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Jacques Cousteau


Courtesy of: Reuter and Associated Press - Detroit News

    PARIS -- French oceanographer and prizewinning film maker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who revealed mysteries of the ocean that seemed more fantastic than science fiction and fought to protect the environment, died Wednesday. He was 87.
    His foundation gave no cause of death, but said a memorial service would be held Monday in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
    Cousteau was born June 11, 1910, in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, a small town near Bordeaux. His father was a lawyer who traveled constantly. As a result, the boy was often on the move.
    He was a sickly child. Nonetheless, he learned to swim and spent hours at the beach. Formal schooling bored Cousteau; he was expelled from high school for breaking 17 of the school's windows.
    His first dive was in Lake Harvey, Vt., in the summer of 1920. He was spending the season away from New York City, where he and his parents lived briefly.
    In 1930, Cousteau passed the highly competitive entrance examinations to enter France's Naval Academy. He served in the navy and entered naval aviation school.
    A near-fatal car crash at age 26 denied him his wings, and he was transferred to sea duty, where he swam rigorously to strengthen badly weakened arms.
    The therapy had unintended consequences, as Cousteau writes in his 1953 book, The Silent World.
    "Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course," he wrote. "It happened to me ... on that summer's day, when my eyes were opened to the sea."
    Cousteau made his first underwater films in the mid-1940s and, with engineer Emile Gagnan, perfected the piece of equipment that he said enabled him to be a "manfish" -- the aqualung, an underwater breathing apparatus that supplies oxygen to divers.
    In 1950, Cousteau bought the 400-ton former mine-sweeper Calypso. He converted it into a floating laboratory outfitted with the most modern equipment, including underwater television gear.
    He authored countless books and, in 1977, made the Cousteau Odyssey series for PBS. Seven years later, the Cousteau Amazon series premiered on the Turner Broadcasting System. In all, his documentaries have won 40 Emmy nominations.
    In the 1970s, he formed the Cousteau Society, an environmental group based in Norfolk, Va.
    He had his critics. Some said he lacked scientific training. A biographer, Bernard Violet, said he mistreated animals during the filming of some documentaries, and that he once bought lobsters at a market in Marseilles and used them in a film about the Red Sea.
    Cousteau had no plans of slowing down. He was building Calypso II to replace the original, which sank off Singapore last year.


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