The sixth of seven children, Lapointe was the son of Arthur-Joseph Lapointe, a former soldier who became the Member of Parliament for Matane-Matapédia. When Jean was a child his family moved to Québec City, where he formed his first band, Les Québécaires. With his impersonations, monologues and songs, he won the amateur competition of the radio program of St-Georges Côté and then performed on CHRC Radio. He moved to Montréal in 1954 and made his debut that year at the Café Caprice, where he performed briefly under the name Jean Capri.
Lapointe's career as a cabaret singer and chansonnier began at a time when Québécois cabarets were flourishing. His meeting with Jérôme Lemay led to the creation of the duo Les Jérolas, which soon made a tour of cabarets in Québec and scored numerous hits, including “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown” and “Méo Penché.” Les Jérolas appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967, and were billed at the Olympia in Paris in 1966, 1967 and 1974. They recorded 20 albums together before separating in 1974.
Lapointe and Lemay reunited as Les Jérolas in 2011, launching the cabaret show Le grand retour des Jérolas. However, during the Montréal premiere at Place des Arts on 31 March 2011, Lemay collapsed due to a stroke. He passed away three weeks later on 20 April.
In 1975, Lapointe decided to pursue a solo career. His shows, song medleys, comic and impersonation routines, his hoarse voice and his good-natured humour won him a large audience. He participated in the 1975 St-Jean Baptiste festivities on Mount Royal. His first record, Démaquillé (1976), and the show of the same name, presented at the Théâtre Maisonneuve of the Place des Arts in 1976 were a double success. That year, he won the critics' Prix Orange.
In 1977, he staged Un an déjà. The next year, he presented the show Rire aux larmes and the record Chante-la ta chanson, which was an enormous hit in Québec. He staged La Grande séance in 1979 and Lapointe... pour le fun in 1980. In 1984, he presented extracts of his first five shows at the Théâtre Bobino in Paris. He returned to Paris the next year, this time at the Olympia, with Showman, which had already drawn more than 140,000 people in Québec. There followed a show recalling the vaudeville period in Québec, Histoire de rire (1987). In 1988, Attend'rire ran for six weeks at the Théâtre du Grand Edgar de Paris, then moved to the Olympia and was followed by tours in France, Belgium and Switzerland.
In the early 1970s, Lapointe began a highly successful career as an actor. He played the starring roles in: Marcel Carrière’s OK la liberté (1973) and Ti-Mine, Bernie pis la gang (1977); Michel Brault’s Les Ordres (1974); Jean Beaudin’s J.A. Martin, photographe (1977); André Forcier’s L'eau chaude, l'eau frette (1976) and Une histoire inventée (1990); and Alain Chartrand’s hit comedy Ding et Dong le film (1990). He made a particular impression with his fiery and passionate portrayal of populist authoritarian Québec premier Maurice Duplessis in the 1978 Radio-Canada miniseries Duplessis, written by Denys Arcand. He won Genie and Jutra Awards for his supporting performance in Erik Canuel’s Le dernier tunnel (2004), and received the Jutra lifetime achievement award in 2011.
Style and Significance
Writing in Le Quotidien de Paris in 1988, Gérard Spiteri described Lapointe as the ultimate entertainer, saying, “Jean Lapointe is a complete showman, now an extremely rare species. One believes him to be a singer, he is an impersonator; one believes him to be a musician, he is a conjurer; one thinks of him as only a buffoon, he raises us to the heights of light poetry without giving himself the air of a thinker. A clown, a one-man orchestra, a whirling performer, Jean Lapointe does not cease to move us, to surprise us by the truth of his talents. That is exactly what the overused term variety means.”
Charity Work and Political Service
In 1982, after struggling for many years to recover from alcoholism, Lapointe founded the Maison Jean-Lapointe, an organization that provides rehabilitative support to alcoholics, drug addicts and problem gamblers, as well as prevention and awareness workshops in Québec schools. He organized a first telethon for the non-profit centre in 1986, and is still honorary president of the Fondation Jean Lapointe, which administers the Maison.
He also served nearly 10 years in Canada’s Senate, an experience he often found frustrating. “I do not like politics. I did not like it. There are many tricks that are done,” he said in 2010. “I never gave an inch. I went with my conscience and according to my knowledge.” He was appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in June 2001 to represent Sorel, Québec, and stepped down due to mandatory retirement in December 2010.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
- Officer, Order of Canada (1983)
- Honorary Doctorate, Université du Québec (1989)
- Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Le dernier tunnel), Genie Awards (2005)
- Best Supporting Actor (Le dernier tunnel), Jutra Awards (2005)
- Knight, National Order of Québec (2006)
- Best Supporting Actor (À l'origine d'un cri), Jutra Awards (2011)
- Tribute Award for Lifetime Achievement, Jutra Awards (2011)
With Jérôme Lemay (Les Jérolas)
- Les Jérolas (1959). RCA LCP-1009/RCA CGP-207.
- Sont là! (1961). RCA LCP-1029/RCA PC-1069.
- Les Jérolas au Théâtre national (1962). RCA LCP-1040/RCA Gala CGPS-238.
- Toujours plus vite! (1962). RCA Gala CGP-116.
- Les Jérolas à la Porte Saint-Jean (1964). RCA LCPS-1073/RCA Gala CGPS-267.
- Les Jérolas à la Comédie canadienne (1966). RCA PCS-1033.
- Les Jérolas à l'Olympia (1966). RCA PCS-1126.
- Succès souvenirs (1966). RCA CGPS-340.
- Es-tu content? (1967). RCA PCS-1165.
- Le Tribunal des vedettes (1968). RCA PCS-1201.
- Quinze ans déjà (1971). Elan SJL-12501.
- Les Grands succès des Jérolas (1972). RCA Gala CGPS-393.
- Ça viola barder (1973). Elan SJL-12502.
- Démaquillé (1976). Kébec-Disc KD-907.
- Face A, Face B (1977). Kébec-Disc KD-930.
- Chante-la ta chanson (1978). Kébec-Disc KDL-958.
- Jean Lapointe jongleur (1980). Kébec-Disc KD-501.
- Profil (1981). Kébec-Disc KD-530.
- Si on chantait ensemble (1982). Disques “Couleurs” CO-101.
- C'est beau le monde (1984). Disques “Couleurs” CO-102.
- 'Showman' à l'Olympia (1985). Disques “Couleurs” CO-103.
- Comme en amour (1986). Disques “Couleurs” CO-105.
- Les Grands succès de Jean Lapointe (1987). Disques “Couleurs” CO-107.
- Nature (1989). Disques “Couleurs” CO-108.
- 15 ans d'émotion en 21 chansons. 2-Disques “Couleurs” COCD-109-110 (CD).