Name at birth: Edith Giovanni Gassion
Edith Piaf was one of the most popular French singers of the 1940s and '50s, internationally famous for her husky, mournful voice and her songs of loneliness and despair. Born in Paris to street entertainers, her childhood was marked by poverty, illness and temporary blindness. After a stint with her father's touring acrobatic act, she sang in the streets until she was discovered by promoter Louis Leplee, who re-named her "la môme Piaf" ("the waif sparrow"). The diminutive singer gained popularity as she toured France, singing in cabarets and vaudeville theaters and, beginning in 1936, performing on radio and recordings. Her great fame came after World War II, with her song "Le Vie en Rose" becoming an international standard. She toured the United States several times beginning in the late 1940s and English versions of her songs made the pop charts in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The anguish in her songs seemed to match the anguish in her personal life. Piaf had several ill-fated love affairs, including one with middleweight boxing champ Marcel Cerdan, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1949, and after a car accident in 1951 she became dependent on alcohol and morphine. Her songs include "Les Trois Cloches" ("The Three Bells"), "Vagabond" and "Milord."
In addition to being pals with Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland, Piaf is credited with helping the careers of French singers Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand… In the 2007 film La Vie En Rose, Piaf as an adult was portrayed by Marion Cotillard, who won the Academy Award as best actress for the role.