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Édith Giovanna Gassion

Also Known As: "Édith Piaf", "Édith Giovanna Gassion"
Birthplace: Hôpital Tenon, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death: October 11, 1963 (47)
Plascassier, Grasse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France (Rupture d'anévrisme)
Place of Burial: Paris, Île-de-France, France
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Louis Alphonse Gassion and Annetta Giovanna Maillard
Wife of Theophanis Lamboukas, alias Théo Sarapo
Ex-wife of René Ducos, alias Jacques Pills
Mother of Marcelle Gassion
Sister of Herbert Gassion
Half sister of Private

Occupation: French singer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Édith Piaf

Édith Piaf was born Édith Giovanna Gassion, and was a French singer and cultural icon who became universally regarded as France's greatest popular singer.

Early Life:

Despite numerous biographies, much of Piaf's life is shrouded in mystery. She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris, a high-immigration district. 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 Édith after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Piaf—a Francilien colloquialism for "sparrow"—was a nickname she would receive 20 years later.

Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1895–1945), was of French-Italian descent on her father's side and of 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,[citation needed] she recovered her sight after her grandmother's prostitutes pooled money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Sainte Thérèse de 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's next boyfriend was a pimp named Albert who took a commission from the money she made singing in exchange for not forcing her into prostitution. One of her friends, a girl named Nadia, killed herself when faced with the thought of becoming a prostitute, and Albert nearly shot Piaf when she ended the relationship in reaction to Nadia's death.

Personal life

The love of Piaf's life, the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, died in a plane crash in October 1949, while flying from Paris to New York City to meet her. Cerdan's Air France flight, flown on a Lockheed Constellation, went down in the Azores, killing everyone on board, including noted violinist Ginette Neveu. Piaf and Cerdan's affair made international headlines, as Cerdan was the former middleweight champion of the world and a legend in France in his own right.

In 1951, Piaf was seriously injured in a car crash along with Charles Aznavour, breaking her arm and two ribs, and thereafter had serious difficulties arising from morphine and alcohol addictions.Two more near fatal car crashes exacerbated the situation. Jacques Pills, a singer, took her into rehabilitation on three different occasions to no avail.

Piaf married Jacques Pills in 1952 (her matron of honour was Marlene Dietrich) and divorced him in 1956. In 1962, she wed Théo Sarapo (Theophanis Lamboukas), a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor who was 20 years her junior. The couple sang together in some of her last engagements.

Notes & References:

Some articles have referenced the 10th as the date of Édith's death. However, the Wikipedia and the FindAGrave data currently identify the 11th as Édith's death date.

Interestingly, the FindAGrave description notes that she wanted to die in Paris and was thus being transported there (from Cannes) when she died enroute. Perhaps her official declaration of death was after the ambulance arrived at a place to do so, but if she left Cannes on the 10th some may have assumed something like (speculation): "... leaving on the 10th, she died enroute to Paris..." as indicating her death was on the 10th.

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Édith Piaf's Timeline

December 19, 1915
Paris, Île-de-France, France
February 11, 1933
Age 17
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
October 11, 1963
Age 47
Grasse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
October 13, 1963
Age 47
Paris, Île-de-France, France