Jean Pierre Rampal, 78, an internationally renowned French flutist who has been credited with returning to flute the popularity as a solo classical instrument it had not held since the 18th century, died May 20 in Paris after a heart attack.

He became one of the most-recorded classical musicians in history, with more than 300 albums to his credit, some of which topped Billboard charts and all of them recorded with his trademark gold flute.

His recordings included works that ranged from pieces written in the 17th century to the present day. Best known as a champion of baroque, he also made memorable recordings of jazz pieces, English folk songs and ancient classical works of India and Japan.

Mr. Rampal made annual tours of this country, appearing at summer music festivals and recital halls. He played solos and was guest conductor of many leading U.S. orchestras. He often appeared at and conducted Washington's National Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to working in recording studios and the world's leading concert halls, he starred in other venues. He made one memorable appearance as guest star on the television series "The Muppet Show," which featured his playing that classic tune "Rockin' Robin," a memorable duet with Miss Piggy, and a rather freely adapted story of the Pied Piper.

He had long performed and recorded with two of his closest friends, Isaac Stern and Mstislav Rostopovich. Over the years, he had helped form such chamber music groups as the French Wind Quintet and the Baroque Ensemble of Paris. He also had formed a duo with the pianist-harpsichordist John Steele Ritter and had performed with all these groups for years. Over the years, Mr. Rampal also had been a flute soloist with the Paris Opera Orchestra and a professor at the Paris Conservatory.

On learning of Mr. Rampal's death, French President Jacques Chirac issued a statement in which he said, "His flute . . . spoke to the heart," adding, "A light in the musical world has just flickered out."

Stern told the Associated Press shortly after learning of Mr. Rampal's death that it was the flutist's sheer musical brilliance that helped drive the public's attention back to that instrument.

"Working with him was pure pleasure, sheer joy, exuberance," Stern told the AP. "He was one of the great musicians of our time, who really changed the world's perception of the flute as a solo instrument."

Michel Rampal was born in Marseilles, France, where his father, Joseph, was a symphony flutist and a professor at the Marseilles Conservatory. The younger Rampal studied at the conservatory, where he received a first prize in flute before deciding on a career in medicine.

Mr. Rampal was attending medical school when France was defeated by Germany in 1941. He was in his third year of medical school when he was ordered by Nazi forces to Germany as a laborer in the German World War II effort. He escaped his captors and made his way to Paris, where he managed to stay underground while attending France's National Conservatory. He graduated with a first in flute.

After the war, he became first flutist with the Paris Opera, gave a series of flute solos on French radio and eventually made a European tour with harpsichordist Robert Veyron-Lacroix. Mr. Rampal's fame grew to the point that he became the first flute soloist to draw audiences as large as piano and violin soloists.

Along the way, he picked up numerous awards for his music, from French and foreign governments. He was named a commander of the French Legion of Honor and the National Order of Merit. The city of Paris awarded him its grand medal and named an international flute competition in his honor. His foreign awards included the highest award Japan bestows on foreign nationals.

The AP reported that Mr. Rampal and Pierre Boulez are the only classical musicians to have had a hit on the Billboard chart for 10 consecutive years, for Claude Bolling's "Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, No. 1," which they performed together.

Among Mr. Rampal's other popular recordings are "The Four Seasons" and "Six Double Concertos," by Vivaldi, and "Italian Baroque Flute Concertos." He also made an all-Mozart album with Ritter and Pierre Pierlot, an album of trios with Stern and Rostropovich, and "Music for Flute and Harp" with Marielle Nordmann.

In 1989, Random House published Mr. Rampal's autobiography, "Music, My Love."

Survivors include his wife, two children and five grandchildren.