Charles Aznavour, the beloved singer, songwriter and actor who was often described as the French Frank Sinatra, has died in his home in southeastern France, his spokeswoman said on Monday.
He was 94. The singer and actor's performing career endured eight decades, with a prompter in his final years the sole concession to age — or to difficulty recalling a 1,000-song repertoire.
His versatile tenor, lush lyrics and kinetic stage presence endeared himself to fans the world over, but nowhere more so than in France. He sang to sold-out concert halls into his 90s and said he wrote every single day.
I throw most of it away. You write first, judge later, he said in a 2015 interview before the release of the album Encores.
Often compared to Sinatra, Aznavour started his career as a songwriter for Piaf, but it was she who took him under her wing, encouraging him to sing his own material. Like her, his fame ultimately reached well outside France, including being awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017.
What were my faults? My voice, my size, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my honesty, or my lack of personality, the 5-foot-3-inch tall performer wrote in his autobiography.
My voice? I cannot change it. The teachers I consulted all agreed I shouldn't sing, but nevertheless I continued to sing until my throat was sore.
Writer of over 1,000 songs, Aznavour sold millions. In his career, Aznavour wrote upward of 1,000 songs, for himself, Piaf and other popular French singers. The love ballad She topped British charts for four weeks in 1974 and was covered by Elvis Costello for the film Notting Hill.
Aznavour sold more than 180 million records, according to his official biography. He broke an arm in May but was set to start a new tour in November in France, starting in Paris.
I'm a songwriter who sometimes performs his own songs, was his preferred self-description.
But it was as a performer that Aznavour came most to life, expression vibrating from his thick brows to his fingertips.
On stage, I don't feel like I'm singing for the audience. I'm singing for myself, and I give it to the audience. We share. If it's not shared, it's not good, he said in 2015.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Aznavour's masterpieces, voice tone and unique radiance.
Deeply French, viscerally attached to his Armenian roots, recognized throughout the world, Charles Aznavour will have accompanied the joys and sorrows of three generations, Mr Macron said in a message posted on Twitter.
Shanoun Varenagh Aznavourian was born in Paris on 22 May 1924, to Armenian parents who fled to the city in the 1920s and opened a restaurant. His singer father, and actress mother exposed him to the performing arts early on, and he acted in his first play when he was 9.
Aznavour, who cut the Armenian suffix from his stage name, decided to switch to music but still acted in films throughout his career. His movie credits include Francois Truffaut's 1960 Tirez sur le Pianiste (Shoot the Pianist), Volker Schloendorff's 1979 Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), and Atom Egoyan's 2002 Ararat.
Aznavour became a piano player, and toured in New York after World War II with Piaf. There, he performed on stage with Liza Minnelli. In 1963, he performed in a sold-out Carnegie Hall. In addition to the English-language She, other best-selling songs included La Boheme, 'For me, Formidable and La Mamma.
Other songs gained fame by their notoriety, including the seductive Apres l'Amour (After Love), which was banned by French radio in 1965 as an affront to public morals, and the 1972 Comme Ils Disent (As They Say) — a first-person narrative of a gay man's heartache.
His style varied little over the decades, his lyrics sticking to traditional structures, his melodies catchy and smooth with a swelling orchestra in the background — and lacking in imagination, some critics said. But in live performances, his small, lithe frame exuded an energy and emotion that made his songs something more.
If sometimes critics hinted that his voice wasn't quite up to the task, they said people went to see one of the century's great singer-songwriters in action.
The singer also never forgot his Armenian roots. He travelled regularly to Armenia after it earned independence from the Soviet Union. He was named itinerant ambassador for humanitarian action in 1993 by then-president Levon Ter-Petrossian, served as Armenia's ambassador to UN cultural agency UNESCO and was named Armenia's ambassador to Switzerland in 2009. He founded Aznavour and Armenia, a non-profit organization created after the devastating earthquake that hit Soviet Armenia in 1988.
Aznavour was awarded France's prestigious National Order of Merit in 2001, and in 2009, he received the National Order of Quebec, a first for a singer.