France Gall: French singer who inspired My Way dies age 70

France Gall in Paris, 1968.
France Gall in Paris in 1968. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

The French singer France Gall, who inspired the original version of the song that became a worldwide hit for Frank Sinatra as My Way, has died in a Paris hospital aged 70, her spokeswoman announced.

On learning of her death from an infection two years after she was diagnosed with cancer, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, tweeted: “She leaves behind songs that everyone in France knows, and set an example of a life devoted to others.”

The French culture minister, Françoise Nyssen, described her as “a timeless icon of French song”.

The song that became My Way was originally released in 1968 as Comme d’Habitude by singer-songwriter Claude François as a bleak reflection on the breakup of his affair with Gall.

In the original version, the final curtain was lowering on love, not on life as in the Sinatra version: the about-to-be-forsaken lover returns to an empty house, “as usual”, and retires “all alone ... in this big, empty bed”.

France Gall appearing on French TV in 2012.
France Gall appearing on French TV in 2012. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Gall, born into a musical family in 1947, recorded her first hit, Don’t Be So Stupid, when she was 16. In 1965, she won the Eurovision song contest, representing Luxembourg, with the Serge Gainsbourg song Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son – beating the UK’s Kathy Kirby. A tribute to her was posted on the Eurovision website, and a tweet from the official Eurovision account expressed sorrow “on behalf of the entire Eurovision family”.

Gainsbourg later plunged Gall into controversy when she had a massive hit with his sexually suggestive song, Les Sucettes (Lollipops), complete with promotional images of her dressed in a skimpy bikini and licking a lolly. She said later she had been too young to understand the double entendre of the lyrics, and refused either to perform it or to work with Gainsbourg again.

Despite her success, Gall’s life was marked by tragedy. She had another major international hit in 1987 with the album Babacar – including the song Ella, elle l’a, her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald – with music and lyrics by her husband and musical partner Michel Berger, who died in 1992 aged 44. She retired from recording and performing in 1997, following the death from cystic fibrosis of their eldest child, Pauline. She devoted herself largely to humanitarian work until a comeback performance in a 2015 stage show based on her and her husband’s songs.

The rights to Comme d’Habitude were bought by the singer-songwriter Paul Anka after he heard it by chance while staying in Paris. He completely rewrote the English lyrics into an end-of-life boastful valediction, especially for Frank Sinatra, who released his version in 1969.