Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Memoriam: Edith Piaf

I think of her whenever I see a little sparrow hopping across the concrete in search of a few crumbs... Instead of food, though, the crumbs Edith Piaf (born on this day in 1915) sought were love. Her adopted surname, of course, meant 'sparrow'; certainly those qualities of frailty and doggedness must have been there when Louis Leplée - the nightclub owner - first laid eyes on her, singing in the street for coins, in 1935.

PhotobucketLeplee's murder the following year would be the first down in a career of ups and downs for Edith Piaf, as she was questioned by police in relation to the case; the mobsters who killed him were known to her and her involvement, however cursory, did not sit well with her new fans. She survived the scandal, as she would always do; in 1940 her new friend Jean Cocteau wrote her a role in his play Le Bel Indifférent. It was a success, and once more she was on her way.

Despite crippling stage fright, Piaf performed extensively throughout the war, but the song most often associated with the era (and her) - La vie en rose - would not enter her repertoire until 1946. Amazingly, she managed to escape the Nazi occupation with her reputation intact; so many, in the interest of self-preservation, either collaborated or gave the appearance of collaboration, and Piaf was no different. She would later claim to have aided the Resistance, but as they kept very inadequate records, the truth of that may never be known.

A post-war tour of the United States, undertaken with the then-unknown Charles Aznavour, saw both of them acclaimed across North America; naturally, she was on top of the world when, in October 1949, her lover Marcel Cerdan was killed in a plane crash. In 1951 she and Aznavour were in a car accident; although they survived, Piaf came away from it addicted to morphine, which was not helped by two subsequent crashes. In 1952 she married Jacques Pills, whose main job seems to be taking her to rehab; they divorced in 1956. She took a second husband, Théo Sarapo, in 1962, who performed with her towards the end.

Edith Piaf died of cancer in October 1963, the same day as her old friend Jean Cocteau; she was 47. In 2007 it was as if she'd come back to life when Marion Cotillard portrayed the singer in the hugely entertaining biopic, La Vie En Rose, for which its star was awarded a Best Actress Academy Award.

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