The executive career of Charles Aznavour has lasted eight decades, with a promise in his last years to recall the only concession to old age – or difficulty in a repertoire of 1,000 songs.
Known as Frank Sinatra, the brave crooner and actor, who got his start as a songwriter and protégé of Edith Piaf, died Monday at 94 o'clock.
His versatile tenor, sumptuous lyrics and kinetic stage presentation are loved by fans around the world, but nowhere more than in France. He sang to sold-out concert halls in the nineties and said he wrote every day.
"I throw the most, you write first, judge later," he said in an interview in 2015 for the release of the album "Encores."
Often compared to Sinatra, Aznavour began his career as a songwriter for Piaf, but she was the one who took care of him and encouraged him to sing his own material. Like them, his fame ended up well beyond France, including the fact that he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017.
"What were my mistakes? My voice, my size, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my honesty or my lack of personality," wrote the 1.6-meter-high performer in his autobiography. "My voice, I can not change it, the teachers I consulted agreed that I should not sing, but I kept singing until my throat was sore."
In his career, Aznavour wrote more than 1,000 songs, for himself, Piaf and other popular French singers. The love ballad "She" stood in the top four British charts in 1974 and was awarded by Elvis Costello for the film "Notting Hill."
Aznavour sold more than 180 million records, according to his official biography. He broke his arm in May, but was planning to start a new tour in France in November, starting in Paris.
Liza Minnelli, who met Aznavour when she was a teenager and he was in his forties, described him to Paris.
"He really taught me everything I know about singing – how each song is a different film," she said in an interview in 2013. The two stayed in the neighborhood for decades and often performed together. On Monday she said in a statement: "Charles was my mentor, my friend, my love … I will miss him forever."
He withstood description as a crooner, despite decades of torch songs that are now firmly established in the French lexicon.
"I am a songwriter who sometimes performs his own songs", was his preferred self-description.
But it was as a performer that Aznavour came to life the most, the expression quivered from his thick eyebrows to his fingertips.
"On stage I do not feel like I'm singing to the public, I sing for myself and I give it to the audience. We share it. If it's not shared, it's not good," he said in 2015.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Aznavour's masterpieces, voice, & # 39; and & # 39; unique look & # 39 ;.
"Deeply French, viscerally attached to his Armenian roots, recognized throughout the world, Charles Aznavour will accompany the joys and concerns of three generations," Macron said in a message posted on Twitter.
Shanoun Varenagh Aznavourian was born in Paris on May 22, 1924, to Armenian parents who fled to Paris in the 1920s and opened a restaurant. His singer father – whose own father was the cook of Russian Tsar Nicholas II – and actress mother exposed him to the performing arts early, and he acted in his first play when he was 9 years old.
Aznavour, who cut the Armenian suffix of his stage name, decided to switch to music, but he still acted in films during his career. His film credits include Francois Truffaut's 1960 "Tirez sur le Pianiste" (Shoot the Pianist), Volker Schloendorff & # 39; s 1979 "Die Blechtrommel" (The Tin Drum) and Atom Egoyan's 2002 "Ararat."
The latter film dealt with the mass murders in 1915 of a maximum of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, an event that stretched relations between Turkey and Armenia for a century.
Aznavour campaigned internationally to formally view the killings as genocide. Turkey vehemently denies that the massacre was genocide and maintains that it was part of the violence during the First World War.
Aznavour became a pianist and toured with Piaf in New York after the Second World War. There he performed on the stage with Minnelli. In 1963 he performed in a sold-out Carnegie Hall. In addition to the English language "She", other best-selling songs were "La Boheme", "For me, Formidable" and "La Mamma". Other songs became famous for their fame, including the seductive "Apres l" Amour, "(After Love), which was banned by French radio in 1965 as an insult to public morals, and the 1972" Comme Ils Disent "(As They Say) – a first-person story about the grief of a homosexual man.
His style has varied little in recent decades, his lyrics stick to traditional structures, his melodies catchy and smooth with a swelling orchestra in the background – and a lack of imagination, some critics said. But in live performances, his small, supple frame radiated an energy and emotion that made his songs a bit more.
When critics sometimes suggest that his voice was not quite right, they said that people were going to see one of the great singer-songwriters of the century in action.
"We continue to find this intimate link that everyone keeps track of with their songs and what they represent," wrote critic Caroline Rodgers after a concert in 2014. "If there are failures, these insignificant musical imperfections call false notes, advanced age this privilege – that you are simply overcome for such a monument that still sings after all those years. "
With half a wink Aznavour never completely forgot that critics were less nice when he was younger.
"No one dares to say what they said before, so when did they lie – before or after?" he asked in the 2015 interview.
The singer never forgot his Armenian roots.
He regularly traveled to Armenia after becoming independent from the Soviet Union. He was proclaimed ambulatory ambassador for humanitarian action in 1993 by the then president Levon Ter-Petrossian, served as ambassador of Armenia at UN cultural agency UNESCO and in 2009 became Armenia's ambassador in Switzerland. He founded Aznavour and Armenia, a non-profit organization that struck Soviet Armenia in 1988 after the devastating earthquake.
Aznavour received the prestigious National Order of Merit from France in 2001 and in 2009 he received the national order of Quebec, a first for a singer.
"I'm not trying to brag, but I have to admit that I could have done much worse for an unskilled son of an immigrant," Aznavour said.
Together with other French celebrities, he urged people in April 2002 to sing the French anthem in a campaign to defeat the far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, known for his anti-immigrant position.
"If Le Pen had existed (in the time of my parents) I would not have been born in France," Aznavour said at the time.
The restaurant La Boheme of Aznavour was located in Aix-en-Provence, in the southeast of France. He also published two volumes of memoirs – "Aznavour by Aznavour" in 1973 and "Le Temps des Avants" (The Times Before) in 2003.
For his 80th birthday, Aznavour sang in the famous Palais des Congres in Paris and then toured France and Belgium. He celebrated his 90th birthday with a concert in Berlin.
Married three times, Aznavour had six children. He is survived by his wife of more than four decades, Ulla.
Samuel Petrequin contributed to this story.