No return to grace for French cinema’s bad boy

He is one of France's best-loved filmstars, but for more than a decade has been plagued by drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and a proclivity for serious violence. Meet Samy Naceri, the French actor who makes Charlie Sheen look like a choirboy.

No return to grace for French cinema's bad boy
Photo: François Guillot/AFP

Who is Samy Naceri?

He is an award-winning 51-year-old actor, best known for his role in the massively popular ‘Taxi’ movies, and for being the hell-raising wild man of French cinema.

Why is he in the news this week?

At around 5am on Sunday morning he was involved in a fight on the streets of Paris, where he was attacked by a group of men while appearing to be highly intoxicated.

Tell me more.

Well, almost inevitably in this day and age, the whole thing was recorded and posted on YouTube.

The blurry amateur footage shows a seriously drunk-looking Naceri staggering about on a street near the Champs Elysées.

Naceri gets into an altercation with a group of men, who annoyed him “because they were selling cocaine like the Pakistanis sell flowers to everyone,” he told RTL.

After that, the punches and kicks start flying, Naceri is knocked to the ground several times, crashes into passing traffic, and by the end, his shirt bloodied, appears to be in a very bad state indeed.

Earlier this week it was thought Naceri would be charged with acts of violence, but he now only faces charges of damaging property, namely breaking a car window.

The whole affair has featured heavily in this week’s news media, and Naceri has appeared a somewhat sorry sight on French TV, defending himself indignantly through his broken teeth.

He has denied being drunk at the time, although hasn’t yet explained why he appears to be so, in the video.

Naceri, showing his scars to BFMTV earlier this week.

Presumably the French public are a bit shocked by this incident?

Actually, not particularly. Sort of like a French Charlie Sheen, Naceri is notorious by now, and has been in and out of prison for more than 10 years.

In fact, despite being a well-loved and very talented actor, there’s a real sense now that the French, or at least its media, are losing their patience with Naceri.

French daily Le Parisien set the context for Sunday’s conflagration by referring to his appearance at May’s Cannes Film Festival.

“After his umpteenth ‘return to grace’ at Cannes, Samy Naceri has once again found himself in trouble with the law,” the paper wearily reported.

What else has he done?

His career as an actor is pretty packed, but unfortunately, so is his criminal rap sheet. His full name might as well be “Samy Naceri Encore” (Samy Naceri again) since so many reports about his shenanigans start that way.

A brief resumé: In 2007 he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for attacking a stylist (or drug dealer, depending on who you believe) with an ashtray at a Paris restaurant. Naceri was outraged that the victim had kept him waiting, and left him needing 30 stitches.

In December 2006 he hit the headlines by being given a six-month sentence for racially abusing a black police officer, after having mixed alcohol and medication.

In 2007 he was also accused of attempted murder after stabbing a nightclub security guard in Aix-en-Provence.

In 2011 a bouncer at one of Luc Besson’s parties in Cannes determined that, despite Naceri’s invite, he wasn’t in an appropriate state to enter.

Naceri flew into a rage, hurling racial abuse at the black bouncer, throwing his arms about wildly, and generally screaming complete nonsense at whoever would listen, according to witnesses.

The list goes on; verbally abusing air hostesses, threatening to carry out the fatwa on British author Salman Rushdie, more fights with police and security guards, drinking and driving, possession of heroin, and at least two charges of exposing his genitals in public.

Happier times. Naceri (centre right) with French Oscar-winner and 'Taxi 2'
castmate Marion Cotillard, and director Luc Besson (far right), at Cannes in 2000.
(Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP)

What does he have to say for himself?

“I wasn’t drunk, like the papers are saying. You’ve got to stop adding in words, just to destroy the career of a guy who’s trying to keep his head above water,” he told French radio RTL earlier this week.

What do others say about him?

“Don’t let me down,” French film director Luc Besson told Naceri, after letting him know he had landed his breakthrough role as Marseillaise taxi driver Daniel Morales, in the 1998 hit ‘Taxi.’

This is the amateur footage of Sunday morning's attack on Naceri, on the streets of Paris. Naturally, it contains images of violence that some readers might find disturbing, as well as some bad language (in French.)

Naceri can be seen wearing a dark, open jacket and white shirt.

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.