Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the quadriplegic French businessman whose inspirational life story was immortalized in the hit 2011 feature film ‘The Intouchables’, had died at the age of 72, it was announced on Saturday.
Pozzo di Borgo, who was the descendant of an aristocratic Corsican family and the managing director of the champagne brand Pommery, lost the use of both of his arms and legs in a 1993 paragliding accident – an incident which would soon send him into deep depression.
So overwhelming was his struggle with his newfound disability that he would later recount that he attempted to end his own life by wrapping an oxygen tube around his neck. But as he detailed in his memoir ‘Le Second Souffle’ [‘A Second Wind’], it was the hiring of Abdel Sellou which gradually helped him emerge from his mental health struggles.
Sellou, a former criminal and recent Algerian immigrant, applied for a role as Pozzo di Borgo’s caregiver in order to satisfy the requirements of his French visa application – and it was a situation which would change both of their lives.
“He didn’t feel sorry for me,” Pozzo di Borgo recounted to The Telegraph in 2012. “He was irreverent, cheeky and had an outrageous sense of humor. I suddenly found I was enjoying life again, feeling like I didn’t know what was coming next.”
Sellou was “the guy I needed,” Pozzo di Borgo added. “I don’t give a damn that he is out of jail. I needed him. And he became a friend afterwards.”
Pozzo di Borgo’s memoir, which described his life and his unusual friendship with Sellou, formed the basis for the 2011 movie ‘The Intouchables’. It received a total of eight nominations in France’s Cesar Awards, as well as winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also overwhelmingly voted 2011’s most impressive cultural event in France, according to retail chain Fnac, and it remains regarded as one of the most popular French films ever made.
Eric Toledano, who co-directed the film alongside Olivier Nakache, said in comments published on Saturday by DW that Pozzo di Borgo’s death was a “shock” and cause for “great mourning.” In a statement, the two directors added: “By giving permission to have his story made into the film ‘The Intouchables’, he changed our lives and the lives of many vulnerable and fragile people.”
A US remake of the film called ‘The Upside’, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, was released in 2017.