Originally created 06/26/97

Legendary undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau dies



PARIS (AP) - He shared his undersea adventures with millions of TV viewers worldwide, revealing the enchanting, hidden life that lay beneath the waves. Jacques Cousteau died Wednesday at 87, having left his mark on generations.

Cousteau invoked the heavens to explain his connection to the sea. "When you dive," he once said, "you begin to feel that you're an angel. It's a liberation of your weight."

Cousteau's foundation referred to one of his most noted documentaries in announcing his death. "Jacques-Yves Cousteau has rejoined the Silent World," it said in a statement.

His wife, Francine, said Cousteau died at home in Paris before dawn after suffering a respiratory infection and heart problems. Cousteau reportedly had been ill for months.

"But his voice continues to be heard," Francine Cousteau said, vowing to "continue his struggle" by finishing the Calypso II, the research ship he was building to replace the Calypso, which sank last year.

Cousteau - wiry, bespectacled and often wearing a red wool cap - became a household name primarily through his hugely popular television series, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau," and his many documentaries. He narrated the shows in English with his soothing voice and heavy French accent beloved to generations of viewers.

But Cousteau's 60-year odyssey, much of it on the Calypso, involved more than his life as a filmmaker or great adventurer. He was also an environmentalist and inventor who co-developed the Aqua-Lung, created a one-man jet-propelled submarine and helped start the first manned undersea colonies.

Cousteau, said French President Jacques Chirac, was a legend who "represented the defense of nature, modern adventure, invention of the possible."

He won three Academy Awards for best documentary: "The Silent World" (1957), "Le Poisson Rouge" (1959) and "World Without Sun" (1965).

In the past 15 years, Cousteau became an eloquent advocate of environmental protection and maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

"The future of civilization depends on water," Cousteau said in Florida in January, while receiving one of his many awards. "I beg you all to understand this."

Ever the innovator, Cousteau dreamed of solving the world's energy crisis by channeling the sea's tides and temperatures, and by extracting essential raw materials from the ocean floor. He foresaw a day when the world's population could be fed by plantations hundreds of feet beneath the surface.

President Clinton praised Cousteau as a "man with rare insight and extraordinary spirit."

"While we mourn his death, it is far more appropriate that we celebrate his remarkable life," Clinton said. "Captain Cousteau showed us both the importance of the world's oceans and the beauty that lies within."

Time magazine put Cousteau on its cover in 1960, and he received the National Geographic Society's Gold Medal in 1961 in a ceremony attended by President John F. Kennedy.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born June 11, 1910 in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, a small town near Bordeaux. His father was a lawyer who traveled constantly, and young Jacques was a sickly child.

But he learned to swim and spent hours at the beach. Formal schooling bored Cousteau; he was expelled from high school for breaking 17 school windows.

His first dive was in Lake Harvey, Vt., while vacationing in the summer of 1920.

In 1930, Cousteau passed the highly competitive entrance examinations to enter France's Naval Academy, and then entered naval aviation school.

But a near-fatal car crash at 26 denied him his wings, and he was transferred to sea duty, where he swam to strengthen badly weakened arms.

The therapy had unintended consequences, Cousteau wrote in his 1953 book, "The Silent World," which sold 5 million copies in more than 20 languages.

"Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course," he wrote. "It happened to me ... on that summer's day, when my eyes were opened to the sea."

During World War II, Cousteau was involved in espionage activities for the French Resistance.

He made his first underwater films during the war period, and, with engineer Emile Gagnan, perfected the aqualung, an underwater breathing apparatus that supplies air to divers and enabled him to be a "manfish."

In 1950, Cousteau bought the former mine-sweeper Calypso, which he converted into a floating laboratory outfitted with the most modern equipment, including underwater television gear.

From 1952 to 1953, Cousteau took the Calypso to the Red Sea, where he shot the first color footage ever taken at a depth of 150 feet. He then began a four-year voyage across the oceans of the world.

He authored many books, including "The Living Sea" (1963) and "World Without Sun" (1965). A 20-volume encyclopedia, "The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau," was published in the United States and England.

In 1977, the "Cousteau Odyssey" series premiered on PBS. Seven years later, the "Cousteau Amazon" series premiered on the Turner Broadcasting System. In all, his documentaries have won 40 Emmy nominations.

Cousteau had his critics. Some said he lacked scientific training. A biographer, Bernard Violet, said he mistreated animals during the filming of some documentaries, and that he once bought lobsters at a market in Marseille and used them in a film about the Red Sea.

Cousteau's son, Philippe, was killed in 1979 in a seaplane crash. His other son, Jean-Michel, is a renowned conservationist, but a dispute over lending the Cousteau name to a Fijian resort soured their relationship.

The younger Cousteau said Wednesday they had resolved their differences before his father's death.

"I saw him - unfortunately, in the hospital - and I was able to communicate all the love that I have. And I intend to help carry on (his) message," Jean-Michel Cousteau told Associated Press Television.

Survivors also include his second wife, Francine Triplet, and their children, Diane and Pierre-Yves.

The foundation said a memorial service would be held Monday in Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, and that he would be buried in France. Funeral arrangements were pending.



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