Death in Hollywood: Edith Piaf, French Chanteuse, 1915-1963

Years of alcohol abuse alongside copious amounts of medications, initially for rheumatoid arthritis and later insomnia, took their toll on Piaf’s health. A series of car accidents only exacerbated her addictions and she eventually underwent a series of surgeries for a stomach ulcer in 1959.

Coupled with a deteriorating liver and the need for a blood transfusion, by 1962 she had lost a significant amount of weight, reaching a low of 30 kg (66 pounds). Piaf drifted in and out of consciousness for several months.

She died at the age 47 on October 10, 1963, at her villa on the French Riviera in Plascassier (Grasse).

The cause of death is believed to be liver failure due to liver cancer and cirrhosis, though no autopsy was performed.

Her last words were “Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for.”

Sarapo drove her body back to Paris secretly so that fans would think she had died in her hometown.

Her old friend Jean Cocteau died the very next day; reportedly, he had a heart attack on hearing of Piaf’s death.

She is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to her daughter Marcelle, where her grave is among the most visited.

Buried in the same grave are her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, and Théo (Lamboukas) Sarapo. The name inscribed at the foot of the tombstone is Famille Gassion-Piaf. Her name is engraved on the side as Madame Lamboukas dite Édith Piaf.

Although she was denied funeral Mass by Cardinal Maurice Feltin since she had remarried after divorce in the Orthodox Church, her funeral procession drew thousands of mourners onto the streets of Paris, and the ceremony at the cemetery was attended by more than 100,000 fans.

Charles Aznavour recalled that Piaf’s funeral procession was the only time since the end of World War II that he saw Parisian traffic come to a complete stop.

On October 10, 2013, 50 years after her death, the Roman Catholic Church recanted and gave Piaf memorial Mass in the St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Belleville, Paris, the parish into which she was born.

Since 1963, the French media have continually published magazines, books, plays, television specials and films about the star often on the anniversary of her death.

In 1973, the Association of the Friends of Édith Piaf was formed, followed by the inauguration of the Place Édith Piaf in Belleville in 1981.

Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina named a small planet, 3772 Piaf, in her honor.

In Paris, a two-room museum is dedicated to her, the Musée Édith Piaf (5, Rue Crespin du Gast).

A concert at The Town Hall in New York City commemorated the 100th anniversary of Piaf’s birth on 19 December 2015. Hosted by Robert Osborne and produced by Daniel Nardicio and Andy Brattain, it featured Little Annie, Gay Marshall, Amber Martin, Marilyn Maye, Meow Meow, Elaine Paige, Molly Pope, Vivian Reed, Kim David Smith.

Films about Piaf

Piaf’s life has been the subject of several films and plays.

Piaf (1974), directed by Guy Casaril, depicted her early years
Piaf (1978), play by Pam Gems
Édith et Marcel (1983), directed by Claude Lelouch, Piaf’s relationship with Cerdan
Piaf … Her Story … Her Songs (2003), by Raquel Bitton
La Vie en rose (2007), directed by Olivier Dahan, with Marion Cotillard who won an Academy Award for Best Actress
The Sparrow and the Birdman (2010), by Raquel Bitton
Edith Piaf Alive (2011), by Flo Ankah
Piaf, voz y delirio (2017), by Leonardo Padrón.