French crooner Sacha Distel died Thursday, his record company said. He was 71.

French crooner Sacha Distel died Thursday, his record company said. He was 71.

Distel died at a family home near St Tropez in the south of France after having been ill for some time. A private funeral is expected Saturday in the Paris region.

Although the cause of death was not immediately known, the singer was hit by thyroid cancer in 1970 and skin cancer a decade later.

"Sacha Distel had 'swing' under his skin," prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said in a tribute released by his office.

"For him, it was always 'The Good Life', the symbol of good humor and charm," Raffarin said in reference to one of Distel's hit songs that won success on both sides of the Atlantic.

The epitome of the suave, sophisticated Frenchman, Distel enjoyed a career stretching over almost half a century during which he sang, danced and played jazz guitar with some of the biggest names in showbusiness.

Among the stars he worked with were Liza Minelli, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Dionne Warwick.

In Britain, his television shows were such a hit he performed for Queen Elizabeth on three occasions.

Son of an engineer and a mother who trained in the Paris Conservatory, Distel was a composer of note too, penning "The Good Life," a standard that was swiftly recorded by Tony Bennett and Distel's own hero -- Frank Sinatra.

Distel enjoyed his biggest hit in Britain, where "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" topped the charts for 34 weeks, his record company Universal Music France said on its Web site.

Best known for his songs, Distel was also an outstanding jazz guitarist, winning the title best guitarist of the year from the respected Jazz Hot and Jazz Magazine.

"It's a terrible blow for music," said French singer Henri Salvador, credited with importing rock 'n' roll into France.

"I taught him his first chords, which he learned very quickly. He became an excellent guitarist, and excellent musician and a marvelous composer."

In his native France, where his "Sacha Show" launched a new generation of stars, Distel was awarded one of the country's highest honors, the Legion of Honor, in 1997.

He was married for more than 40 years to former French ski champion Francine Breaud. The couple had two sons.

--Reuters

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