From pseudo princes to phony Rockefellers to Grand Prix racing drivers, Christopher Rocancourt played them all.
During a wild, glittering ride through the 1990s and into the new millennium, Mr. Rocancourt used an astonishing array of impersonations to milk millions of dollars from gullible, unsuspecting high-rollers who fell for his elaborate scams.
But none of Mr. Rocancourt's renowned repertoire of tricks, quips and wit can disguise what he is now. No longer con man, but convict. And trapped in Canada, at that.
Yet, as he sits in his dowdy prison togs, surrounded by the bare, concrete walls of the North Fraser Remand Centre and facing the imminent prospect of more jail time in the United States for his escapades, Mr. Rocancourt's spirit remains irrepressible.
During a long, exclusive and often entertaining interview with The Globe and Mail this week, conducted through prison glass, he insists that he is not deflated a bit by his stunning descent from riches to rags. Life is great.
"What is freedom?" asks the man whose legendary exploits have turned him into a media celebrity. "Few people understand what freedom is. I am in jail, yes, but I am free. Jail cannot take away my soul. I have brains. I have guts. I have God. How can I feel hopeless?"
Even behind bars, Mr. Rocancourt is riding high. Screenwriters clamour to turn his life into a movie. Television and magazine profiles abound. Women enclose their underwear with marriage proposals.
Because most of his victims are Americans, he is a hero in his native France. An autobiography written by Mr. Rocancourt while stewing in jail is due out at the end of the month. He expects it to be a best-seller.
"I am not feeling low. Not at all. The only regret I have is the failure to be a good father right now. I cannot be there for my son (Zeus, 5). That is my failure."
The charm and gifted gab that Mr. Rocancourt used to such devastating effect on his conned victims is apparent throughout the interview. He loves to talk, loves to laugh, loves to expound his personal philosophy of life, and above all, he loves to extol the magnificence of his mind.
"You can't take that away from me. What do I want people to think of me? It is that I have a good mind. A very gifted mind. That is the most important thing. When I was young, I used to have a photographic memory. I was able to remember entire books. I could do a PhD in psychiatry. No problem."
Much of the conversation is an entrancing mixture of fantasy, fact and strong assertions that skirt the edge of disbelief without going over. Although cagey and carefully short on details, Mr. Rocancourt denies nothing. Yes, he impersonated all those people. Yes, he parlayed his confidence skills into a luxurious, playboy lifestyle that made him so wealthy he used to take cross-Atlantic jaunts on the Concorde "like packing a daily lunch".
No, he has never had a job that paid a salary. He has lived by his wits, always on the edge, one false move away from exposure. The scams, the masquerades, he says, come to him "like that". He snaps his fingers.
Prince Galitzine Christo? "Ah yes, in my young age I was him."
Grand Prix racing driver Michael van Hoven, the false identity adopted in Whistler, B.C., that took Vancouver businessman Robert Baldock for more than $100,000 and eventually led to Mr. Rocancourt's arrest and conviction? "Why not? I like to drive fast. I like Ferraris. I used to own two."
Numerous masquerades in Hollywood that entranced the likes of Lea Bongo, adopted daughter of African leader Omar Bongo, Jean-Claude van Damme and troubled actor Mickey Rourke.
Best of all, in his eyes, was the bold foray that made him famous, a summer-long impersonation of a wealthy New York heir to the Rockefeller fortune, Christopher Rockefeller. A Rockefeller with a thick French accent.
Even now, three years later, Mr. Rocancourt can barely talk about it without bursting into laughter.
"You have to give me credit for that one. You really have to laugh. Come on. It's hilarious. Just think about it. You would have to be absolutely, totally retarded, with the French accent that I have, to be fooled. I say to those people: you deserved to be taken."
Mr. Rocancourt was later arrested in New York and charged with fraud and not paying a large hotel bill. Two days later, however, in a manoeuvre he calls "the great escape", he skipped out on $45,000 bail. Police didn't realize who he was, and nobody knew where he was until he was nabbed by the RCMP on Vancouver Island nearly two years later.
"I think it was a real embarrassment for the whole FBI and U.S. police that I was captured in Canada by the horse-riding men of the RCMP. How many millions did they spend looking for me? For what?"
He shows no remorse for his victims, saying they were done in by their own vanity, greed and stupidity.
"They put me behind bars. They deprive me of my freedom. I have spent 16 months of my life in jail. And you want me to have remorse for somebody who has been greedy? These people have no compassion for the poor. Only for themselves."
People like the idea of hanging out with someone they think is famous or well-connected, he says. "If you talk to them about Nietschze, they ask: who's he? If you tell them about Mozart, they ask what kind of plays does he write. These people have no intellect."
It is hard to get Mr. Rocancourt to admit he has done anything wrong. "How can you define me as a bad guy? Tell me what is bad about me. I should get 23 years in jail for not paying my bills? Come on."
He dodges the ethics of not paying bills. How could he pay his bills in the Hamptons? He was in jail. And what about all the big bills that he has paid in the past?
At the suggestion that it's not very nice for those who are stuck with unpaid bills, finally, an admission: "Okay, I agree with that."
He has played so many roles, it is hard not to wonder who Christopher Rocancourt really is.
Is he a Robin Hood, as he claims at one point, who fleeces the rich to give to the poor? Is he nothing more than a cold-hearted, cynical thief who plays the wealthy for suckers and strips them of their cash to finance a self-indulgent, epicurean lifestyle, replete with beautiful women, fine wines, rich food and expensive cigars.
His wife, former Playmate Pia Reyes, says her husband is a hundred different people.
Mr. Rocancourt will have none of it. "I know who I am," he declares. "I don't really care about fame. I am straight-forward. When I am in court, I don't keep my head down like a coward. I look straight at the judge. I am not corrupted. I have integrity."
Despite his bravado, however, these are anxious times for Mr. Rocancourt. His sentence in Canada for defrauding Mr. Baldock is over and he has agreed to surrender to U.S. authorities to face charges in New York and Los Angeles.
That was six weeks ago. Yet Mr. Rocancourt is still unhappily in the North Fraser Remand Centre waiting to be sent back. That is what he wants. Face the music, get the cases over with and start a new life.
Mr. Rocancourt says he is not worried about the future. He has plans galore. Writing, acting, maybe even a return to Canada, a country he calls "the best in the world".
"I regret nothing."