Born in 1889 near Paris, Jean Cocteau left home at the age of fifteen. Despite his achievements in virtually all literary and artistic fields, Cocteau insisted that he was primarily a poet and that all his work was poetry. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, aged just nineteen.
In the 1930s, Cocteau had an unlikely affair with Princess Natalie Paley, the beautiful daughter of a Romanov Grand Duke and herself an actress, model and former wife of couturier Lucien Lelong. He worked with Picasso on several projects and was friends with most of the European art community. He struggled with an opium addiction for most of his adult life and was openly gay, though he had a few brief and complicated affairs with women.
Cocteau's films, the bulk of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing Surrealism into French cinema and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre.
Cocteau died of a heart attack at his château in Milly-la-Foret, Esonne, France, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74, only hours after hearing of the death of his friend, the French singer Edith Piaf. He is buried in the garden of his home in Milly-la-Foret. The epitaph reads: 'I stay among you.'