'She' singer Charles Aznavour dies, aged 94

Politicians call for an hommage national as tributes pour in for 'France's Frank Sinatra'

1 October 2018
By Connexion journalist

Politicians have called for an hommage national for the singer Charles Aznavour, who died on Monday, October 1, at the age of 94.

The singer died at his home in Alpilles, southeastern France, after returning from a tour in Japan. Last summer he had to cancel several concerts after breaking his arm in a fall. He had been due to take on a seven-date tour across France and Switzerland in November.

Minister of Culture Françoise Nyssen said on franceinfo that, "France must pay him a great tribute", but did not say what form it may take.

An hommage national is more usually associated with the military, but can be extended to include civilians. This form of tribute follows a formal protocol that includes a eulogy from the President. 

Johnny Hallyday, who died in December, was honoured with a less formal hommage populaire ceremony, attended by the Head of State.

'National' funerals (obsèques nationales), such as the one for Simone Veil in July 2017, are reserved for people who have played an exceptional role in French life. They are subject to a decree of the President; while le deuil national (national mourning) are less common still. It was last declared to honour the victims of the 2015 terror attacks, and also for former presidents Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and François Mitterrand. 

Meanwhile, tributes have poured in for the singer. The Eiffel Tower lit up in gold on Monday in Aznavour's honour, while hundreds of Armenians gathered in Yerevan to mourn a "son of the people" and all Armenian channels broadcast his songs and programmes dedicated to his life. And Quebec mayor Valérie Plante said Aznavour - an honorary citizen of the city of Montreal - had "taken us on a journey to the sound of his poetry and music".

Aznavour, who was born Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian in Paris to Armenian parents, is best known for the 1974 ballad She. The English version spent four weeks at No 1 in the UK singles chart, and the song was also recorded in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Other popular hits include La Bohème, La Mamma and Emmenez-moi - and Aznavour was unafraid of taking on taboo subjects. His 1973 hit, What Makes a Man, was about a gay transvestite.

He also starred in a number of films after leaving school at the age of nine to take up acting. He starred in Francois Truffaut’s Tirez Sur la Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player), Claude Chabrol’s Les Fantômes du Chapelier (The Hatter’s Ghost), and the 1979 Oscar-winning film adaptation of Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum.

Aznavour sold more than 100 million records in 80 countries, and wrote an estimated 1,300 of the songs that bear his name. He was sometimes referred to as the French Frank Sinatra, was named entertainer of the century by CNN in 1998, and was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017.

He was heavily involved in charity work and founded an organisation after the 1988 Armenian earthquake. In 2009 he was appointed ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland and he also became Armenia's delegate to the United Nations in Geneva.

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
Brexit and Beyond for Britons in France*
Featured Help Guide
What the Brexit deal means for UK residents of France, second homeowners and visitors in 2021 and after
Get news, views and information from France