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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Chirac leads tributes to Distel
Sacha Distel
Distel had been battling against illness, his record company said
Tributes have been coming in for French singer Sacha Distel, who died on Thursday after a long illness at the age of 71.

President Jacques Chirac said "with his melodies full of happiness and optimism, Distel lit up the lives of millions of French people."

French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said Distel "had 'swing' under his skin".

Distel is best known for his version of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

"For him, it was always 'The Good Life', the symbol of good humour and charm," Mr Raffarin said.

The crooner, who had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s, started out in music as a professional jazz guitarist at the age of 16.

He died on Thursday in Rayol-Canadel in the region of Var, the AFP news agency reported.

'Warmth'

Distel made his British theatre debut as smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn in the London West End production of the Bob Fosse musical Chicago in December 2000.

His songs enchanted us. Listening to his songs made us feel young again
Singer Mireille Mathieu

"I'm deeply saddened by the news of Sacha's passing. The West End company of Chicago was honoured to count him as a member of their family," Chicago's New York producer Barry Weisseler said.

"His legendary talent, warmth and generous spirit will be greatly missed."

In France, singer Mireille Mathieu said she was "devastated" by the death of Distel.

"I owe him so much. He gave me first chance to sing on the Sacha Show in 1965.

"He is the spiritual son of Maurice Chevalier. His songs enchanted us. Listening to his songs made us feel young again."

Sacha Distel
Distel was a heart-throb to millions

She added: "He was an ambassador of charm and French romanticism. We will always remember Mr Scoubidou."

A spokeswoman for the French Music Bureau in London said he was "an unmissable figure of both jazz and chanson in France".

She added: "Sacha Distel was a great jazz guitarist and a crooner who worked with Jeanne Moreau, Juliette Greco and Brigitte Bardot."

Singer Amanda Lear said: "He was one of the few French singers known overseas. Everywhere, he was a star."

"Everywhere in the world, Sacha was the symbol of the French romantic".

Distel's love of jazz led him to London's Ronnie Scott's jazz club in the 1980s as the backdrop for a photoshoot.

Private

Bonny Blair, assistant to the club's owner Pete King, said she remembered him asking to use the club's interior for his press interviews and pictures.

"He was really very sweet," she told BBC News Online.

"He never played here, but I remember he met my mother, who was a big fan - she didn't know what to say."

Distel scored his first hit with Scoubidou in 1958 and went on to record more than 200 songs.

Everywhere in the world, Sacha was the symbol of the French romantic
Amanda Lear

He worked alongside some of the music greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett and Quincy Jones.

Considered a heart-throb around the world, he also appeared in a number of French films and television programmes.

He even had his own TV show in the US, where he was also hugely popular.

Distel had a high-profile relationship with Brigitte Bardot, but wed championship skier Francine Breaud in 1963.

Distel will be buried at a private funeral in France in line with his last wishes, his record company said on the singer's website.

"He had already won several battles with illness but illness won the war," a statement from Universal Music France said.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"His easy charm was still entrancing audiences 50 years after he first appeared"



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