Edith Piaf (December 19, 1915–October 11, 1963) was one of France's most beloved singers, and became a national icon. Her singing reflected her tragic life, with her specialty being the poignant ballad performed in a heartbreaking voice. Among her famous songs are "La vie en rose" (1946), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960). A filmed biography on her life, entitled La Vie En Rose, was released in the US in the summer of 2007.
Despite numerous published biographies, many facts and events of Édith's life are shrouded in mystery. 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 Parisian colloquialism for "sparrow"—originated as a nickname she would receive twenty years later. Her mother was a part-Italian native of a port city on the western edge of Tuscany, Italy. She was working as a café singer ; Edith's father, was a street acrobat with a past in the theatre.
In 1935, Édith was discovered by the nightclub owner Louis Leplée, whose club was frequented by the upper and lower classes alike. He persuaded her to sing despite her extreme nervousness, which, combined with her height of only 4 feet 8 inches (1.47 m). In 1940, Jean Cocteau wrote the successful play Le Bel Indifférent, intended for Édith as the star. She began to make friends with famous people, such as the actor Maurice Chevalier and the poet Jacques Borgeat. She wrote the lyrics of many of her songs and collaborated with composers on the tunes. In 1944, Édith Piaf discovered Yves Montand in Paris, made him part of her act, and became his mentor and lover. After the war, she toured Europe, the United States, and South America, becoming an internationally known figure. Her popularity in the United States was such that she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show eight times and at Carnegie Hall twice (1956 and 1957). Her signature song "La vie en rose" (which was voted a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998) was written in 1945.
In 1951 she was involved in a car accident, and thereafter had difficulty breaking a serious morphine addiction.
The famed Paris Olympia concert hall is where Piaf achieved lasting fame, giving several series of concerts at the hall between January 1955 and October 1962.