Claude Antoine Marie François
(1 February 1939 – 11 March 1978), also known by the nickname Cloclo
, was a French pop singer, songwriter and dancer.François wrote and composed "Comme d'habitude", the original version of "My Way" and "Parce que je t'aime mon enfant", the original version of "My Boy". Some of his most famous songs are "Le lundi au soleil", "Magnolias for Ever" and "Alexandrie Alexandra".François sold some 70 million records during his career (and after his death) and was about to embark for the U.S. when he accidentally electrocuted himself in March 1978 at age 39. Former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is quoted as saying Claude François was, to him, the equivalent of The Beatles.
The son of a French father and an Calabrian mother, François was born in Egypt, in the city of Ismaïlia, where his father, Aimé François (1908–1961), was working as a shipping traffic controller on the Suez Canal. In 1951, the job took the family to the city of Port Tawfiq on the Gulf of Suez.The singer's full name was Claude Antoine Marie. It was traditional in his father's family to give boys names that start with the letter A, but his mother managed to impose her will and named him "Claude." "Antoine" was then given as a middle name, and "Marie", the name of the Virgin Mary, was also given in order to protect the child. François had an older sister, Josette (born 1934), who wrote her memoirs in 2008.François' mother, Lucia Mazzeï (1910–1992), also known as Chouffa, was very musical and had her son take piano and violin lessons. On his own, the boy learned to play the drums. As a result of the 1956 Suez Crisis, the family returned to live in Monaco, where they struggled financially after François' father fell ill and could not work. A young François found a job as a bank clerk and at night earned extra money playing drums with an orchestra at the luxury hotels along the French Riviera. With a good but untested nasal singing voice, he was offered a chance to sing at a hotel in the fashionable Mediterranean resort town of Juan-les-Pins. His show was well received and eventually he began to perform at the glamorous night-clubs along the Côte d'Azur. While working the clubs, he met Janet Woolcoot, an English dancer whom he married in 1960.
François moved to Paris, where there were many more opportunities to pursue his career. At the time, American rock and roll was taking hold in France and he took a job as part of a singing group in order to make a living. With the goal of eventually making it as a solo act, he paid the cost to record a 45rpm. Trying to capitalize on the American dance craze "The Twist", François recorded a song titled "Nabout Twist" that proved a resounding failure. Undaunted, in 1962 he recorded a cover version in French of an Everly Brothers song, "Made to Love" (aka "Girls Girls Girls"). Written by Phil Everly, it had been only a minor hit in America (Eddie Hodges took the song to number 14 in the Billboard charts in July 1962), but François' rendition titled "Belles Belles Belles" rocked to the top of the French charts, selling close to two million copies and making him an overnight star.Under a new manager, François' career continued to blossom. In 1963 he followed the first success with another French adaptation of an American song, this time recording If I Had a Hammer
and Walk Right In
in French as Si j'avais un marteau
and Marche Tout Droit
. François met Michel Bourdais who was working for the well-known French magazine Salut les Copains
("Hi Buddies"). He liked the rigor and the precision of Michel’s drawings and asked him to draw his portrait. This drawing has remained very famous. Capitalizing on his blond good looks, he mimicked Elvis Presley's stage style as well as the slicked-back hair. Performing in sequined suits, François gave high-energy stage performances that had hordes of adoring teenage fans racing to the music shops to purchase his latest record or lining up to buy a ticket for his shows.On 5 April 1963, he headlined at the Paris Olympia, a sign that he had arrived. At the end of that year, François created original new dance steps, and Michel Bourdais drew them. For the first time, they brought up the idea of setting up a show with female dancers. In January 1965, while returning from a trip to Las Vegas, Francois, fascinated by the American shows, decided to take them as a model, and eventually the project of performing on the stage with a female dancer band became clear in his mind.A dedicated professional, François worked hard to achieve success, producing a string of massively popular hit songs and touring constantly. With the onslaught of Beatlemania, he covered their hits in French, adjusted the hair style a little and kept his success moving ahead. But his talent for kitsch extended beyond copying the works others had made famous, and he wrote songs for himself and displayed a melodic voice when singing romantic ballads.In 1966, François created a complete new stage act using four female dancers as backup. Named "Les Claudettes
," the sexy girls danced in the background while François did his own energetic work center stage. In a return to the Paris Olympia he added eight musicians and a full orchestra to his backup dancers, putting on a spectacular show that filled every seat in the large theater and left fans standing in the street for lack of tickets.In 1967, he was divorced from his wife and he began a relationship with Eurovision-winning singer France Gall. Their affair was short-lived and he soon met Isabelle Forêt, with whom he had two sons in two years. Flushed with enormous success and confidence, he established his own record company. In 1967, he and Jacques Revaux wrote and composed a song in French called "Comme d'habitude" ("As Usual"), which became a hit in Francophone countries. Canadian singing star Paul Anka reworked it for the English-speaking public into the now legendary hit most famously sung by Frank Sinatra as "My Way".He also sang the original version of "Parce que je t'aime, mon enfant" ("Because I Love You My Child") in 1971, which, while remaining relatively little-known in France, was covered by Elvis Presley under the title "My Boy". Although François continued his successful formula of adapting English and American rock and roll hits for the French market, by the 1970s the market had changed and the disco craze that swept North America took root in France. For the versatile François, this was not a problem. He simply re-invented himself as the king of French disco, recording "La plus belle chose du monde", a French version of the Bee Gees' hit record, "Massachusetts".Looking for new talent, he came across a singing family of two sisters and their cousins. These ladies became known as "Les Flêchettes" (named after "Flêche", the production label he owned). He produced a couple of albums for them before his death, and the ladies went on to sing for some of the major stars in European music.He worked non-stop, touring across Europe, Africa and at major venues in Quebec in Canada. However, in 1971, his workload caught up with him when he collapsed on stage from exhaustion. After a brief period off, he returned to the recording studios, releasing several best-selling hits throughout the early 1970s. He expanded from owning his own record company to acquiring a celebrity magazine and a modeling agency. Although driven to achieve financial success, in 1974 he organized a concert to raise funds for a charity for handicapped children, and the following year he participated in a Paris concert to raise funds for medical research. By the mid-1970s he was single again, dating several well-known European stars. He continued to perform while overseeing his numerous business interests. In 1975, while in London, he narrowly escaped death when an IRA bomb exploded and two years later a gangster tried to shoot him while he drove his car. In 1977 and 1978, more than 15 years after his first hit record, he was still topping the musical charts with multi-million sales from hits such as "Alexandrie Alexandra" (which was released on the day of his burial) and performing to large audiences.
He performed an international career mostly in Belgium and Switzerland, but also in Italy, Spain, England and Canada. In 1976, his song "Le Telephone Pleure" ("Tears on the Telephone") reached #34 in the UK Top 40. On 16 January 1978, he performed, for the first time for a French singer, a gala at the Royal Albert Hall in London to an audience of 6000.
After working in Switzerland on 9 and 10 March and recording a television special for the BBC on Saturday, 11 March 1978, he returned to his Paris apartment in order to appear, the next day, on "Les Rendez-vous du Dimanche" with TV host Michel Drucker. While taking a shower, he noticed that the light fixture wasn't straight on the wall, he tried to straighten it and was accidentally electrocuted.François owned a house near the village of Dannemois in the Essonne department about 55 km (34 mi) south of Paris. It was a place where he liked to spend time relaxing—in the quiet countryside—and Dannemois is the town where he was buried. He also had a flat in Paris, 46 Boulevard Exelmans, where he died.
On 11 March 2000, on the 22nd anniversary of his death, Place Claude-François in Paris was named in his memory; it is located right in front of the building where he died.A biopic called Cloclo
internationally) was released in March 2012 to coincide with the anniversary of his death. It runs two and a half hours long and stars Jérémie Renier.