The late adventurer, Renaissance man and oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, spent 30 days underwater in 1963. It was in the Port of Sudan that he set this world record, exceeded only recently by his grandson, Fabien Cousteau off the Florida coast. Unlike his grandfather, Fabien had a few extra conveniences, air conditioning and wireless internet.
Although seen as a somewhat delicate child – instructed by physicians to avoid any strenuous activity – young Jacques was in love with the sea and nevertheless impulsively learned to swim. Through the arc of his life (1910 – 1997), the French adventurer was a spy, naval officer, businessman, underwater explorer, filmmaker and researcher.
A 1930 graduate of Ecole Navale, Cousteau took up undercover work with the French Resistance after the World War II German occupation of his country. His wartime efforts brought him the esteemed Legion of Honour, created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. Some, but not all, of his other honors include the Special Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, inductee in the Television Hall of Fame, and a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters.
Cousteau invented several diving devices, including co-invention of the Aqua-Lung itself. This apparatus allowed, for the first time, continued, autonomous underwater dives. He also spearheaded the creation of the diving saucer, a UFO-looking, highly maneuverable submarine.
Any self-respecting Renaissance man could not be so without also being at least of bit of the philosopher. One global trend he noted, especially as it related to Earth’s ecology, was the contracting nature of human society: “However fragmented the world, however intense the national rivalries, it is an inexorable fact that we become more interdependent every day.”
It was through his storied 1953 book (written with Frédéric Dumas) Le Monde du Silence, or The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure, that Jacques-Yves Cousteau brought the other two-thirds of the planet – the oceans – into popular consciousness. The name Jacques Cousteau had now reached many parts of the world and he capitalized on this popularity to convert the book into a film. That documentary was decorated with the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or as well as an Academy Award. All told, Cousteau won three Oscars.
The apogee of fame for the dashing ship’s captain arrived via the 1968 – 1975 television documentary series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. His co-stars were the handsome men of the crew of Calypso, an attractive, converted minesweeper. Each weekly episode had Cousteau and his team exploring the many exotic oceanic locales of planet Earth, seeking out beauty, oddities and adventure.
The multi-national Cousteau Group was incorporated in 1973, consisting of organizations focusing on engineering, research, marketing and manufacturing. Its Chief Executive Officer was intensively scheduled for lobbying, lectures, and fundraisers. In between, a helicopter would convey him to the deck of Calypso for an obligatory few hours of television shooting. Cameras would capture the latest images of the philosophical captain on his bridge before a reddening sky, devising the his majestic craft’s next destination.
Personally, after losing his wife, Simone, in 1990, Cousteau remarried with Francine Triplet. To the surprise of his children – and fans across the globe – Cousteau had maintained another family with Triplet for almost 20 years. It is that family which now manages the estate of 20th century adventurer Jacques Cousteau.