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PARIS (Reuters) - French film star Annie Girardot, whose sensitive 1970s portrayals of downtrodden women earned her a reputation as the antithesis of Brigitte Bardot, died on Monday aged 79 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's.
Born in Paris in 1931, Girardot studied to be a nurse before becoming one of France's most prolific actresses with more than 120 films to her name including Luchino Visconti's 1960s neorealist classic "Rocco and his Brothers" in which she played doomed prostitute Nadia.
"Today French cinema is mourning one of its most likeable, most distinguished and most remarkable people," Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand told reporters.
A symbol of the feminist movement in France for her roles playing strong-willed women struggling against the odds, her everyday woman image stood in stark contrast to the pouting pin-ups of the time and endeared her to a legion of female fans.
"All women identified with her," Jean Rochefort, a French actor of the same epoch, told iTele television.
Girardot won a French Cesar award for best actress for her role as an overworked doctor, abandoned by both husband and lover, in the 1976 film "Dr Francoise Gailland."
After several years' absence from the screen, her return in the 1990s with "Les Miserables" earned her a best supporting actress Cesar, as did her role as Isabelle Huppert's tyrannical mother in the 2002 Michael Haneke film "The Piano Teacher."
She married Italian actor Renato Salvatori, her co-star in "Rocco and his Brothers," with whom she had a daughter. They had a stormy relationship and later separated, but never divorced.
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Vicky Buffery; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato