Claude Lévi-Strauss Dies at 100

Claude Lévi-Strauss Dies at 100
Published: November 3, 2009

Claude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who transformed Western understanding of what was once called "primitive man" and who towered over the French intellectual scene in the 1960s and '70s, has died at 100.

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Mr. Lévi-Strauss in Brazil in the 1930s.

Pascal Pavani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Claude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist and father of structuralism, has died at the age of 100.

His son Laurent said Mr. Lévi-Strauss died of cardiac arrest Friday at his home in Paris. His death was announced Tuesday, the same day he was buried in the village of Lignerolles, in the Côte-d'Or region southeast of Paris, where he had a country home.

"He had expressed the wish to have a discreet and sober funeral, with his family, in his country house," his son said. "He was attached to this place; he liked to take walks in the forest, and the cemetery where he is now buried is just on the edge of this forest."


A powerful thinker, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was an avatar of "structuralism," a school of thought in which universal "structures" were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations. His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of whom there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology.

"People realize he is one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century," Philippe Descola, the chairman of the anthropology department at the Collège de France, said last November in an interview with The New York Times on the centenary of Mr. Levi-Strauss's birth. Mr. Lévi-Strauss was so revered that at least 25 countries celebrated his 100th birthday.