Françoise Hardy, French Singer and Actor Who Became International Icon in 1960s, Dies at 80

Françoise Hardy, a French singer, actor and model whose classical beauty and often melancholy music combined to transfix fans internationally in the 1960s and beyond, has died at age 80.

Her son, Thomas Dutronc, also a musician, reported the death on his Instagram account, posting a baby photo of himself with his mother and writing: “Maman est partie.” Or, mom is gone.

Hardy had battled cancer for at least the last two decades, and had been known to have been fighting lymphoma and laryngeal since 2004.

In a sign of her ongoing legend, in 2023, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Hardy as No. 162 on a ranking of the greatest singers of all time. She was the only French performer on the list. Will Hermes wrote that Hardy “epitomized French cool and Gallic heat simultaneously, with a breathy, deadpan alto that wafted like Gauloises smoke. Her words enhanced her tone: Writing her own material, unusual in the early mid-Sixties, especially for women, she also recorded work by masters like Serge Gainsbourg, and her take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ may be the most evocative ever recorded, his included.” Hermes wrote that her dozens of album releases “still make existentialism sound impossibly elegant.”

Hardy also became a model, for designers like and an actor, and was perhaps best remembered by American audiences for John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix” in 1966. Her screen appearances spanned 13 years, from 1963’s “Castle in Sweden” to her 1976 swan song, Claude Lelouch’s “If It Had to Be Done Again.” Other acting roles included “A Bullet in the Heart” and a cameo in “What’s New, Pussycat?”

“I was very naïve and a well-brought up young woman,” Hardy told the New York Times in 2018, describing a film career she felt ill-suited for. “I couldn’t see how I could turn down offers by well-known film directors. However, I far preferred music to cinema. Music and chanson allow you to go deep into yourself and how you feel, while cinema is about playing a part, playing a character who might be miles away from who you are.”

Hardy had her first music hit, “Tous les Garcons et les Filles” (“All the Boys and Girls”), in 1962, when she was just 18. She had her biggest English-language smash in 1968 with “It Hurts to Say Goodbye,” written by Serge Gainsbourg, which went to No. 1 in the U.K. as well as her native France.

She sang in French, English, Italian and German, and drew admirers from the ranks of the biggest stars in the world. Bob Dylan was among her admirers, addressing her with a poem on the back cover of his early album “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” When he came to Paris to do his first concert there, Hardy recalled, he refused to return to the stage unless she agreed to meet him.

In 2018, after enduring a further series of health issues, Hardy made what turned out to be her final comeback, publishing an autobiography, “The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles,” and issuing a new album, “Personne d’Autre” (“Nobody Else”), her 28th.

The round of press she did to promote these projects marked quite a turnaround from her condition just two years earlier, when she had been placed in an induced coma and was not expected to be revived.

Hardy maintained an interest in music into her later years. In 2017, her byline appeared on the website Talkhouse as she extolled the band Cigarettes After Sex at some length.

“It was a real thunderbolt: It was exactly the music I prefer, and which I have been looking for all my life,” she wrote about the group. “If something may define me and my songs, it is romantic loneliness. It probably has something to do with the lyrics, but what all of Cigarettes After Sex’s songs suggest to me has more to do with love, sensuality, tenderness, beauty and melancholy than with the opposites of those things. I don’t have so many really sensual songs, and all Greg’s songs are sensual… only some of mine are like that.”

She spoke of her delight in learning that Greg Gonzales, the singer of Cigarettes After Sex, was a fan of hers, and enthused over getting to meet the band for dinner in Paris. “Here in Corsica, I want my husband and our friends to be as fond of this music as I am, so I play it over and over again, as loudly as possible. Though I feel very young in my head, I am unfortunately too old now to play Cigarettes After Sex’s music during a romantic night with a ‘fiancé’—as many of their other fans certainly do,” she wrote.

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