Charles Aznavour, "France's Frank Sinatra," Dies at 94

charles aznavour performing - H 2014
AP Images

charles aznavour performing - H 2014

He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017.

Charles Aznavour, the singer and actor whose gestures and expressions conveyed the romance of Paris to worldwide audiences, has died at the age of 94.

The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that he died at his home in Alpilles.

An actor-turned-singer, he epitomized the French chansonnier and became known as France's answer to Frank Sinatra. His songs were half-sung, half-spoken acclamations of love. A popular-song stylist, Aznavour was a charismatic stage presence, despite his 5-foot 3-inch height and pedestrian appearance. He headlined at such Parisian venues as the Olympia and was very popular with international audiences.

In 2005, he was chosen as Entertainer of the Century in an online poll conducted by Time magazine, topping such superstars as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

In a career that spanned roughly six decades, Aznavour wrote more than 1,000 songs and sold more than 100 million records. He often wrote songs that were considered immoral. Until 1960, 60 percent of his songs were banned from French radio. He also wrote music with political or social themes, which he dubbed his "faits de societe" songs.

He was sung by all the great French musical stars, including Edith Piaf, his onetime mentor, and Maurice Chevalier.

As an actor, his most memorable role was as the barroom pianist with a troubled past in Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960).

When queried about which profession he preferred, singing or acting, he said, "Each of my songs is a story." He called himself a "happy sad singer."

In 1994, he signed a deal with EMI, which authorized a rerelease of his life's recordings, packaged in a series of 30 CDs in 1996. He was feted with a cover on Billboard that year, rare for a foreign singer.

His first film Head Against the Wall (1959) won him the Crystal Star Award from the French Motion Picture Academy. He was also memorable as the marathon runner in The Games (1970) and as a Jewish shopkeeper in Volker Schloendorff's The Tin Drum (1979).

He also performed in Atom Egoyan's Ararat, a 2002 film about the Armenian genocide. He was instrumental in erecting a commemorative statue for the victims in Paris.

As a singer, Aznavour packed French theaters and music halls. During a 15-year period in the '60s and '70s, only Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Elton John topped him in sales. He had a hit single, "She," in 1974, which later was covered by Elvis Costello and used in the romantic comedy Notting Hill and Tadpole.

He was popular with mainstream U.S. audiences, as well: On U.S. television, Aznavour performed in a dual concert on TV with Liza Minnelli titled Love From A to Z.

He entertained at the Hollywood Bowl with a program of songs in French and English, accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He finished with "Yesterday When I Was Young," which he wrote.

Sad-eyed and slight-framed, Aznavour won audiences by simple emotion. Time once characterized his music as follows: "His words are the plea of any poor devil, sung in any poor devil's voice."

"I sing about the ordinary things of life. My ideas are everyone's ideas. My problems are theirs," he said. "So the audience accepts me. I am not a handsome, talented man. My voice is froggy, everything about me is common. They identify with me."

In 1975, he starred in Claude Chabrol's Folies Bourgeoises, and, in 1983, toplined another Chabrol film, Le Fantome du Chapelier.

In U.S. films, he also played a wild hunchback in Candy and a villain in Harold Robbins' The Adventurers.

Other film credits include Tomorrow Is My Turn (1960), Taxi for Tobruk, (1961), High Fidelity (1964) and Paris in the Month of August (1966). For 20th Century Fox, he played a European police chief in Sky Riders (1976), which also starred James Coburn and Susannah York.

He was born Shahnour Varenagh Aznavurjian on May 22, 1924, in Paris to Armenian parents. His father was a singer, his mother an actress. At age 9, he entered acting and at 11 left school. He was 16 when World War II began and survived by selling newspapers and sweeping streets. He teamed with actor Pierre Roche in a double act and began a songwriting collaboration with Roche. He wrote songs for the likes of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier.

Aznavour was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986.

His most recent films include Le Comedien (1997), Les Momes (1999), Laguna (2001) and Ennemis publics (2005).

He was married three times and had six children.