Edith Piaf, born Edith Giovanna Gassion, born December 19, 1915, in Paris, France, was a singer and actress whose interpretation of the chanson, or French ballad, made her internationally famous. Among her trademark songs were “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I Don’t Regret Anything”) and “La Vie en rose” (literally “Life in Pink”.
The Aristipposian Poet
The Life You Give: Édith Piaf
in celebration of her music
December 19 at 9:30pm EST
Piaf’s songs and singing style seemed to reflect the tragedies of her own difficult life. Her mother, a café singer, abandoned her at birth, and she was taken in by her grandmother, who reared the girl in a brothel. Piaf reportedly became blind at age three as a complication of meningitis but recovered her sight four years later. A few years after that she joined her father, a circus acrobat, and accompanied him while he performed. She sang in the streets of Paris, earning a meagre living while often in the company of petty criminals. Piaf gave birth to a daughter in 1932, but the child died two years later from meningitis. In 1935 she was discovered by Louis Leplée, a cabaret owner, who gave her her first nightclub job. It was Leplée who began calling her “la môme piaf,” Parisian slang for “little sparrow,” in apparent reference to her diminutive size—under 5 feet (142 cm) tall and about 90 pounds (40 kg) in weight. She later adopted the name professionally. Her debut was acclaimed by the actor Maurice Chevalier, who was in the audience that night.
In 1935 Piaf made her theatrical debut, and within a few years she was singing in the large music halls of Paris. Initially her material was standard music hall fare, but eventually she had songwriters such as Marguerite Monnot and Michel Emer writing songs specifically for her. In the mid-1940s she became a mentor to the young Yves Montand, and she worked with him in the film Étoile sans lumière (1946; “Star Without Light”). She had an affair with the middleweight boxer Marcel Cerdan, who died in a plane crash on his way to meet her. Her unhappy personal life and unadorned though dramatic style underlined her expressive voice, and she was able to move audiences with her passionate rendition of songs that were often about loss and love. In her later life, Piaf was involved in several serious car accidents, and she suffered from failing health, partly due to alcohol and drug abuse. She died at the age of 47, reportedly from liver cancer. Her death was mourned across France, and thousands lined the route of her funeral procession.
In addition to singing, Piaf recorded her thoughts about her life in two books, Au bal de la chance (1958; “At the Ball of Fortune”; Eng. trans. The Wheel of Fortune) and the posthumously published Ma vie (1964; My Life). She was the subject of several biographies as well as plays and movies.
– Source: Britannica
From 1936, Piaf recorded many albums and eventually became one of the highest paid stars in the world. She was first embroiled in scandal when her mentor, Leplee, was murdered and she was held for questioning. She managed to survive the messy affair and carry on while her ever-growing society circle now began to include such elite members as writer/director Jean Cocteau. Piaf also took to writing and composing around this time; one of the over 80 songs she wrote included her signature standard, “La vie en rose.” Although she appeared sporadically in films, it was live audiences that sustained her. Piaf grew in status entertaining in elegant cafés and cabarets and became a singing sensation amid the chic French society with her throbbing vocals and raw, emotional power.
Piaf later toured the United States to branch out internationally. America was slow to accept the melodramatic Piaf but she persevered and eventually won legions of fans. She also continued a series of affairs with the likes of actor Paul Meurisse, composer Henri Contet and, most notably, boxing champion Marcel Cerdan. The latter’s death in a 1949 plane crash left Piaf broken and devastated. Many claim this was the beginning of her downfall.
Piaf had a life-long habit of involving herself heart and soul in the launching of her lovers’ careers. Over the years this would include Yves Montand and Eddie Constantine. Two serious car accidents suffered in 1951 led to a morphine and alcohol addiction that left Piaf’s life skidding out of control despite a potentially happy marriage in 1952 to actor Jacques Pills. Though slowly crippled by severe arthritis, a series of spectacular comebacks in concert and recordings would follow over the years but her health would slowly waste her away.
Piaf’s last appearance was at the Paris Olympia, racked and hunched over with pain and barely able to stand. Her last recorded song was “L’homme de Berlin” in 1963, the year of her death. She died in poverty on the same day as her friend Cocteau and at the age of 47, the same age as her equally tortured American counterpart, Judy Garland. Piaf left many debts for her second husband (and protégé) Theo Sarapo, who was twenty years younger (he died in 1970, at age 34). Piaf’s funeral was massive yet, because of her lifestyle, was forbidden a Mass. It was the only time since WWII that Parisian traffic was completely stopped. A museum was dedicated in her honor. Piaf remains the epitome of the French singer in heart, soul, style and passion. For many devotees, Piaf IS France.
– Source: IMDb