In this content, I will tell you the second part of the life story of Edith Piaf – the national symbol of France!
The French singer and national symbol, who died in 1963, gained world fame and fortune with her voice, but not happiness in love, and even today she is considered the greatest icon of chanson!
Edith Piaf was more than a pop star. She is a myth, a national symbol, a notion of the French spirit and passion, and her most famous songs, such as “La vie en rose”, “Hymne à l’amour” or “Non, je ne regretted rien”, are commonplace in French chanson. They are still listened to today, and there is almost no Frenchman who does not know about them.
In the fifties of the last century, Edith Piaf conquered the world, held several successful tours in North and South America, several films were made about her, and “La vie en rose” from 2007, directed by Olivier Dan, was brought by Oscar Marion Cotillard, who played a famous singer.
Of course, a lot of books have been written about her, and one of the last ones, “Piaf, the French myth”, by Robert Beller, was not flattering at all. He researched her correspondence in various archives, among other things, he came to the public with unknown letters that she sent to the poet Jacques Bourgeois, a longtime friend to whom she opened her soul with confidence.
Based on these letters and other documents, Beller refutes some well-known places in her biography in the book: that she was born on the street, under a gas lamp, and that her mother was assisted in childbirth by two police officers who were nearby. As a child, she was blind for several years due to an eye disease, but miraculously recovered after a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Teresa of Lysisex, and most importantly – that during World War II she helped captured French soldiers to escape from German camps.
– For a start, she was not a victim in love as she constantly claimed, saying that she was ugly and loved only because she was Edith Piaf, but she was an insatiable seductress who left men when they got bored and then said that they were is they rejected. She lied all her life, creating a myth about herself, which was then ‘refined’ by her friends. She was not born on the street, but in a hospital, near her parents’ home, in the eastern part of Paris. Also, she was not blind from the age of three to seven, but she may have suffered from a viral infection – Beller said in an interview on the occasion of the book’s publication a few years ago.
– With these lies, she made her biography more interesting and filled it with romance, and those about her role in the Second World War are much more serious.
She claimed that she smuggled false personal documents to Nazi Germany and thus helped the French prisoners escape from the German camps. It is not my goal to put her on the dock, but the truth must be known. She lied about her role in order to avoid accusations that she cooperated with the enemy during the war. She first claimed to have rescued 118 prisoners, then 147, and then more than two hundred. But none of the people she allegedly saved came forward after the war to thank her publicly. Besides, can you imagine how difficult it was to make false documents at that time? ”Beler added.
However, regardless of his book, Edith Piaf remained the most popular French singer. Some details from her life – which were suspected by others before Beller – may not be as she portrayed them, but her songs and what they mean to the French have not lost any of their charm and appeal.
This is the life story of Edith Piaf – second part!
Edith Piaf, real name Edith Giovanna Gassion, was born on December 19, 1915, at Tenon Hospital in Belleville, Paris. It was named after the British nurse Edith Cavel, who was executed in the First World War because she helped French soldiers escape from German captivity. Edith’s father, Louis-Alfons Gassion, was a street acrobat, originally from Normandy, and his mother, Annette Giovanni Mellar, a singer who performed under the stage name Lynn Mars, was French by father and Italian by mother. Hoping to pursue a career outside of cafes, fairs and cheap inns, she left her and her husband shortly after the birth of her daughter. So the father first put her in the care of the woman’s mother Aiki, and when he saw that she cared badly for her, he took her to his mother Louise, the owner of a brothel in Bernays, Normandy, believing that it was better for the girl to be in a brothel with a grandmother who loves and cares for her, rather than a woman who acted as if her granddaughter was bothering her in life.
Edith really had only fond memories of her grandmother Louise, and although she later claimed that she fell ill and lost her sight in a brothel, she never said anything bad about her grandmother.
When she was ten, her father took her, and as she sang beautifully, he started taking her with him, so they performed together – he juggled, and she sang popular chansons. Edith liked that kind of life, and when her father got sick once, she performed on her own, collecting money from generous passers-by.
At the age of 14, she left her father and got a job as a maid, but she quickly left the job and returned to the streets. She sang in taverns, in the squares of Paris, had fun with her friend Simon Berto, with whom she remained close for the rest of her life, met many men… At the age of 17, she fell in love for the first time with mason Louis Dupont and remained pregnant with him. After giving birth to a daughter, Marcel, all three lived in a rented apartment with Simon for a while, but Edith could not calm down. Shortly after giving birth, she left her daughter Louis and continued to wander the streets of Paris and sing wherever she could, hoping that some agent would hear her and offer her a permanent engagement.
She forgot about her career only briefly, when her two-year-old daughter contracted meningitis and died. Her death hit her hard, she blamed herself that it might not have happened had she stayed with Louis and taken care of her, and an urban legend says she prostituted herself to get money for her daughter’s funeral. It is difficult to say today whether this is true or another fabrication of hers, so even Robert Beller in the book does not refute or substantiate this claim. In any case, although she fell in love and changed lovers like the female Don Juan countless times, Edith no longer had children.
The young street singer’s luck smiled a few years later, in 1935, when Louis Leple, who was just opening the new cabaret “Gerny”, heard her sing Jean Renoir’s chanson “Like a Sparrow”. He liked her voice, so he hired her for a salary of 40 francs a night. He also gave her a new name – Piaf, which means “sparrow” in Paris slang, after the song she sang when he first heard it.
Already at the first performance, the inconspicuous singer, only 142 centimeters tall, dressed in a simple black dress that she sewed herself – because she didn’t have the money to buy it – enchanted the cabaret audience. She was soon rumored in Parisian circles, so already established entertainers came to listen to her, such as singer Maurice Chevalier and comedian Fernandel. She also signed a contract to record the record, but then, in 1936, Leple was killed in a skirmish in the Paris underground. A criminal whom Edith Piaf knew for a long time was accused of murder, so the police interrogated her as well, suspecting that she was an accomplice in the crime. She was acquitted at the trial, but the affair hurt her – the record company gave up recording the record, and as “Gerny” was closed due to the death of the owner, she lost her job. She sought engagement in other clubs, sang in Belgium for a while, but did not have much success there, so she returned to Paris.
Then she started hanging out with the songwriter Raymond Ace, with whom she began a love affair. He wrote her some wonderful songs and took care of her career. With his help, she won over the Parisian audience, and soon became famous throughout the country. At that time, she recorded the first records, which sold well, but when the Second World War broke out in 1939, Aso was mobile, so their relationship and business cooperation was severed.
Edith Piaf did not suffer for a long time because of the breakup of love. She continued to sing, and soon fell in love again, with the young singer Paul Meris. As her fame grew, she gained more and more engagement. She also made several films, and Jean Cocteau, playwright and poet, wrote the play “Le bel indifferent” for her, in which she played the lead role. She continued to perform even when the Germans occupied Paris, she sang for them and hung out with German officers. She continued to change lovers at a speed that her audience had a hard time following. After Meris, she was in a relationship with married journalist Henri Conte for a while, then with pianist Norbert Glanzber…
After her release, her career was not ruined by accusations that she sang to the occupiers, because she claimed that she helped French soldiers escape from German camps, so all that was quickly forgotten and in the second half of the 1940s nothing seemed to stop her. In those years, she fell in love again, with the young singer Ivo Montana, whom she helped in his career by enabling him to be engaged in the nightclub “Mayfair”. She also starred with him in “Etoile sans Lumiere” (Star without Shine), and they performed together in clubs, and left him when she decided that he no longer needed her help – and immediately found a new lover, Jean-Claude Jobber, member of the vocal group “Les compagnons de la chanson”.
In October 1946, at the cabaret “L’etoile”, she performed the song “La vie en rose” (Life in Pink) for the first time, which will be one of her greatest hits, and actress Marlene Dietrich was in the audience. After the performance, they met, and over time, they became good friends. That year seems to have been one of the most beautiful in her life. In addition to achieving great success with the song “La vie en rose”, Edith Piaf also met a man whom she later said was the love of her life – Marcel Cerdan, the French boxing champion, born in Morocco. At first, they were just friends, but when she went on tour in America for the first time in February 1947, just at the time when he had a match there, she sent him a telegram to congratulate him on his victory. They continued to correspond, and when she came to New York during the tour and held a triumphant concert at the Versailles nightclub, where many American stars, such as Judy Garland and Ginger Rogers, came to listen to her, Serdan invited her to dinner. That night, love was born between them. The two tried to hide her – because Serdan was married – but they didn’t succeed. Part of the public resented her for seducing a married man, while the other part looked at them with sympathy.
For Edith Piaf, it was the happiest period of her life. She was the biggest French star, successful in America as well, in love with the most popular French athlete, who that year also became the world champion in the light heavyweight category…
She persuaded Serdana to leave his wife and live with her, she even bought a luxurious villa in the elite Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Biancourt for nineteen million francs, where she could stay with him without being seen by journalists. But he did not want to divorce. Serdan’s wife knew about the relationship with the singer, but she overcame his infidelity.
At that time, Boulogne-Biancourt was far enough from the center of Paris that I could feel safe in it. In order not to see them together, Serdan would hide in the back seat of her car, so they would spend weekends there in peace, and she set up a boxing ring in a huge room on the first floor so that her boyfriend could practice while with her. At that time, Edith also wrote several songs dedicated to her great love, the most famous of which is ‘Hymne à l’amour’ (Hymn of Love), which immediately became a big hit.
However, that happy period did not last long. The next time she traveled to America for a tour, in 1949, she arranged with him to join her. He wanted to travel by boat, however, she persuaded him to come by plane on October 27, 1949, in order to see him as soon as possible, and he agreed, although he did not like to fly.
The next day, Edith learned that his plane had crashed in the Azores and that all passengers and crew had been killed. She was inconsolable, blaming herself for his death. In her villa, where her secretary and the young Charles Aznavour, later a famous chansonnier, who was her driver at the time and worked at concerts as a master of light, lived with her after Serdan’s death, she organized spiritistic sessions trying to get in touch with Serdan’s spirit. In order to redeem herself, she even invited Serdan’s wife Marineta and their children to come and live with her.
At that time, she seemed to have lost the will to live. She got drunk, entered into a series of short-term relationships, first with Eddie Constantin, whom she helped build an acting career, then with cyclist Andre Puse, then with American painter Douglas Davis, and then fell in love with singer Jacques Pills, who had just divorced from the singer Listen Boze. His love helped Edith get through that difficult period. She decided to change, calm down, stop drinking and start living normally, so when Pills proposed to her, she agreed to marry him.
They were married on September 20, 1952, in New York, where she had several concerts at the time, and her godmother at the wedding was her old friend Marlene Dietrich. However, a quiet life did not seem to suit her. After only a few years, she filed for divorce and continued to live as violently as before. As she drank constantly, she was insecure behind the wheel, so she miraculously survived several serious accidents after which she started taking drugs, then she suffered a nervous breakdown…
Her body was also getting weaker, so she contracted pneumonia twice. She also tried to cure her addiction, but she did not succeed. Despite all the adversity, she continued to perform at the same pace. She recorded another big hit, the chanson “Milord”, written for her by the talented young composer Georges Mustaki, who became her new assistant and lover. She had a serious car accident with him on September 7, 1959, but already on September 18, she performed in New York, where she crashed on stage due to exhaustion.
Although many believed that her career was in decline due to poor health, alcohol, drugs and a messy life, she achieved another great success with the chanson “Non, je ne regretted rien” (I do not regret anything) which faithfully described her life philosophy.
– I do not regret anything, nor the good they did to me, nor the evil they did to me, I don’t care because my life, because my joys, start with you from today – she sang in “Non, je ne regretted rien”.
The last days
The following year, she held a series of triumphant concerts in Paris “Olympia”, and in the winter of 1961, she fell in love again, with Teofanis Lumbukas, a 20-year-younger hairdresser of Greek origin, whom she nicknamed Sarapo. He proposed to her in July 1962, and they were married in October.
Edith Piaf was already in such poor health at the time that she moved with him to the town of Placasia, in the hills above Cannes. She intended to recover there, and for a while even seemed to gain new strength for performances, however she contracted liver cancer and died on October 10, 1963. Theo Sarapo wrapped her body in a blanket and transported it to Paris, in order to, according to her last wish, she was buried in her hometown. A day later, hearing about her death, her dear friend Jean Cocteau died of a heart attack.
– In the end, we pay dearly for all the madness we do in life – were her last words.
At the last farewell, more than forty thousand fans gathered in front of her house and on the streets to the Pere Lachaise cemetery where she is buried. And although everyone thought that her last husband was with her only because of money, it turned out that she spent everything she earned and borrowed money from friends and acquaintances, leaving Theo Sarapa with only debts that he was still paying off for a long time.
I hope you liked the biography of Edith Piaf?
If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments!
For more motivational stories, you can visit https://motivationbymarco.com/