Édith Piaf (1915 – 1963)
Today happens to be the 5Oth death anniversary of the French nightingale, known as ‘little Sparrow’ (Piaf). Édith Piaf died after succumbing to cancer, aged 47, on the 10th of October 1963.

Édith Piaf (1915-1963)

Piaf, Hepburn et moi
I first heard Édith Piaf’s song ‘La Vie en Rose’, when I watched Sabrina (1954), back in 1994. I was mesmerised by the song, which was not sung by Piaf in movie, but by Audrey Hepburn. No, Sabrina, is not a musical, for those unaware.

On the sets of Sabrina (1954)
This sequence takes place when Hepburn’s titular character, Sabrina, is driving home after a date with Humphrey Bogart (a date where the two are seen dancing to the tune of ‘La Vie en Rose’, a tune which is heard in the background more than once), and telling him what it was like residing in Paris and what a romantic city Paris is. She sings a few stanza’s from Piaf’s famed musical number, sans music. And unlike the most misquoted line from Casablanca (1942), Bogie here actually does ask Sabrina to ‘sing it again’.  And she does. Not known for her singing talent, Hepburn lends her vocals to her own rendition of Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose’ beautifully.
However, it wasn’t until much later in the decade, i.e. the late 90’s, that I discovered who Édith Piaf was. Since then I’ve heard various renditions of Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose’ and various other tunes in many a movies, and most recently in flicks like WALL-E (2008), 127 Hours (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), to name a few.

Édith Piaf music

Piaf et Cotillard
Back in June 2007, whilst residing down under, one wet chilly night, I watched Je d’enfants (2003), English title being Love Me If You Dare, starring Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard, when it was shown on a local television channel there (most probably on SBS). Canet was an actor I already knew for sometime, and Cotillard, I was aware was the actress starring in latest bio-pic on Édith Piaf, La Vie En Rose (2007), though I hadn’t watched it yet. I liked Cotillard in Je d’enfants, but wasn’t exactly crazy about her. Then within a month or so, still during the damp windy Australian winter, La Vie En Rose (2007), was being shown on the Big Screen there. Watched it, loved the movie, re-fell in love with Piaf and her music, and of course the bewitching beauty and superb French actress, Marion Cotillard. She was amazing and she felt Piaf in every way possible. Her walk, her talk, her mannerism all felt very Édith Piaf. Of course majority of the songs were dubbed by Jil Aigrot (a.k.a. Parigote), who does a marvellous job with the songs, but some Édith Piaf recordings were also used.
Piaf’s performance of ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ (No Regrets), is another one of my favourites, it comes straight from the soul, and film manages to capture the essence of Piaf’s life through this soulful piece of musical genius. It reminded me of Afro-American Jazz singer, Billie Holiday (born the same year as Piaf), who bore her soul through her tragic soulful songs, and whose songs were her biography. In school we studied excerpts from Billie Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues.

La Vie En Rose film and real Piaf et al
Directed by Olivier Dahan, La Vie En Rose, recounts Piaf’s life from her early days, when as a toddler she’s abandoned by her mother while her father was fighting in the battle fields during the first World War, to when her father returns and drops off the sickly child in a brothel to how he returns later and along with the child first works at a circus, then performs on the streets to how she is discovered by a nightclub owner to various tragedies in her life, to a great love affair with a boxer whose death in plane crash she finds impossible to cope with to her final battle with a fatal illness that claims her life.
I love the scene, towards the end of the movie, where we see a cancer ridden Édith Piaf (Cotillard) being interviewed while she’s knitting a sweater. The interviewer asks Piaf, who she was knitting it for. Piaf looks at her with a big smile and states, ‘for whoever that would wear it’.

Both ‘La Vie en Rose’ the song, and La Vie En Rose (2007) the movie, happen to be among my all time favourites. In 2008, Marion Cotillard deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Édith Piaf . In fact Cotillard won 7 Best Actress awards in various award ceremonies for her role of Piaf, including the César, BAFTA and the Golden Globe.

Édith Piaf, was born as Édith Giovanna Gassion, in Belleville, Paris, France in 1915. She was married twice, first to Jacques Pills from 1952 to 1957, and later to the man she claims as her last love, Théo Sarapo, in 1962, and the couple sang together in her last performances. Édith Piaf had only one child, when she was 17 years old, an illegitimate daughter Louis Dupont, who died aged two of meningitis. Piaf had an affair with a boxer, Marcel Cerdan, who died in a plane crash in 1949. Piaf herself was in three near fatal car accidents. Her future first husband, Jacques Pills, helped her recover. Piaf was happiest with her second husband, Théo Sarapo, but sadly contracting liver cancer, Piaf died 50 years to date, one year after they were married. Piaf was buried alongside her daughter, in Père Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris. When Théo Sarapo died of an automobile accident, in august of 1970, he was buried next to Piaf, in Père Lachaise Cemetery as well.

The legendary Édith Piaf lives on through her songs. Great personalities never really die altogether, they live on through their legacy they leave behind.
In 1998, Édith Piaf’s song ‘La Vie en Rose’, was honoured with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

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