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Edith Piaf ( 1915 - 1963 )  Category ( Singers ) [suggest a correction]

Edith PiafEdith Piaf was born Edith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris, and was named after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, worked as a cafe singer under the name, Line Marsa, and her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, was a Norman street acrobat. Before her father enlisted with the French Army in 1916 to fight in WWI, he took to her his mother, who ran a Normandy brothel. It was here that Piaf learned how to live on the streets.

She began her public singing career in 1929 when, at age fourteen, she joined her father in his acrobatic street performances. Over the next six years, Piaf lived a rough life on the streets. She married, had a child who died at age two from mengingitis, and was involved with a pimp who forced her to sing rather than become involved with prostitution. But, in 1935, nightclub owner Louis Leplee discovered her and persuaded her to sing in his club. Her short stature (four foot, ten inches) and her nervousness inspired Leplee to apply a nickname, "La Môme Piaff," or the 'little sparrow.' Just one year after Leplee took her under his wing, he was murdered. Piaf was questioned and accused of being an accessory. She was acquitted one it had been realized that he was murdered by mobsters who had previous ties to Piaf. To overcome negative press about this affair, Piaf hired - and became romantically involved with - Raymond Asso. He changed her name to Edith Piaf, isolated her from her previous acquaintances, and commissioned Monnot to write songs that allueded to Piaf's previous street life.

By 1940, after her successful appearance in Jean Cocteau's one-act play, Le Bel Indifferent, she began to rub shoulders with people such as Maurice Chevalier and Jacques Borgeat. She began to write her own lyrics and, in 1944, she brought Yves Montand into her act. After 1942, at the end of WWII, Piaf began to tour internationally, making appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and at Carnegie Hall.

Although Piaf had many lovers, the love of her life was the married boxer, Marcel Cerdan. He died in a plane crash in October 1949 as he attempted to travel from Paris to New York to meet Piaf. Three years later, Piaf married Jacques Pills, a singe, and Marlene Deitrich served as her maid of honor. They divorced in 1956, and in 1962 Piaf married Theo Sarapo (Theophanis Lamboukas), a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor who was 20 years her junior.

Between 1951 and her death in 1963, Piaf was involved in three near-fatal car accidents. She became addicted to morphine and alcohol, and died of liver cancer at Plascassier, on the French Riviera, on October 10, 1963. Although the Roman Catholic archbishop denied her a funeral mass, based upon her lifestyle, her funeral procession was so large that it was the first time Parisian traffic came to a complete halt since the end of WWII. She is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris.

La Vie En Rose, a film about her life directed by Olivier Dahan, debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2007. Titled La Mome 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 definitive biography, Piaf, A Passionate Life, was re-released by JR Books to coincide with the film's release. Her love story with Cerdan was also depicted on the big screen by Claude Lelouch in the movie Edith et Marcel (1983) with Marcel Cerdan Jr. in the role of his father and Evelyne Bouix portraying Piaf.

Image: A promotional shot of French singer, Edith Piaf, in 1948.

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