Charles Aznavour: The charmed life of a French pop icon

Digital Originals

Charles Aznavour, a legendary French singer, composer, and actor who charmed fans for over eight decades, died on October 1st at the age of 94. One of France’s most prized entertainers, he had been an icon of French music since the end of World War II.

Aznavour began his career playing piano and writing for French songstress, Edith Piaf, who encouraged him to pursue his own spotlight.

Piaf and Aznavour

Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour in 1951. (CREDIT: AP)

At 5’3 and a slight frame, Aznavour was an unlikely pop-star. But his immense talents as a composer and performer helped propel him onto the international stage.

Considered by many to be the French Frank Sinatra, he penned over 1,000 songs and sold more than 180 million records. His turn of phrase and melody inspired singers throughout the world, including Liza Minnelli and Elvis Costello.

Screenshot of Francois Truffaut’s 1960 “Tirez sur le Pianiste” (Shoot the Pianist).

He also took several acclaimed turns at acting – appearing in such notable films as: Francois Truffaut’s 1960 “Tirez sur le Pianiste” (Shoot the Pianist); Volker Schloendorff’s 1979 “Die Blechtrommel” (The Tin Drum), and Atom Egoyan’s 2002 “Ararat.” – which dealt with the 1915 massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.

The subject of “Ararat” was one very close to his heart.

Aznavour’s Armenian parents had fled the violence of their homeland in the 1920s and made their way to France. Both performers, they opened a restaurant in Paris, where they exposed their children to the arts at an early age.

Aznavour and his parents

Aznavour and his parents in 1959. (PHOTO: Aznavour Foundation)

Born as Shanoun Varenagh Aznavourian in 1924, Aznavour later changed his stage name to appear more “French.” But he campaigned throughout his life in support of the Armenian diaspora, and for the world to recognize the 1915 killings as a genocide.

In 2002, the Armenian community in Los Angeles lobbied to grant Aznavour his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Up until the end, Aznavour never stopped performing. According to French news, he had just returned from a tour of Japan, and had been invited to perform at a summit in Armenia this month.

Upon news of his death, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted the following:

“Deeply French, viscerally attached to his Armenian roots, recognized throughout the world, Charles Aznavour will have accompanied the joys and sorrows of three generations.”

Edith Piaf – Charles Aznavour (duo) Plus bleu que le bleu de tes yeux

For this French television special in the 1990s, Charles Aznavour performs a virtual duet with his old friend and mentor, Edith Piaf, who died in 1963.