By Dominique Vidalon


PARIS (Reuters) - French businessman and art patron Pierre Berge, who co-founded the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, has died at age 86 following a long illness, his foundation said on Friday.


Berge was the partner of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent, with whom he founded the label in 1961.


He died on Friday at his home in Saint-Remy-de-Provence in southern France.


Berge, who ran the Yves Saint Laurent house until 2002, was a passionate art collector and opera lover.


Socialist President François Mitterrand put him in charge of the newly-built Bastille Opera in Paris in 1988.

"Pierre Berge was a true prince of the arts and culture," former culture minister Jack Lang said.

In 1994, Berge, a longtime campaigner for gay rights, created Sidaction, a fund-raising organization dedicated to AIDS research and treatment.

He was also a founder of the French weekly Courrier International and the gay magazine Tetu and the chairman of the supervisory board at Le Monde newspaper as one its main shareholders.

Berge was due to inaugurate two museums dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and Marrakech this autumn.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)