PARIS: Died Sunday, Dominique Lapierre, who made India his second homeland, was as much a philanthropist as a successful writer who sold, with his “pen brother” the American Larry Collins, some 50 million copies of their six novels, including “Is Paris Burning?”.
“It’s not enough to be a best-selling author, you have to fight against these injustices that you denounce in your books”, said this former French journalist, an energetic adventurer who loves the good life.
His widow announced to the local press “his death of old age” at the age of 91.
Thus, after having written, alone, “The City of Joy” (1985), on a slum in Calcutta, he gave a good part of his royalties to the poor who had inspired him. The sum was plump: the novel sold a total of 12 million copies and was the subject of a film, directed by Roland Joffé, in 1992.
In 2005, he assured that, thanks to his royalties, donations from readers and earnings from conferences delivered around the world, his humanitarian action “had made it possible to cure 1 million tuberculosis patients in 24 years, treat 9,000 leprosy children , build 540 drinking water wells and equip four hospital ships on the Ganges delta”.
In the Indian state of West Bengal, he was “raised to the rank of idol”, as a striking report from Paris-Match showed in 2012 when he was seeking new funding for his humanitarian centers to compensate for the drop in donations, because of the European and American financial crisis.
When he was not traveling, he occupied a house in Ramatuelle, in the south of France, separated from that of Collins, who died in 2005, by a tennis court, acquired with the copyright of “Paris brule-t- it?”, (1964, 20 million readers, 30 international editions).
René Clément made a film of this story of the Liberation of Paris, on August 25, 1944, with a host of stars. Americans Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal co-wrote the screenplay.
Dominique Lapierre was born on July 30, 1931 in Châtelaillon, in the west of France, to a diplomat father and a journalist mother. High school student at Condorcet, in Paris, he became a journalist at Paris-Match in the early 1950s, traveling through the hot spots of the planet.
Visit to Mother Teresa
After “Is Paris Burning?”, he continued his fruitful collaboration with Collins: “Where you will wear my mourning” (1968, on the bullfighter El Cordobes), “O Jerusalem” (1972), “Cette nuit la liberté” (1975, about Indian independence), “The Fifth Horseman” (1980, fiction about an atomic bomb) and the thriller “Is New York Burning?” (2004).
The two men complemented each other admirably. Lapierre investigated the French secret services and Collins the CIA. Then the first wrote in French and the second in English and each translated the other.
The finished book, Lapierre, the extrovert, who did not hesitate to introduce lyricism into its pages, went to promote it in the French-speaking and Spanish-speaking world. More discreet, sticking more to raw facts, Collins (deceased in 2005) was going to praise the merits among the Anglo-Saxons.
Lapierre also co-wrote, with the Spaniard Javier Moro, “It was five past midnight in Bhopal” (2001) and, with Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, “Once upon a time in the USSR” (2005).
In the early 80s, after the publication of “Cette nuit la liberté”, he landed with his wife at Mother Teresa’s in Calcutta. He begins by giving him 50,000 dollars, saying: “it’s a drop in the ocean of needs”. The nun (who died in 1997 and declared a Saint by Pope Francis in 2016) replies: “without them, the ocean would not be the ocean”.
He then gave several million dollars to programs to fight leprosy, cholera or tuberculosis, for the construction of housing or the distribution of microcredits.
Among other initiatives, Dominique Lapierre, who spoke fluent Bengali, had opened several schools in the region. Part of their financing came from the auction (2006, 825,000 dollars) of a dress worn by actress Audrey Hepburn in the film “Diamonds on the Sofa” (1961). He had received it as a gift from the couturier Hubert de Givenchy.
He had been under conservatorship since 2014 due to his health. His legacy was hotly debated.
On December 5, 2022, his wife Dominique Conchon-Lapierre announced the death of the writer to the French daily Var-Matin. She confided in this interview to be “at peace and serene since Dominique no longer suffers”.
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