Gilbert Becaud, a French crooner who wrote songs that inspired such international stars as Frank Sinatra and Edith Piaf, died yesterday (Dec. 18) in Paris. He was 74. Charley Marouani, Becaud’s agent, said the singer died of lung cancer on his houseboat on the Seine river, surrounded by family and friends. He had refused to go to a hospital despite being in pain for the last few days.
Along with Charles Aznavour and Guy Beart, Becaud, known as “Mr. 100,000 volts” and the “atomic champion,” was among a group of famous French singers known for booming, dramatic songs during the 1950s.
With a trademark polka-dot tie, Becaud was known for his electric performances. In one Paris music hall in 1955, he inspired fans to rip out the seats. He attracted famous singers with his songwriting. Piaf sang his “Je t’ai dans la Peau,” and Sinatra recorded “What Now, My Love?” a translation of Becaud’s “Et Maintenant.” Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, James Brown, and Cher have all recorded versions of his “Je t’appartiens,” or “Let it be me.”
Becaud’s musical comedy “Madame Roza” was performed on Broadway in 1987.
France’s leaders and best-known singers all paid tribute to Becaud yesterday. President Jacques Chirac said “Becaud’s melodies, verses, and refrains … evoke emotions and memories for all the French.” Prime Minister Lionel Jospin described him as “one of the most engaging and memorable figures of French song.” Becaud was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction, in 1974.
Born Oct. 24, 1927, in the southeastern port city of Toulon, Becaud studied music at conservatories in Nice and Toulon and was a Resistance fighter during World War II. He wed an American, Kitty Saint-John, in 1973 and they had two daughters. He also had three children from an earlier marriage.
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