His arduous road to success lasted 20 years. Booed by the public, mocked by journalists, he would find strength to keep walking out on the stage until he finally became heard.
Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian was born on May 22, 1924 in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, to Armenian immigrants Michael Aznavourian (from Akhaltsikhe) and Knar Baghdasarian from Izmir, an Armenian Genocide survivor. At 9 he already sang and acted on the stage, at 16 he made his film debut. His big break came in 1946 when Edith Piaf heard him sing and arranged to take him and pianist Pierre Roche with her on a tour.
The tour was a fleeting one, with the songstress planning to perform in America and inviting the artists along. The promise was soon forgotten, outshadowed by Piaf’s new love affair. Aznavour and Roche left instead for a Canada concert, which proved quite successful.
Several months later, Aznavour, exuding contentment, returned to Paris, only to be ridiculed by Piaf for his too-garish clothing. The singer was mortified, however, somehow he could not stay mad at her. “Edith was a miracle,” Aznavour said years later, “and you can’t quite resist a miracle.”
In vain would Aznavour strive to convince friends that his attachment to the songstress was completely platonic. Soon enough, Aznavour himself became unable to define his feelings for Edith - too painful to be called friendship, to platonic to be called passion. He moved to Piaf’s apartment, became her driver, secretary and drinking companion – a slave to her every whim.
“Charles, your nose is horrible,” Edith teased one day at a little restaurant, with her new lover Eddie Constantine, and a couple of friends watching. And before Aznavour could utter a word in defense of his ill-fated nose, a surgery was arranged, along with a farewell party for his nose. The guests feasted into early hours of morning, and with only a couple of hours left before the surgery, the songstress suddenly said, “you know, your nose is not half bad.” Vexed, the singer dragged himself to the surgery, hating himself, Piaf and the whole stupid world… He yearned for escape.
The day after Chales moved out, the whole Paris was alive with rumors of Piaf dumping him. The friends disappeared in a whiff, with the doors of show business shut tight before him.
Charles with his friend and accompanist Roche would beat down the doors of Paris nightclubs and variety shows. The Aznavour-Roche duo was funny to look at: a brisk little Armenian guy, and a lanky French aristocrat with a temper of a crocodile and pompousness of a priest. Sometimes, they were allowed on the stage, to sing a couple of songs and earn some francs. At other times, they managed to sell a couple of songs. Later, Aznavour’s father volunteered for army, leaving the singer as family’s only provider.
Here he was a poor newcomer again. Year after year, Aznavour proved that he’s capable of major achievements. As the singer shot to fame, his one-time enemies started to impose their friendships. Like Piaf, he now had his own fleet of admirers. He achieved worldwide fame, yet now it was a cold comfort. Once again, he felt like a little Armenian vagrant – lonely and hapless. Edith Piaf died December 11, 1963. They hardly ever met in the last years; with Edith’s deteriorating health, her decease didn’t come as a surprise, still, Aznavour sincerely mourned her death, and the loss of the part of his life that left him with Edith, to never come back.
Today, according to CNN and Time polls, Charlez Aznavour is named the best chansonnier of the 20th century.
Every year, French actors, singers and directors get a benevolence award for their attitude towards journalists. As a prize, the winners receive oranges and the losers are given lemons. In 1970, Aznavour was honored with a huge basket of oranges.
The crooner’s 2001 performance in Yerevan, attended by the Roman Pope John Paul II, was among the most unforgettable events. Aznavour sang “Ave, Maria” at an eternal fire for the Armenian Genocide victims. It was truly a prayer: the singer’s hands shook, as did his voice, and the elderly Pope listened, and seemed to offer up a prayer along with Aznavour....