning to the stage in 2007, this time musical, thanks to the project “El Gusto”, an orchestra of Jewish Pied-Noir musicians and Algerian Arabs, gathered to revive the chaabi, passed to the second shot behind rai and rap.

In 2008, Robert Castel signed his autobiography Je pose 75 [his age] mais je retiens tout. He returned to the stage in 2013 to present his last one-man-show, Nostalgérie. After the death of his wife in 1987, he remarried. He had no children.

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