Édith Piaf’s life was anything but rosy. Born in a Parisian slum, she was abandoned by her mother and lived for awhile in a brothel run by her grandmother. As a teenager she sang on the streets for money. She was addicted to alcohol and drugs for much of her life, and her later years were marred by chronic pain. Through it all, Piaf managed to hold onto a basically optimistic view of life. She sang with a lyrical abandon that seemed to transcend the pain and sorrow of living.
On April 3, 1954 Piaf was the guest of honor on the French TV show La Joie de Vivre. She was 38 years old but looked much older. She had recently undergone a grueling series of “aversion therapy” treatments for alcoholism, and was by that time in the habit of taking morphine before going onstage. Cortisone treatments for arthritis made the usually wire-thin singer look puffy. But when Piaf launches into her signature song, “La Vie en Rose” (see above), all of that is left behind.
Nine years after this performance, when Piaf died, her friend Jean Cocteau said of her: “Like all those who live on courage, she didn’t think about death–she defied it. Only her voice remains, that splendid voice like black velvet.”