Singer. Her singing fame was world wide and had developed a cult following among the working class. Her sad and valiant personal life resembled a soap opera. She was born Edith Gassion to a cabaret singing gypsy mother and an acrobat cabaret performing father. Edith was abandoned by her mother who simply left her with her grandmother and when she was unable to provide care passed her on to a disinterested aunt. Her education was minuscule and her childhood was spent in poverty and squalor in the Belleville section of Paris. Edith earned money by singing and begging in the streets where she often slept. She was noticed by a proprietor of a swank dinner club located along the Champs-Elysees. He put her to work singing in the club christening her with the nickname 'Piaf'' (french- little sparrow). She obtained a manager who transformed her into a star, teaching her vocal technique and social etiquette. He was murdered and Edith was accused of being an accessory. However, she was acquitted. Shortly prior to the start of the second world war, she was on the way to fame. She was a captive during the war but active. Famous artist, Jean Cocteau, wrote her a hit play entitled 'Le Bel Indifferent'. She appeared in her first movie during the Nazi occupation. Her singing was in great demand by high ranking Germans. They showed their gratitude by allowing her to sing and then pose with French prisoners of war. Unknown to the Germans, when they received a copy of the photograph, their images would be cut and made into forged papers and documents which they used to escape. After the war, Édith toured Europe, the United States and South America, becoming an internationally known figure. She had many recordings which sold over a million copies. Edith wrote her own signature song during the war, 'La Vie en Rose' which was a best seller in the U.S. Tragedy, Hardship and poor health plagued Edith from the day of her birth. As a small child she experienced blindness as the result of a virus. She allegedly recovered her sight after taken on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Saint Therese de Lisieue in Paris. On three occasions she was seriously injured in car accidents but survived each encounter. As a teenager, she had a baby which died of meningitis in early childhood, then had an endless string of affairs with men, some ending in their death, some in marriage. Most notable was a romantic relationship with Marcel Cerdan the boxing champion who was killed in a airline crash. She collapsed while performing in New York at the Mark Helinger Theater and endured major surgery for a perforated ulcer and internal hemorrhaging. Diagnosed with liver cancer, she returned to a residence she maintained at Cannes. Near death, wishing to die in Paris, she hired an ambulance to take her there. She died in route. At her apartment located near Bois de Boulogne, she was placed on her bed for viewing. One hundred thousand mourners clamored to view her remains. Her personal lifestyle was seized upon by the Archbishop of Paris to deny her a mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. Her body was transported to her final resting place through the streets of Paris in a flower laden hearse with a three car cortege following. The route was lined with admirers and it passed through Belleville where she had lived in squalor. The Government-owned French radio cancelled its scheduled programming to play a tribute to Edith and her music. At the gates of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, forty thousand uncontrolled mourners became a surging mob. People fainted, fell and were trampled attempting to get a glimpse of the casket. Finally, a brief graveside service was performed by a Catholic chaplain who ministered to the artist colony in the city. Postscript: Ironically, her friend, Artist Jean Cocteau, passed away just seven hours after Edith Piaf expired. In addition to his 1941 stage play written for Edith, he had also written the preface to her 1958 autobiography, 'Au Bal de la Chance' (Wheel of Fortune). Her childhood home on rue Crespin Gu Gast in Paris is now a private museum dedicated to the life and music of the star. On display are the singer's photographs, jewelry, furniture, and other memorabilia.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield