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Saturday 24 February 2018

Beloved Swiss performer Clown Dimitri dies at 80

Clown Dimitri, pictured during a performance in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2003, has died aged 80 (AP)
Clown Dimitri, pictured during a performance in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2003, has died aged 80 (AP)

Jakob Dimitri , a beloved Swiss clown and mime for nearly six decades who studied under Marcel Marceau and spread smiles from Broadway to Congo, has died aged 80.

Dimitri died on Tuesday at his home in Borgnone, in the southern Ticino region near Italy, said spokeswoman Verena Graf. She did not give a cause of death.

A man of few words in white-face on stage in a country with four official languages, Dimitri spoke to audiences by combining naive, bumbling humour with acrobatics and skill at a vast repertoire of musical instruments.

He had a traditional, no-frills style that shunned modern, hi-tech theatrics and is set to carry on with his theatre, school, museum and troupe known as "La Famiglia Dimitri".

Dimitri was born in 1935 in the village of Ancona, and at age seven knew he wanted to become a clown.

In 1958, he trained under and befriended the French great Marceau, Dimitri's self-avowed idol, and a year later performed his own show.

With a bowl-cut hairdo and gap-toothed grin from a mouth stuffed wide with ping pong balls to juggle over the years, Dimitri long performed solo.

He eventually set up a family troupe: In New York in 2009, "La Famiglia Dimitri" staged well-regarded, family-friendly shows featuring juggling, cycling, singing, high wires, tight wires and slack wires.

Three years later, well into his 70s, Dimitri launched a new solo programme.

"I am a rather positive, optimistic and gay clown, without being superficial," he told a Swiss TV interviewer in a report timed for his 70th birthday a decade ago.

"I don't fit with the cliche of the sad, melancholy clown with tears - even if I do have painted tears under the eyes."

Dimitri was also involved in humanitarian work. As an ambassador for Unicef in 1995, he took a trip to war-battered Sarajevo. Six years ago, he travelled to Congo with an anti-torture human rights group.

From his base in the Ticino village of Verscio, a report aired by Switzerland's state broadcaster RTS last year showed Dimitri still bouncy and limber.

"I am still young in my mind. And my body," he said. "Clowns are immortal, everybody knows that."

Dimitri had a busy schedule still ahead this year, and performances were booked into next year.

In the RTS interview, musing about the likely impact of strenuous, sweaty work on stage on his longevity, Dimitri quipped with a smile: "I weigh 60 kilos. I lose a half-kilogram every time. You can do the math yourself: How much time do I have left before I disappear?"

He is survived by five children and his wife.


Press Association

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