Patrick Edlinger

Patrick Edlinger

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Sport Climbing

Patrick Edlinger has died

Patrick Edlinger died Friday the 16th of November from a bad fall in his home in La Palud-sur-Verdon (Alpes de Hautes Provence), he was 52.

Patrick was at the origin of a phenomenom that occurred late in 1982 with Jean-Paul Janssen's film 'Life by the fingertips' which had the greatest impact ever on the French public by putting an incredibly strong light on the beauty and pleasure of rock climbing. The craze he created resulted in large numbers of young people turning to rock climbing and mnany started building climbing walls in their vicinities.

Patrick did not only touch the young generations but also the older ones, mine +20 years and that of my 'master' George Livanos (The Greek) +40 years who wrote the foreword of Patrick's book 'Rock Games' written when he was 25 which we have looked again yesterday with Sonia (George Livanos wife and climbing partner) and the postcard that Patrick sent him thanking him and telling him how much he admired him and that it was no boot licking from him.

But it went way beyond, to the point that for several years he became the N°1 preferred sportsman in France, ahead Michel Platini our football World cup champion team leader! From a game reserved to a very few, climbing became hugely popular over a few years.

The first time that I saw the film 'La vie au bout des doigts: Life by the fingertips', it was one of its first presentations, during a 'big' meeting organised by IBM in Paris for its 600 or so French resellers. As I worked for a competitor, I was sent there as a 'spy' to learn about IBM's unvailed novelties. In term of novelty, I was served beyond all expectations! At one stage, we were all grouped in a large auditorium which was completely full, yet comfortable in the usual IBM way, and the speaker announced a film. After 2 minutes, the hubbub of the 600 voices dimmed down and as soon as Patrick started his first solo climb, the silence became complete and continued throughout the whole film such as we could have heard a pin drop! At the end of the film, I lived through this extraordianry scene: the 600 guys in dark suits and ties, most between 40 to 50 years old, probably less than 1% of them who had anything to do with climbing, all stood up and bursted into spontaneaous applause which lasted for ages. Even if Maria Callas had been there, she would not have got such applause. All those blocks were blown away and so was I.

Françoise Giroud, a then leading French journalist, wrote in her newspaper, L'Express, in 1983 when the film was shown publicly:

"The film 'Life by the fingertips' must be shown on TV at prime time. What this young man does at the risk of his life with a kind of lucid intoxication has no apparent sense. It is an affair with himself which he conducts there, one of those somptuous extravagances that only human beings are capable of and that make them lovable despite everything."

Yvan Audouard, another great journalist (Le Canard enchaîné) wrote at the same time: 'During 5 minutes of Jean Paul Janssen's film, I cut the sound and I saw a madman put his life at stake stupidly on a rock wall on which he was risking a fall at any time. I put back the sound and I heard this maniac whose name is Patrick Edlinger speak calmly, reasonably of his adventure, his folly... we were looking an artist, that is a man who wants to know who he is, what he is capable of, how far he can go and further, and who was making the only miracle within the reach of human beings: to know oneself in order to accomplish oneself.'

What follows is an extract of the foreword that my master es-climbing George Livanos (The Greek) wrote to Patrick's 1986 book 'Rock Games' about his climbs on cliffs in the USA:

"I understand climbing as an art, as dancing or, if you prefer, violin. Because when you master your climbing technique, you can express your feelings, as with music or dancing. On difficult pitches, I let myself go completely to the feeling of living in the rock and the rock living in me".

'Who is the author of those words? In ROCK GAMES, it is a million $ question. So then? No, it is not a Briggs or a Ferguson nor is it Patrick Edlinger himself, but Emilio Comici... The forerunner of 'free climbing', of the alpine star system, the first to solo grade six, Comici is the 'Pre-Patrick'.

Patrick you know, the guy on TV? With his 'bare hands' of course, although we, the climbers of the 50's rarely climbed in boxing gloves; but above all the promotion, Patrick is an enchantment, a search for style, an elegance of gestures and this is how he became the prince of climbing...
Patrick did not discover America, someone was busy doing so some 494 years before [the foreword was written in 1986], but the Americans (their stetsons, Coca-Cola, the American way of life, Las Vegas... let's stop there!) discovered Patrick, and on routes where apple pies are rare, 5.12. a, b, c, bc (no bg) and hellish 5.13s. Today, one adds 'on sight' or 'danger of falling' and there I smile, as I have never climbed except 'on sight' and with a risk of falling which I did not have a passion for. However I think that we are on the same side, when we reach the top, we feel thisty, our hands feel painful and as for our climbing shoes, even if they are signed 'Patrick Edlinger', we are glad to take them off...

...And I also know that on all the walls I saw him operate on, be they in France or 'made in the USA', his movements, for me, remain engraved in the sky. In the old days, only words could evoke them, then photography took over and when in the eye of the camera, there is an eye, attentive, passionate, enthralled, an eye which tells you about Patrick, that of a magician: Gérard Kosicki. One can only admire the magnificence of the images and 'image' is a weak term. Look, look again, delight in them, dream of weathered golden columns, dark purples and somptuous violets (no it is not a sunset in the Vatican, but perhaps in Utah, one night), and then dream again in the marvellous union of charm and daring: Nijinski, Comici, Manolete… Patrick !’
Georges Livanos.

Catherine Destivelle, his feminine 'alter ego' (same age) who became very popular during the same years following his example before turning towards mountaineering praised him as the great climbing 'artist' he was: "No one equalled his way of climbing, he had an easy front slip and pancake. He had that from his grand-father. And it gave him a magnificent gestural, he was like a lizard on the rock. He was truly unique, I have never seen a climber like him'

In the unfinished autobiography written with his friend Jean-Michel Asselin to be published next January, Patrick wrote the following address for the readers:
'I wish to all human beings, whatever their activity, to live fully as free men. One must take life with humour and detachment. One must know how to remain humble, listening to others and trying to help them. No matter if one judges that the world is full of morons or greedies, it may be that we are part of them, so this idea of thinking about others and make life more beautiful for all. With all my friendship!'
Patrick Edlinger

Thank you Patrick

'The best way to honour his memory is to go climbing' (a young French climber).

Catherine Destivelle Tribute

Published on Lafuma site (Catherine's sponsor).



Patrick, you are now in the hereafter.

Who would have believed that it would happen falling down in your own stairs? Such a paradoxical death!

Despite this far too early departure, shocking for us all, I prefer that you went that way, near your home.

That way, to the public eyes, you will remain for ever the ambassador, the icon of our passion, climbing; the activity we chose, precisely to feel fully alive.

Between us, I regret that you forgot it. I regret that we did not come and fetch you, to bring you back. I regret that you were afraid of us, of others.

You know, I too I know :

At the foot of the walls, eyes are there, watching my slightest moves, fascinated looks, a bit embarrassing as you do not see what they are looking for.

A lesson? A nice climbing demonstration?

You do not want to disappoint them, but to live up to the image they have of us, you feel like showing them… but, obviously you are no longer what you once were… Luckily for us, we have grown up… More open to the facts of life, climbing is no longer the priority.

But the eyes are there… It is not easy to forget them, on the rock, they bore into your back.

Embarrassed, ashamed of the poor show we offer, you want to runaway, go home to find the quietness hidden from public view.

But if you knew how those eyes were benevolent.

Have you only taken the time to realize it? I do not think so, unfortunately…

Those eyes, tell you, Thank you.

Thank you to have made us dream, Thank you to have been an inspiration to them, Thank you to have made them discover climbing.

Those eyes do not judge you, they express simply the happiness to meet you, to see you for real. No matter your level, they don’t care.

If only you had realized it…

If only we had been a bit more present to let you know it…

Then you would still be there, to play on the rock with us.

And your grace on the rock would still have filled us with wonder.

For me, you will remain the most beautiful climber of all times.

Catherine Destivelle

External Links

La vie au bout des doigts - Life by the fingertips.

and the second film of Janssen:

Vertical opera - Jean-Paul Janssen - Verdon part 1:

Vertical Opera part 1 -

Vertical opera part 2:
Vertical Opera - part 2

Vertical opera part 3:
Vertical Opera - part 3

Vertical opera end:
Vertical Opera - end

Patrick Edlinger and his best pal Patrick Bherault in the Civetta:
a rare film where they are climbing together

Patrick on French Wikipedia


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Viewing: 1-4 of 4

Marcsoltan - Nov 29, 2012 2:14 pm - Voted 10/10

So sorry...

to hear the news of Patrick Edlinger's passing. I watched him win the first international climbing competition in the US. He methodically and gracefully pulled through all of the difficult moves where everyone had fallen off and reached the top of the wall. A trad climber that I had been for many years, I decided to give sport climbing a chance. My interest lasted for at least fifteen years.
Rest in peace Patrick, and thank you for all your contributions to the sport of climbing.


ericvola - Nov 29, 2012 2:56 pm - Hasn't voted

So sorry

A little anecdote about Patrick to share. The first time he met Patrick Berhault who became his best pal and climbing partner, he told him that he had heard that he could do a pull up on one finger which Berhault immediately demonstrated. Patrick worked hard and then one day (not so long after) demonstrated to his new pal that he could do a pull up on his little finger! The way they trained was absolutely amazing in those days. One thousand press-ups were quite usual for them. Of course he was not the only one, but what 'grace' !


markhallam - Dec 1, 2012 5:05 pm - Voted 10/10

Also sorry to hear of this..

... what a tragedy to lose his life in an accident at home!


ericvola - Dec 4, 2012 10:24 am - Hasn't voted

Also sorry...

Hi Mark, since, I have added Catherine Destivelle's tribute to Patrick. She wrote it for the crematorium ceremony which occured in Manosque (near the Verdon, home of Patrick), but she was not asked to read it. Patrick's young 10 years old daughter was still too much under shock and could not bear another speech (there were two before, one from Patrick's father and one from a close friend). She showed her tribute to me while I drove her down to Marseille to catch a train. A beautiful and straightforward tribute from Patrick's feminine alter ego.

Viewing: 1-4 of 4