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Charles Aznavour, French singer compared to Sinatra, dies at 94

Charles Aznavour, the French-born singer who collaborated with stars such as Frank Sinatra and Sting while pursuing his passion for Armenian causes during a 70-year music and film career, has died at 94.

The singer died in his home in Alpilles, in southeastern France, AFP news agency reported on Monday.

Best known for songs in his native French, Aznavour also sang in English, Italian, Spanish, German and Armenian, selling more than 180 million records, according to his website. His personal style was that of a crooner, backed by a jazzy big band, and singing of love and nostalgia. He recorded or performed with artists as varied as Sinatra, Ray Charles, Liza Minnelli, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Jose Carreras, Youssou N’Dour and Julio Iglesias.

Aznavour recorded more than 1,400 songs and appeared in more than 60 films. He performed on stage into his 90s.

Often called the “French Frank Sinatra,” Aznavour recorded a duet with the American singer on the song “You Make Me Feel So Young” for Sinatra’s 1993 album “Duets.” In the same year, Aznavour toured with Minnelli through Europe and the U.S., performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In 2008, he sang with Sting, Celine Dion and other stars on the album “Duos.”

“He now enjoys the magical status of international musical legend,” Alan Riding wrote in a 1998 New York Times article. “After the death of Frank Sinatra, he may well be the last practitioner of a song tradition that dates back to the 1940s.”

Aznavour was born on May 22, 1924, in Paris. His parents were Armenian immigrants who were waiting for a visa to move to the U.S. and ended up staying in France. His father, Mischa Aznavourian, was an opera singer who ran a restaurant where bands performed, while his mother, Knar Baghdasaryan, took temporary jobs as a seamstress.

Growing up in poverty, Aznavour dropped out of school early to perform in theaters with his sister, Aida. His big break came in 1946 when he was discovered by Edith Piaf who took him on tour to the U.S.

Aznavour broke through in France in 1956 with “Sur Ma Vie,” a sad love tale with echoes of Sinatra, and produced a series of hits throughout the 1960s, such as “For Me Formidable” and “Que c’est triste Venise.”

“The hollow cheeks, slight build and rasping voice were seen at last, not as a handicap, but as an indispensable trademark, and his songs with their gritty descriptions of everyday emotional drama and trauma really hit home,” according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1996.

In the 1970s, he had success in the U.K. with “She” and “The Old Fashioned Way,” sung in charmingly accented English.

Aznavour’s film career included main roles in Francois Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960 and the 1974 version of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” He also had a smaller part in the 1979 Oscar-winning movie “The Tin Drum.”

After touring to raise money for the 1988 Armenian earthquake, Aznavour became that country’s goodwill ambassador to UNESCO in 1995, and received Armenian citizenship in 2008. A year later, he became the Armenian ambassador to Switzerland. In France, he was associated with center-right politicians, supporting Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. He became an Officer of the Legion of Honor in France in 1997.

“I am not trying to boast, but I have to admit that for an uneducated son of an immigrant I could have done far worse,” he said on his website.

He was married three times and had six children.