1991.03.07 Reuters "Women, whisky and regret at funeral of French rebel singer"

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  • Publication: 1991.03.07 Reuters

Women, whisky and regret at funeral of French rebel singer

French poet-singer Serge Gainsbourg once said women, whisky and cigarettes were the most important things in his life. All three were there when he was buried in a Paris cemetery on Thursday. The women - film stars Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Adjani, his British-born former wife Jane Birkin and their teenager daughter Charlotte, and widow Bambou - came to mourn him. A bottle of Gainsbourg's favourite whisky and Gitanes cigarettes were laid by fans. They left the 62-year-old musician's favourite means of self-destruction lying amongst the crowded tombstones at Montparnasse cemetery.

Gainsbourg's heart-attack death, alone in his Paris flat on Saturday, saddened a nation touched by his rebellious personality and a lifetime's tempt for bourgeois values.

Family and close friends staged a simple private ceremony, with Deneuve, in trembling voice, reading a Gainsbourg verse aloud. Two photographers disguised themselves as undertakers to snap the stars.

When police threw open the gates to the public, ageing hippies, shaven-head young trendies and tearful teenage girls clutching single red roses out for the man who provoked France for four decades. "I cried all night when I heard he was dead," said one girl.

His simple wooden coffin was piled high with white blossoms and the spring was sweet with scent. Among scores of wreaths were two sent by the police precincts in southern Paris where he regularly went for a chat when depressed.

Some affectionate fans placed three cabbages, complete with Gainsbourg's mark dark glasses, cigarette stubs and crumpled shirts, at the foot of a grave. Harbouring few illusions about his hang-dog appearance and jug ears, gainsbourg dubbed himself "cabbage head". A middle-aged Jew in a skull cap read out the prayer for the dead, oblivious his surroundings. A youngster with a ghetto-blaster sent Gainsbourg hits out over the cemetery, where philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and poet Charles Baudelaire lie buried.

"I've left my metro ticket on the grave," mumbled one ageing rocker, sporting leathers and bandana. "Le poinçonneur des lilas," Gainsbourg's bleak lament of a Paris metro ticket collector, catapulted him to fame in the 1950s and he rarely left the limelight after that.

The son of Russian Jews who fled the October Revolution, he failed as a painter but succeeded in music, handling jazz, reggae and rock with equal virtuosity. Best known abroad for his hit "Je t'aime... moi non plus", banned in 1969 because of its background of orgasmic moans, his taste for provocation often masked his sensitivity and gift for language and rhythm.