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Pierre Bergé, former companion of Yves Saint Laurent, dies aged 86

Pierre Bergé in 2015 AFP/Stéphane de Sakutin

Pierre Bergé, the longtime partner of the designer Yves Saint Laurent, died in his sleep early on Friday at his country home at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France, his foundation said.

Pierre Bergé was born on 14 November 1930 on the Island of Oléron in western France.

Bergé attended the Lycée Eugène Fromentin in La Rochelle, and, later, went to Paris.

During these early years in Paris, Bergé befriended the young French artist Bernard Buffet and was a great help in  Buffet's success.

Gay rights

A passionate bibliophile and art collector, he was also a tireless campaigner for gay rights and donated a large part of his fortune to AIDS research.

He supported the association against AIDS, Act Up-Paris, and assumed ownership of the magazine Têtu.

During the debate on same-sex marriage, Bergé controversially said "rent her womb for a child or lease its arms to work in a factory, what's the difference? ", provoking an outcry by same-sex marriage supporters who go against such positions.

Politically engaged

Politically engaged to the end, he was an important backer and confidant of French president François Mitterrand, and this year threw his weight behind Emmanuel Macron's successful campaign for the Elysée Palace.

Former French culture minister Jack Lang led the tributes to a man he called a "true prince of the arts and culture."

"He was a magician who made his life and those who he loved a symphony of happiness," he said.

"Pierre Bergé was above all a marvellous and loyal friend... who was there to take on all the good fights, the noble causes, in particular to provide the means for research to defeat AIDS."

Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent

Bergé met Yves Saint Laurent in 1958. They launched Yves Saint Laurent Couture House in 1961. The couple split amicably in 1976. Bergé acted as CEO of Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture until it closed in 2002.

Bergé and Saint Laurent were joined in a civil union a few days before the designer died of a brain tumour in 2008 aged 71.

Two museums dedicated to the life and work of Saint Laurent, financed by the foundation the two men founded, are to open in Paris and Morocco this year.