He said he was a "mask puller." In nearly six decades of career, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach has unearthed the words of dozens of politicians of all stripes, interweaving his history with that of the Fifth Republic. Endowed with the "rare talent of never leaving anyone indifferent", the former kid in a hurry from Oran died on Tuesday at 86 years old, we learned from his entourage, confirming information from Paris Match. He had risen to the top of journalism as many times as he had fallen out of favor. The insatiable curious boasted of being the "record holder of layoffs", while his detractors mocked his eternal fascination with power, whatever its face.
That of his father is the founder of his personality. An observant Jew, the cloth merchant died suddenly after reading a prayer on the Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur). At only 11 years old, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach meets a death that will anguish him all his life. Promising to make known the name of his ascendant, he also broke with religion. And accompanies his mother "every day" to the cemetery. "This is where I found all the energy of my life, with the dead," he confided to the microphone of France Culture five decades later.
Jean-Pierre Elkabbach in Morocco in 2005 with his wife, the writer Nicole Avril, met in 1972.
This life force will be the trademark of this reader of Nietzsche. At the end of the 1950s, the "child of the Algerian war" dreamed of freedom. He left Oran to study in Paris, which he financed by being a pawn in high schools. At the Institut français de presse and Sciences-po, the "African" admired Jean Daniel as Pierre Mendès France. Back in Algeria in 1960, he began his career as a journalist, covering from the outset the history in progress, from the uprisings of the Kasbah of Algiers to the putsch of the generals. In Constantine, he also did a show with "a guy who played the guitar". His name: Gaston Ghrenassia, the future Enrico Macias.
Legendary weapon passes
Arrived at the ORTF, his pugnacity allows him to quickly climb the ladder at France Inter, before being stopped net by his participation in the strike of 1968. Exiled to Toulouse and then to Bonn, capital of West Germany, he returned to France in 1970 to become presenter of the first and then the second channel. Considered too restless by the new Giscardian power, he was removed from television in 1975, and had to retreat to radio.
Two years later, the fiery forty-year-old still manages to return to the small screen. With Alain Duhamel, he co-presents "Cartes sur table", the major political program of Antenne 2. All the headliners of the time: François Mitterrand, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, but also Jacques Chirac and Margaret Thatcher paraded in the face. His theatrical passes with Georges Marchais quickly became a legend. "Listen to Elkabbach, it's extremely unpleasant to discuss with you!" or "The more time you waste us, the less I will answer your questions", become cult lines and make the audience jump. The "Shut up Elkabbach!" retained by viewers, on the other hand, was never pronounced by the leader of the French Communist Party but popularized by the imitator Thierry Le Luron.
Delighting in the game and jousting, the one who dreamed of being a comedian becomes a star of the political scene. And attracts many enmities in the process. Considered authoritarian and egocentric by his enemies, he is mainly accused of being the voice of Giscardian power. The press and politicians attacked him after his interview with Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a great friend of the French head of state, who would later be accused of having received diamonds as gifts from the Central African "emperor". He says he gives the floor to everyone, as when he allows François Mitterrand to announce his intention to abolish the death penalty in case of accession to the Élysée.
"I was forbidden morning, evening and politics"
The 1981 presidential election was no less fatal. On May 10, history has it that the crowd gathered at the Bastille to celebrate François Mitterrand's victory booed his name and chanted "Elkabbach to the weather!" A legend" according to the person concerned, who was present on site on this rainy evening. Maurice Ulrich, CEO of Antenne 2, did not take long to fire him after a meeting with the Prime Minister, Pierre Mauroy. Labeled "right-wing" while he calls himself a "center-left reformist", the fallen star points to the ANPE. On the street, people change sidewalks when they pass him. "It was violent, absolute loneliness, a social death," he testified in 2016 in the Express.
Salvation, however, comes from his supposed executioner. In February 1982, François Mitterrand invited him to the Élysée Palace in the middle of a desert crossing. "We will see each other regularly, call whenever you want," says the socialist president, with whom will form an intimate relationship. Chance or presidential pardon, Jean-Luc Lagardère pulls the Southerner from purgatory in 1982. He finds work on Europe 1 after months of unemployment, but inherits the time of the nap: "I had been forbidden morning, evening and politics," he jokes. As usual, the husband of the writer Nicole Avril quickly makes his hole in his new home. He became its director in 1987, then deputy director general in 1988.
Close to Mitterrand whose final cathodic confessions he recorded in 1993 and 1994, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach is also accused of riding for Matignon's balladurians. Multiple friendships which, according to his critics, allow him to win in December 1993 the presidency of France Télévisions. Fired from France 2 in 1994, Paul Amar even accuses his former boss of having obtained his position in exchange for the promise to put the group at the service of Édouard Balladur during the 1995 presidential campaign.
Europe 1, the refuge
After the unexpected triumph of Jacques Chirac, the president of France Télé is once again in the hot seat. The chiraquie beats him cold, and he is caught up in 1995 by the scandal called "animator producers". He is accused of having awarded miraculous contracts to Jean-Luc Delarue, Arthur and others, with taxpayers' money. The press goes wild. At the "Guignols" of Canal +, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach's puppet smokes large cigars and wears a gold chain. Cornered, the leader of the "potato thieves" finally fell in 1996. Praising his record, he will denounce a posteriori a "campaign orchestrated" by those who did not want to see him do a second term at the head of France Televisions.
After taking the presidency of France Télé, he found himself at the heart of the scandal "of the host producers". He is accused of having awarded miraculous contracts to Jean-Luc Delarue (right), Arthur and others, with taxpayers' money (here in 1994, with Christine Bravo in the center). Gamma-Rapho/Frédéric Reglain
This umpteenth air hole of a heckled career will be brief. The phoenix immediately found refuge in Europe 1 where he became the official political interviewer for twenty years. Able to track down a guest until midnight, Arnaud Lagardère's protégé prepares each of his interviews as if his life depended on it. In the 2000s, however, it was less his journalistic stunts than his political connivance that still earned him the publicity of the gazettes. The president of Public Sénat (2000-2009) is now suspected of supporting Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2006, he had to explain himself to the editorial staff of Europe 1 after consulting the leader of the right on the choice of the new journalist responsible for following the UMP.
Stainless, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach refuses the following years to pass the hand: "If he stops, he dies", are accustomed to summarize his relatives. Even if it means sometimes caricaturing the incisive questioning that has made its reputation. In 2014, this self-proclaimed slayer of conformism tried to destabilize André Vallini with a first lunar question: "What color do you prefer for the wall?" Before specifying to the bewildered minister: "The wall on which your territorial reform will shatter." Mr. "Answer" can also be contemptuous, as when he drops, in 2015, a "It seems that now you read" to the Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, guilty of having confessed his ignorance of the work of Patrick Modiano.
He disappears from the air again in 2022 to devote himself to his autobiography
Annoying even his boss at the time, Denis Olivennes, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach was finally withdrawn from his daily interview in 2017, in a context of falling audiences of Europe 1. He landed in the wake with another of his friends: Vincent Bolloré, of whom he became an advisor. At nearly 80 years old, the journalist also joined his news channel CNews.
Despite his military lifestyle — vegetarianism and more than an hour of gym a day — Jean-Pierre Elkabbach must leave the air in 2020 for medical reasons. After triumphing over cancer, he finds the strength to return in 2021 on CNews and Europe 1, radio now controlled by the Breton billionaire. The following year, however, he disappeared from the radar once again, arguing the writing of an autobiography entitled "The Banks of Memory", released in October 2022. A work in which this man with a thousand faces tries one last time to "remove makeup from reality", according to Kundera's formula, which he loved to define his profession.