1991.03.04 Associated Press "Singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg dies"

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Singer-Songwriter Serge Gainsbourg dies

France was mourning the death of Serge Gainsbourg, the singer, songwriter and provocateur whose image of unshaven decadence belied his often tender, sometimes naughty, tunes that spoke across generations. Gainsbourg, who had two children, died late Saturday at his Left Bank apartment at the age of 62. Initial doctors' accounts said Gainsbourg, ailing after years of heavy drinking and smoking, died of natural causes. Hundreds of people gathered in Gainsbourg's neighborhood at word of his death. Television and radio stations began a series of tributes to the man who for more than three decades used words, music and public antics to shock, scandalize or please his audience. French leaders, stars and collaborators had words of praise. President Francois Mitterrand, in a condolence message, said Gainsbourg "through his love for the language and his musical genius, lifted the song to the level of an art that will testify to the sensibilities of a generation.

Gainsbourg underwent a liver operation in April 1989. He was hospitalized six months later with heart trouble. He had suffered a heart attack in 1973. The Gainsbourg image - a three-day beard, cigarette smoke clouding his sleepy eyes and crooked nose, slurred, words softly spoken - were as much a part of the entertainer as his antics and his music. "I'm not of this world," said the man who once set a 500-franc note (worth about $100) afire on television and put the national anthem "La Marseillaise" to a reggae beat. For many years, Gainsbourg lived with British actress Jane Birkin and they had one daughter, Charlotte, also an actress.

He composed hundreds of songs, wrote film scores, acted in more than 20 movies, and, in 1987, wrote and directed Charlotte Forever, a tribute to his daughter. Born April 2, 1928, in Paris, the son of a pianist, Gainsbourg studied fine arts. Frustrated, however, he burned his canvases and launched a career in night clubs. His first album, released in the 1950s, won accolades.

Birkin, whom Gainsbourg met in 1968, remained his muse years after the couple separated in 1980. He recently composed an album of songs for her. "I'm not dead yet. I don't want Lulu to cry", Gainsbourg said recently, referring to his son with his current companion, Caroline Von Paulus. "I give myself 20 more years if I stop my fooling around."