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France Gall, French Singer Who Won 1965 Eurovision Song Contest and Inspired 'My Way,' Dies at 70

People logo People 1/7/2018 Peter Milbank
France Gall wearing a green shirt © K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns

French singer France Gall has died. She was 70.

Gall, who owned France’s pop charts for decades and who inspired “My Way,” died Sunday morning in Paris’ American Hospital. Cause of death was a severe infection complicated by cancer, according to her publicist.

Born Isabelle Gall in 1947, she was the daughter of a songwriter who had penned hits for Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour.

person standing in a room © Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

After her first theatre and radio performances, Gall was signed to a record label while still a minor, eventually releasing her first single in October 1963, “Ne Sois Pas Bete,” a French cover of the Laurie Sisters’ “Stand A Little Closer.” The single propelled her onto the charts.

Her follow-up, the children’s sing-along “Sacré Charlemagne,” proved radio friendly while her next, “Laisse Tomber Les Filles,” became a defining anthem of the ‘Yé-Yé’ era.

After winning the 1965 Eurovision Song contest with another Serge Gainsbourg title, “Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son,” Gall became a widely-recognized European star, selling two million copies of the track overnight.

At the time of her Eurovision appearance, Gall was in a relationship with French superstar Claude Francois. The romance fizzled soon after, but not before inspiring an iconic song.

Months later, at a meeting with Francois, composer Jacques Revaux pitched him a melody with English lyrics called “For Me.” Inspired by his recent split from Gall, Francois instead suggested jettisoning the existing lyrics, replacing them with a few couplets he already had and generally restructuring the song. Francois’ version of “Comme d’habitude” emerged in the fall of 1967 and became an international hit. One year later, with new English lyrics, it became classic tune “My Way,” popularized by Frank Sinatra.

a person with collar shirt © Foc Kan/Getty Images

After Gainsbourg and Francois, Gall collaborated with French composer-singer Michel Berger. An immensely talented pianist, Berger’s initial studio efforts produced “La Déclaration,” which showed off Gall’s talent as a sophisticated stylist and redefined her audience appeal.

Berger and Gall began a romance, marrying in 1974, and welcoming their first child in 1976. Their daughter was soon diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and both Gall and Berger resolved to pursue alternate careers, one caring for their child while the other worked.

It was the first of a number of self-imposed career hiatuses which Gall’s popularity sustained.

In 1978, she added marquee-power to Starmania, the ambitious rock-opera Berger co-wrote with Canadian lyricist Luc Plamondon. The show eventually produced hits for Celine Dion (“Ziggy”), Cyndi Lauper (“My World Is Stone”), Tom Jones and others in its English adaptation, Tycoon.

After a twin-sided single of duets with Elton John in 1981, Gall went back to work, mixing theatre, concerts and humanitarian activities with recording. In 1987, she reemerged at the top of the charts with three successive singles: “Babacar,” “Évidemment” and a tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, “Ella Ella L’a,” which became Gall’s second highest-selling single ever.

Berger died suddenly from a heart attack in August 1992, and Gall, with few exceptions, withdrew from public performances. Diagnosed with cancer the following year, she spent the time that followed largely caring for her daughter, who eventually passed away in 1998.

In the years since, Gall had occasionally returned to public appearances and recording — though rarely performing material which was not drawn from Berger’s or her father’s catalogue.

Many paid tribute to Gall on social media following the news, Sunday, with French President Emmanuel Macron writing in a tweet that she “leaves behind songs that are familiar to all French people and the example of a life devoted to others.”

In memoriam 2017: Remembering stars we lost last year (via Photo Services):


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