Mention Michel Serrault to most filmgoers and a spangled vision of the most outrageous drag queen ever to burst on to the screen is evoked. Serrault, who has died from cancer aged 79, became internationally renowned as Albin/Zaza, the extremely effeminate, temperamental and middle-aged performer at La Cage aux Folles, a transvestite nightclub in St Tropez in the 1978 French movie of the same name.
Albin’s volatile yet loving relationship with his longtime companion Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) is put to the test when they must pose as a “normal” family to please the puritanical future in-laws of Renato’s son. The film, which was to break all box-office records in the US for a foreign-language film to that date, spawned two progressively awful sequels in 1980 and 1985 (featuring the same stars), a Broadway musical and a Hollywood remake.
Serrault had played Albin for five years from February 1973 on stage in Paris opposite Jean Poiret, who wrote the play La Cage aux Folles.
The Guardian – 03 August 2007
Despite its international success, the film, then a very rare representation of homosexuality on French screens, left many LGBT spectators cringing for its caricatural and not always sympathetic representations of gay characters. Only the third film of the series (La Cage aux Folles 3 – “Elles” se marrient, 1985) starts to laugh with the characters rather than laugh at them.
Serrault, who became over the years one of the major French actors of his generation, won the first of his three best actor César awards (French equivalent of the Oscars) for his role as Albin/Zaza.
He is survived by his wife of many years and one daughter.
· Michel Serrault, actor, born January 24 1928; died July 29 2007