Édith Piaf (US: /piːˈɑːf/, UK: /ˈpiːæf/; French: [eˈdit pjaf]; 19 December 1915 – 11 October 1963), born Édith Giovanna Gassion, was a French singer and cultural icon who became widely regarded as France's greatest popular singer. Her singing reflected her life, with her specialty being ballads. Among her songs are "La Vie en rose" (1946), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), "La Foule" (1957), "l'Accordéoniste" (1955), and "Padam... Padam..." (1951).
Despite numerous biographies, much of Piaf's life is shrouded in mystery. She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris. Legend has it that she was born on the pavement of Rue de Belleville 72, but her birth certificate cites the Hôpital Tenon, the hospital for the 20th arrondissement of which Belleville is part.
She was named Edith after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Piaf—an argot colloquialism for "sparrow"—was a nickname she would receive 20 years later.
Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1895–1945), was of French descent on her father's side and of Italian and Berber origin on her mother's. She was a native of Livorno, a port city on the western edge of Tuscany, Italy. She worked as a café singer under the name Line Marsa.
Louis-Alphonse Gassion (1881–1944), Édith's father, was a Norman street acrobat with a past in the theatre. Édith's parents soon abandoned her, and she lived for a short time with her maternal grandmother, Emma (Aïcha) Saïd ben Mohammed (1876–1930). Before he enlisted with the French Army in 1916 to fight in World War I, her father took her to his mother, who ran a brothel in Normandy. There, prostitutes helped look after Piaf.
From the age of three to seven, Piaf was allegedly blind as a result of keratitis. According to one of her biographies, she recovered her sight after her grandmother's prostitutes pooled money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, which the author claims resulted in a miraculous healing.
In 1929, at 14, she joined her father in his acrobatic street performances all over France, where she first sang in public.
She took a room at Grand Hôtel de Clermont (18 rue Veron, Paris 18ème) and separated from him, going her own way as a street singer in Pigalle, Ménilmontant, and the Paris suburbs (cf. the song "Elle fréquentait la Rue Pigalle").
She joined her friend Simone Berteaut ("Mômone") in this endeavor, and the two became lifelong partners in mischief. She was about 16 when she fell in love with Louis Dupont, a delivery boy.
At 17, she had her only child, a girl named Marcelle, who died of meningitis at age two. Like her mother, Piaf found it difficult to care for a child while living a life of the streets, so she often left Marcelle behind while she was away, and Dupont raised her until her death.
Piaf died of liver cancer aged 47 at Plascassier, on the French Riviera, on 11 October 1963 (according to some, 10 October in Paris). She had been drifting in and out of consciousness for several months. It is said that Sarapo drove her body back to Paris secretly so that fans would think she had died in her hometown. She is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to her daughter Marcelle, where her grave is among the most visited.
Although she was denied a funeral mass by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris because of her lifestyle, her funeral procession drew tens of thousands of mourners onto the streets of Paris and the ceremony at the cemetery was attended by more than 100,000 fans. Charles Aznavour recalled that Piaf's funeral procession was the only time since the end of World War II that he saw Parisian traffic come to a complete stop.
In Paris, a two-room museum is dedicated to her, the Musée Édith Piaf (5 rue Crespin du Gast).
The film Piaf (1974) depicted her early years, and starred Brigitte Ariel, with early Piaf songs performed by Betty Mars.
Piaf's relationship with Cerdan was also depicted in film by Claude Lelouch in the movie Édith et Marcel (1983), with Marcel Cerdan Jr. in the role of his father and Évelyne Bouix portraying Piaf.
Piaf...Her Story...Her Songs (2003) is a film starring Raquel Bitton in her performance tribute to Edith Piaf. Bitton performs Piaf's most famous songs and describes her tempestuous life. Woven into the filmed concert is a luncheon in Paris, hosted by Bitton, in which some of Piaf's composers, friends, lovers, and family share their memories. These include Michel Rivgauche and Francis Lai, two of Piaf's composers, as well as Marcel Cerdan, Jr., son of the boxing champion who was her greatest love.
La Vie en rose (2007), a film about her life directed by Olivier Dahan, debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2007. Titled La Môme in France, the film stars Marion Cotillard in the role that won her the Academy Award for Best Actress (Oscar), as Piaf. Dahan's film follows Piaf's life from early childhood to her death in 1963.David Bret's 1988 biography, Piaf, A Passionate Life, was re-released by JR Books to coincide with the film's release.
Tu Es Partout was played on a record in the film Saving Private Ryan.
The score for the 2010 film Inception was written by Hans Zimmer. He used Piaf's Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien as the basic ingredient for the rest of the score. The song itself is also used as a 'musical countdown' in the film and is intertwined with the film's themes.
|Relation name||Relation type||Description|
|3||Raymond Asso||Partner, Coworker|
|10||Luis Miguel Dominguín||Friend|
|18||Louis Leplée||Familiar, Employer|