French singer France Gall, who shot to fame in the 1960s with a series of hits and a sexually suggestive song about lollipops written by Serge Gainsbourg, died Sunday aged 70, her spokeswoman announced.
Gall, who became a star in 1965 when she won the Eurovision song contest as a strikingly blonde and slightly awkward teenager, had been battling cancer for two years and died in a hospital west of Paris.
With her blonde bob and eyeliner she became a icon at home of the swinging sixties, while internationally she was the little-known inspiration behind the Frank Sinatra classic “My Way”.
Sinatra’s hit was an English adaptation of the 1968 song “Comme d’Habitude” which was written by French glam-rocker Francois about his break-up with the Parisian singer.
During the early part of her career in the 1960s and 70s she formed partnerships with some of the most famed French musicians of the era, notably Gainsbourg, but also Claude Francois and Michel Berger.
Tributes poured in Sunday for Gall, originally named Isabelle and born to a successful musician father, while radio and television channels aired special commemoration shows.
“France Gall has travelled through the ages thanks to her sincerity and generosity,” said President Emmanuel Macron in a statement. “She leaves behind songs known by every French person and the example of a life that was oriented towards others, those that she loved and those that she helped.”
British actress and singer Jane Birkin, whose collaborations with Gainsbourg also propelled her to 1960s stardom, said Gall was “surprising, candid, mysterious… it’s sad, really sad.”
French star Mireille Mathieu, who worked with Gall early in her career, said “her songs are part of our life”.
Singers Charles Aznavour, Mireille Mathieu, and Patrick Bruel also paid tribute.
After Gall’s first breakthrough at Eurovision with “Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son”, (Wax Doll, Rag Doll), Gainsbourg wrote her 1966 follow-up, the scandalous “Les Sucettes” (The Lollipops) which she sang with childish innocence.
As an 18-year-old, Gall said she hadn’t understood that the lyrics could be interpreted as referring to oral sex and later said she would never have performed the song if she’d known.
“I was humiliated,” she said.
After ending her collaboration with Gainsbourg, she began a hugely successful partnership with Michel Berger in 1974 and would go on to marry the songwriter two years later in a relationship that would be marked by tragedy.
He died of a heart attack aged 44 in 1992 and the eldest of their two children, daughter Pauline, who was born with cystic fibrosis, passed away five years later.
Gall disappeared from the public eye after Pauline’s death in 1997, only to reappear in 2015 for a musical stage show featuring her numerous hits with her late husband.
These include the 1981 classic “Resiste” and the 1987 tribute to jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald “Ella, Elle l’a”.
“France Gall did not belong to one generation: she was able to address all of them,” Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen said on Sunday. “She had to deal with personal difficulties while giving everything to her music.”
Tearful fans spoke warmly about the life Gall had led, with some travelling to the hospital where she died, including 52 year old Nora, who came with a red rose “to be close to her”.
‘She’s a sister to us’
In Senegal, where Gall had conducted humanitarian work with Berger, and where she owned a house on an island near the capital Dakar, locals also celebrated her life.
“She was extraordinarily generous and very discreet,” said Abdoulaye Diallo, an artist who runs a gallery near her home.
The Senegalese news website “Dakaractu” said Gall was “the most Senegalese” of French people, while singer Youssou N’Dour told Le Parisien newspaper: “She’s a sister for us, we must salute her memory.”
Gall’s death comes just a month after the demise of French rocker Johnny Hallyday who was known as the “French Elvis” over a career which spanned 1960s rock ‘n’ roll to the present day.
Hallyday died near Paris on December 6 aged 74 and a commemoration event in the capital was attended by hundreds of thousands of people and watched live on television by at least 12 million people.
Gall was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 but made a recovery. She was admitted to hospital in mid-December for a severe infection, her spokeswoman Genevieve Salama told AFP.