Bernard Tapie, the man of a thousand lives

the essential
Bernard Tapie died this Sunday, October 3, his family announced. A look at the extraordinary life of the man with the many hats: business, football, cycling, politics, cinema, theater, song, TV …

With his messy hair, boxer chin and feverish eyes, seductive smile and tenor voice, he couldn’t wait to get the job started. Indeed, of all the jobs: from the singer to the minister, from the entrepreneur to the actor, from the sports leader to the yacht captain, from the prince of the jet-set, to the head of the press, despite having been in prison …

Leave it in front of a piano and it will accompany you to push the song. Give him the controls of a jet and he’ll take you up into the clouds. Give him a boat, he breaks an Atlantic record. Stop it in front of a National Front activist, and with a few laughs and three pats on the back, our boy suddenly finds “Bernard, very cute! “

Tapie, they are Rastignac and Jean Valjean, they are Rockefeller and Howard Hugues, they are Gabin and Belmondo, boxer and marathon runner, who will end up collapsing at the end of a path conducted almost in apnea, three quarters of the centuries.

“Tapy and the yé-yé”

He could have been a welder or a mechanic: Bernard Tapie was born in 1943 in a modest environment, his Ariège father is a fitter, in Blanc-Mesnil near Paris. Bernard was twenty years old at the time of the yé-yé. Already charged, he managed to record a record and throw himself into the song. But “Bernard Tapy” is not (yet) successful. As a result, he launched into the sale of televisions. His patter works wonders, he opens his shop, which he resells.

In 1974 he launched “Coeur Assistance” with Maurice Mességué from the Gers region: a portable unit for heart patients that allows them to ring an ambulance in case of problems. Intelligent, but illegal: the medical order condemns him. Anyway, he knows he’s made for business. He becomes a consultant. The thing about him? Buy back a failed company for the symbolic franc. “Renovate it”. And resell it at a profit. Terraillon, Look, La Vie Claire, Testut, Donnay… Success is insolent. So the media turns to the one who waited only for this: Wonder’s boss attracts the light. Furthermore, the 80s are those of the “Tapie mania”. We tear it apart on televisions, from the intellectual “Grand échiquier” to the hugely popular “Big Heads”.

He was even given the reins of an “Ambitions” program. He conducts conferences all over France, in business schools, where students are speechless. When he shows up, it’s just him and his handsome face: he seduces young people, women and … politicians. Not yet those on the left (he later joined the radical family) but already those who, much later, will embody the right. He joins the lawyer Jean-Louis Borloo, attends the mayor of Neuilly Nicolas Sarkozy, that of Levallois-Perret, Patrick Balkany. He whispers to himself with a giggle that he has deceived the former “Emperor Bokassa” by buying his castles for a pittance!

Glory with OM

The commuter frequents the high. And he squats the three chains of time. The former TV salesman is at home on the small screen. A perfect springboard to slip into another world that he adores: sport. By purchasing La Vie Claire, Bernard allows Hinault, fired from Renault, to win a fifth Tour de France. Magic carpet. Above all, he will redeem OM and perform a miracle that still illuminates the city of Marseille today. It is undoubtedly in Marseille that the sadness will today be the deepest, the most shared and the most sincere, Marseille who supported him throughout his illness.

Bernard Tapie driving OM, is heavy on the ground: Jean-Pierre Papin, Éric Cantona, Basile Boli, Fabien Barthez, Marcel Dessailly, Didier Deschamps or even Chris Waddle or Abédi Pelé. A “Dream team” that pays: four French leagues, a French cup, and above all a Champions League in the Champions League on 26 May 1993, first victory for a French club, 1 to 0 against Milan, goal by Basile Boli. Yes, at the Stade Vélodrome, “Le Boss” and OM experienced paradise. Then hell with VA / OM, a corruption story with wads of banknotes buried in a player’s garden. Marseille returns to P2, loses its champions, even if personal feats keep their heads afloat.

This VA / OM affair will pursue him on another field: that of politics. Because in the meantime Bernard Tapie has fallen under the spell of François Mitterrand and vice versa. The President of the Republic forces the thunderous businessman into the cruel and silent world of politics, hoping that his popularity will reflect on him, in a suffocating end to the reign. Mitterrand’s idea is to make the French swallow that “money is chic”. For many “old-fashioned” socialists, the Tapie pill will never go away.

Wins and pans

Tapie was deputy twice for three years. Elected in Marseille, despite the banana peels of the local socialists, he ventured into fiery promises like: “I give you my word that within three years there won’t be a single young person here who is unemployed or in training!”

He will then take command of a list in the 1994 European elections and will exceed 12% of the votes. What he doesn’t know is that François Mitterrand pushed him to show up, only to pluck his long-time enemy, Rocard!

In 1992 Tapie was appointed Minister of the City. And he is “very happy”. Neither Jospin, nor Aubry nor Mauroy. Short-lived euphoria. He is being attacked from all sides. The pots are piling up behind him and his enemies, left and right, are playing them. He was forced to resign two months after his arrival. He had quarreled with one of his former partners, Georges Tranchant, when a company was sold to Toshiba. He denounces, threatens to be indicted. And, a phone call from Mitterrand to Tranchant, who will eventually find a deal with his ex-partner and drop his complaint. Tapie then returns to the government. Quickly he sells Adidas: Mitterrand no longer wants me to mix business and politics. Instead of closing a chapter, he will start an interminable relationship …

Meanwhile, other stories resurface, such as the tax fraud surrounding his yacht, the Phocéa. And then the one who will become his perpetual enemy, Crédit Lyonnais, obtains the seizure of his furniture, under the voracious eye of the cameras. Instead, all greet the soldier who, faced with a general debacle of the tenors of politics, bravely confronts Jean-Marie Le Pen in a memorable debate. Tapie brio, Tapie courage.

In 1995, it was the coup de grace. For corruption in the VA / OM affair, after incredible adventures, 54-year-old Tapie entered the Health Prison on February 3, 1997 at 7:45 pm. He came out on July 25, wounded, exhausted, but not defeated.

He is not eligible, he no longer has the right to engage in business or football. Everyone imagines him exhausted, ready to disappear from radar screens …

We are wrong. A new life begins. Actor ! Like a snob, he plays in “Flight over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the theater. He returns to sing with rapper Doc Gynéco. He joins Lelouch’s gang and replies to Luchini in “Men, women, ways of working”. He shot twelve episodes of “Commissaire Valence” for TF1. Tapie is ruined, but France is starting to love him again …

Adidas, case for cleats

Everything will change again, with what he called “the deal of my life”: Adidas!
It was in 1990 that he bought the famous brand with the three stripes, which was on the verge of collapse. Appointed minister, he will then have to resell Adidas to his partner Crédit Lyonnais. What is done. Very quickly, Bernard Tapie protested against this sale, noting that the bank had made a huge capital gain. He custody Adidas, custody for crampons, which will drag from court to court. In the 2000s, Tapie will try to get the attention of politicians on the spot, making sure he has been scammed by the bank.

We hear him more or less, until 2008. Nicolas Sarkozy, who, against all odds, Bernard Tapie supported in the campaign, against Ségolène Royal, is President of the Republic. His old friend Jean-Louis Borloo is he, Minister of Ecology. Thus, the dossier will have the ear of Christine Lagarde, Minister of Economy. The referees end up awarding € 403 million to Tapie. “Henaurme”, the observers are offended. Tapie is summoned before the parliamentary committee.

He explains himself, he swears to his great gods that he did not enjoy any privileges and that the referees were completely independent. Ironically, among the deputies who grilled him was a certain Jérôme Cahuzac. The story seemed confirmed … But the leaders change and in December 2015 the arbitration was denounced: Bernard Tapie must repay everything.

Do you think Tapie would throw in the towel? At 70 he took on a new challenge. He bought the newspaper “La Provence” in Marseille and thus became head of the press. He gets upset a little with the reporters and staff, and then calms down. The diary holds up forever. Tapie recruits big feathers, like Olivier Mazerolle, then the former head of the Point, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, who is there “as a neighbor”.

But it is from the inside that Bernard Tapie will receive the worst stab in late 2017. Stomach cancer, then esophagus. Again, he struggles and grits his teeth. His hair is turning white. His voice cracks. However: on the TVs where he still sometimes comes, he still moans just as loud.

Another Adidas trial takes place in March 2019. Tapie is tired. And tenacious. And the unexpected happened in July 2019, when the sentence was issued: general release of the head of the scam. He is “exonerated” and, although he has yet to repay everything: “Here, my cancer has just taken a beating! he breathes happily. The last judicial episode took place in June 2021. The sentence was to be handed down in the next few days. A few weeks earlier, the couple was the victim of a ferocious attack at their home in Combs-la-Ville. Tapie’s swollen face shocks the whole of France.

Since August 2019 he is being treated at the Paoli-Calmettes Institute in Marseille, with a revolutionary technique. An MRI guided radiotherapy device that allows for very precise targeting of cancerous tumors. This gives him one last respite. A weakened and ghostly Tapie occasionally appears on television. We hear that inside, however, it is still gurgling.

Short respite. Metastasis was faster than any procedure. And he reached Tapie, at the end of a life of vertigo between shadows and lights, between prisons and buildings, between stadiums and yachts. After forty years of whirlwind, he leaves a huge void. Hello, artist.

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