Who WAS who in France... (#1) To understand a country you should know some people who are very well known by everyone in the country, even if their fame has not crossed the border. Here are some examples. But for many of them, it does not last... On this page, people who were famous between 1995 and 2010 and who no longer make cover pages !
 Living personalities    
Olivier Besancenot (born 1974) is the spokesman of Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (L.C.R.) now N.A.P. (New Anti-capitalism Party), one of the two main Trotskyist organisations with L.O. (see Laguiller). A postman in Neuilly (the wealthiest suburb of Paris), he enjoys an excellent image in the medias (a wolf in sheep's clothing) and won more than 4 % of the vote in the 2007 presidential election with the motto : "Our lives are worth more than their profits". Read about some of his voters, the altermondialistes.

Rachida Dati (born 1966), the daughter of an Algerian worker, made her way up to the level of Minister of Justice, the fourth most prestigious position in the government of Sarkozy. She is a hard worker and a brilliant example of the new France where the most

  Jean Marie Messier (born 1954) illustrates the worst aspects of the French society. A graduate of the most prestigious Grandes Ecoles (X & ENA), he spent a few years as a junior member of a Cabinet then as "associé" in a leading investment bank (Lazard) and at age 40, without haver ever been anything else than the boss, he was appointed CEO of Compagnie Générale des Eaux (the world leader of the water industry). Arrogant and megalomaniac, it took him only five years to take it almost to bankrupcy and Vivendi (the new name) only escaped it after selling (at a loss) almost all the companies he had taken over, including Universal Studios and his $17m apartment on Central Park. A French Enron (without fraud). Today, JMM still fights over his golden parachute and considers that nobody really undestood his superior intelligence.
talented children of immigrants from North and West Africa can become members of the government (like her two women colleagues Rama Yade and Fadela Amara of Senegalese and Algerian origin). More about women in political life.  (credit)
Bernard Kouchner  (born 1939) is a very popular figure in France ; one of the founders of Medecins Sans Frontières (doctors without borders, the " French Doctors ") he has been successful in his successive roles as a leader of the students in the 1968 riots and later in radical students' movements, a minister of Health in the socialist governments of Mitterrand, and the representative of UN in Kosovo. Now he has been appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs by Nicholas Sarkozy, who also appointed to his cabinet other members of the Socialist Party, although his strong majority does not require it. The Socialist Party is very upset and has ousted Kouchner (anything bipartisan is considered betrayal in France).

Arlette Laguiller (born 1940) was the spokeswoman of Lutte Ouvrière (L.O.), one of the two major Trotskyist organizations in France (see Besancenot) ; since 1974, she has been candidate in every presidential election in France and her scores are far from negligible (around 5%). Although L.O. has many aspects of a sect and would maybe behave like the Red Khmers if ever in power, she is popular and many people, who would not consider voting for her, think that among politicians, she is the only one sincere ; read about the strange phenomenon of Trotskyism in France.


Zinedine Zidane (born 1972) was the most famous football player in the French team and the hero of the World Cup, won by France in 1998. A very gentle and poised man, he speaks with this typical chanting accent from Marseille ; a hero and a living example for the whole community of "beurs" (French of Algerian origin). He always ranks among the most-loved French personalities.




Please email me if you had a question to ask or a suggestion for another mini-bio (also see the section " most popular French personalities "). Other names suggested by visitors include : Pierre Boulez, Jean-Marie Le Clezio, etc...

 Personalities of the recent past    

Abbé Pierre (1912-2007) was the most loved French personality; a priest in the Resistance, his entire life had been devoted to the poor and he became famous in the early 1950s by launching a huge campaign to find shelter for the thousands of homeless people in post-war France ; he founded the Compagnons d'EmmaĆ¼s, an association which gives a job (collecting abandoned furniture and clothes) and a place to sleep to the poorest ; these Maisons d'Emmaüs are a network of thriftshops all over the country ; Abbé Pierre was a living icon, considered a saint by most people. Read about the emotion in France when he died.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) : for better and for worse, she set the agenda for the feminist movement with he book "The Second Sex"

Coco Chanel (1894-1971) : the ultimate arbiter of "chic", she released women from the ryranny of fashion, combining style and comfort "luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury"

Coluche (Michel Colucci) (1944-1986) : an extremely popular comedian, in the French traditional graphic, often Rabelaisian and even often scatological style ; he founded the "Restaurants du Coeur" which distributes meals to the poor (60 million meals last year with 40,000 volunteers) 

Other names suggested by visitors include : Yves Saint-Laurent, Soeur Emmanuelle, etc...



To related pages : headlines in the French media, who's who in France (#1), historical heroes (#2), schools namedafter famous people, etc...

To table of contents

To top of the page

Back to home page

Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

To email me

 If you like this site, please bookmark it or create a link!