French mime Marcel Marceau was buried in a simple ceremony Wednesday, with the trademarks of his best-known character, Bip — a floppy top hat with a red flower — resting near his flag-draped coffin.
Rabbi Rene-Samuel Sirat paid homage to Marceau, noting that he died on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. A French Jew, Marceau escaped deportation to a Nazi death camp during World War II, unlike his father who died in Auschwitz.
The top hat and red flower were placed on a stand next to the mime’s coffin and later in front of his grave at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, where other giants of the arts also are buried.
Marceau died Saturday at the age of 84 after a long illness. At Pere Lachaise, he joined a host of other famous performers and artists including composer Frederic Chopin, writer Oscar Wilde, painter Eugene Delacroix and rocker Jim Morrison.
About 300 people attended the ceremony, some of them fans holding roses or carnations.
The French tricolor was draped over Marceau’s coffin and medals awarded to him by France — the Legion of Honor and the National Order of Merit — were pinned to a cushion also resting on the coffin.
Some mourners threw flowers on the coffin, others placed small stones by the grave.
“The rest is silence,” and “To our dear maestro, the show goes on,” were among the messages on the funeral wreaths.
Before the rabbi’s homage, Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21” played.
The rabbi read three psalms, in Hebrew and then in French, and spoke about Marceau’s life. He said “his silence, his equanimity” had helped Marceau avoid capture by the Nazis, two qualities that “forever marked his life.”
After a reading of the Mourner’s Kaddish and other Jewish prayers, a cellist played the sarabande from Bach’s “Suite No. 5.” A fine rain fell and wind kicked up autumn leaves.
Dr. Nicholas Nossassian, 64, of Denver, said he delayed a business trip to Germany so he could pay his last respects to Marceau.
“When I was a kid, it was Marceau who gave me the urge to get up on stage and then start my own mime group at the University of Denver. It’s an art I practiced for 20 years,” Nossassian said before breaking into tears.
Marceau breathed new life into mime, an art that dates to ancient Greece.
Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau, through his alter-ego Bip, played out the human comedy without uttering a word.
With his lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions, Marceau gave life to other characters, from a peevish waiter to a lion tamer to an old woman knitting.
His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. Marceau, in turn, inspired countless young performers — Michael Jackson borrowed his famous “moonwalk” from a Marceau sketch, “Walking Against the Wind.”