Many regrets of Edith Piaf revealed in her love letters

John Lichfield
Friday 06 May 2011 00:00 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Edith Piaf did, it appears, regret many things. The great diva of la chanson française craved a "normal" life, with children, "pretty curtains" and a cycling champion for a husband, according to a volume of her love letters published in France.

"You have rescued me just in time. I have sworn in Church that I will never touch another glass of alcohol (if we marry)," Piaf wrote to the French pursuit cycling champion, Louis Gérardin in 1952. She promised to "transform" her life and spoke of having children, "pretty curtains and a beautiful dinner service".

The letters, not the first Piaf love epistles to be published but among the most frank, speak with the familiar, uncompromisingly passionate voice of her songs. She writes of her adoration for Gérardin's "beautiful thighs" and "pretty buttocks".

"No man has possessed me as much as you," she writes. She finishes another letter, orgasmically: "Je t'aimmmmmmmmmmmmmmmme" with 16 "m's".

On 13 April 1952, Piaf wrote: "This is what I would like before leaving for America. To be so worn out, so filled with love, that I cannot make love any more for months but await my marvellous return to be with you again like your little pet dog."

Piaf's love affair with Gérardin lasted for less than a year in 1951-52, a decade before she released her most celebrated song, "Je Ne Regrette Rien" and 12 years before her death.

When she met the champion cyclist, the singer had gone badly off the rails. She had plunged into extreme alcohol and drug abuse following the death in a plane accident of her previous lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan.

Piaf evidently saw Gérardin as the man to return her to the straight and narrow. "I want to completely better myself, I want to be worthy of you, you must help me to transform, you will be my little professor, dear, and I will blindly listen to you like a master that I adore," she wrote in January 1952.

But there were two obstacles to a happy ending. First, Gérardin was already married. Second, he seems to have been dazzled – but also exhausted – by Piaf. He was reported to have said that 48 hours with the singer was "more tiring than riding in the Tour de France".

The 54 letters, written between November 1951 and September 1952, were sold to an unknown buyer for €67,000 at Christies in Paris in 2009. They have now been published in full in a book called Mon amour bleu (My Blue Love).

Piaf's love affair with Gérardin is one of the lesser known of her romantic adventures. She was 36 when she met the blond, blue-eyed cycling champion. He was 39. Addressing him as "Toto", she frequently expresses a desire to marry him and have his children. She also occasionally reveals remorse for the sufferings of Gérardin's wife, Bichette.

The affair ended in September 1952 when, engaged to the French singer Jacques Pills, she wrote to Gérardin from New York to say: "When you receive this letter I will be married."

Piaf's doomed romances

* At the height of her fame, the chanteuse expressed her undying love for the celebrated Greek actor Dimitris Horn. Piaf had met "Taki"during a European tour in 1946. "I love you as I have never loved anyone, Taki, don't break my heart," she wrote to him.

* In the summer of 1948, Piaf had a passionate love affair with the married boxer Marcel Cerdan. But it was not to last – just a year later, Cerdan died in a plane crash. Piaf blamed herself (she had begged Cerdan to visit her despite his fear of flying) and fell into a deep drug and alcohol-fuelled depression.

* Piaf found no better luck in marriage. In 1952, she tied the knot with French singer Jacques Pills in the presence of the actress Marlene Dietrich, but the pair divorced three years later.

* Piaf's second marriage, to Greek hairdresser Theophanis Lamboukas, 26, came in 1962 but was short-lived. Piaf died, aged just 48, the following year.

Enjoli Liston

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