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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Françoise Hardy, moody French pop star, dies at 80

Françoise Hardy in New York, Nov. 30, 1966. Hardy, an introspective pop singer who became a hero to French youth in the 1960s with her moody ballads, died on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. She was 80. (Sam Falk/The New York Times)

By Adam Nossiter

Françoise Hardy, an introspective pop singer who became a hero to French youth in the 1960s with her moody ballads, died on Tuesday. She was 80.

Her death, from cancer, was announced by her son, Thomas Dutronc, in a post on Instagram, saying simply, “Mom is gone.” No other details were provided.

With songs like her breakthrough 1962 hit, “Tous les Garçons et les Filles” (“All the Boys and Girls”), and later “Dans le Monde Entier” (“All Over the World”); her lithe look, prized by star fashion designers; and her understated personality, Hardy incarnated a 1960s cool still treasured by the French.

“How can we say goodbye to her?” President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a statement on Wednesday, a play on the title of Hardy’s 1968 hit “Comment Te Dire Adieu” (“How Can I Say Goodbye to You?”).

She was the only French singer on Rolling Stone’s 2023 list of the 200 best singers of all time.

Hardy’s ethereal, almost frail voice expressed a particular kind of French youthful ennui, though it became fuller with the years. She sang of love sought and not found, of love lost, of time passing, of hopes unfilled, in words written by herself, by French pop legend Serge Gainsbourg and even by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick Modiano (who wrote, in the song “Etonnez-moi, Benoit,” “Astonish-me, Benedict, walk on your hands, swallow some pine cones, Benedict”).

Hardy captured the melancholy of her generation, born, like her, at the end of World War II and, like her, unsatisfied by France’s material progress in the decades after, in the “Trente Glorieuses,” or “30 Glorious Years.”

That youthful discontent, anticipated by the Existentialists — she was sometimes considered their pop-singer adept — exploded in the demonstrations in France of May 1968, when her fame was at its peak, though she disapproved of them and fled to her retreat in Corsica. The words Gainsbourg wrote for her that year incarnated the icon of cool she had already become: “Under no pretext/Would I want to have/The reflexes of unhappiness.”

Indeed, her cult of steely, solitary sadness would keep her well shy of movements of mass solidarity, rejecting what she called “the intolerances of the left” and steering her later toward right-leaning affinities with the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, or misanthropic writer Michel Houellebecq.

A damaged childhood with a single mother led Hardy to seek refuge in inner exploration, through songwriting. As she told Le Monde in 2016: “I am incapable of dissimulating and lying. Writing a song, on the contrary, forces you to go deep into what you have lived, and felt.” Songwriting, she said, was “an outlet.”

Everything was already present in the lyrics to her first hit, “All the Boys and Girls,” which she wrote in 1962 and which sold more than 2 million copies. She later disavowed the song (“I’m ashamed of ‘Tous Les Garçons et les Filles,’” she said in 1995, when a collection of her work was released), but all the essential sentiments of longing and nostalgia were there:

“And me, I walk alone, because I am loved by nobody,” she sang. “Without joy, and full of ennui. When will the sun shine for me? Like the girls and boys of my age, I ask, When will my day come … the day when my soul is no longer in pain?”

Her career was launched. The next year, 1963, she released her first LP, received a major French music award, the Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros, and appeared on the cover of Paris Match. By 1965, she had become a hit across the English Channel, recording a 45-rpm single in London, “All Over the World.”

Bob Dylan fell for her, writing about her in the liner notes of his album “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” from 1964. He began, “For Françoise Hardy/At the Seine’s edge/A giant shadow/Of Notre-Dame.” When he held his first concert in Paris, at the Olympia, in May 1966, he refused to return to the stage after an intermission unless she came to see him in his dressing room. Dylan was 25; Hardy was 22. She duly appeared.

Hardy’s singular look — tall, long brown hair, a natural reticence — catapulted her into the worlds of fashion and film. She was dressed by André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne and Yves Saint Laurent and appeared in movies by Roger Vadim (“Castle in Sweden,” 1963) and John Frankenheimer (“Grand Prix,” 1966).

She disliked filming, however (“I cried every night,” she told the Le Monde interviewer), and soon stopped. In the 1970s and ’80s, there were more albums and experiments with jazz and bossa nova styles, but by then the public fascination with her had cooled, and in 1988 she announced that she would stop singing, though she continued to write songs for others.

She returned to singing in the late 1990s and 2000s with a turn toward a more rock-oriented style, making an album with the son, Thomas, she had with her one-time husband, Jacques Dutronc.

In later years, as illness overtook her — she was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 — she retreated into astrology and gloomy autobiographical writings. “The pessimism I attribute to myself, or that others attribute to me, is perhaps quite simply realism,” she was quoted as saying in 1997, after a concert with singer Julien Clerc.

Françoise Madeleine Hardy was born on Jan. 17, 1944, in German-occupied Paris in a clinic at the top of the Rue des Martyrs, in the 9th arrondissement, in the middle of an air raid. Her mother, Madeleine Hardy, was a bookkeeper, and her father, Étienne Dillard, who was largely absent during her childhood, was an already-married industrialist. The class divide between her mother and her sometime-father marked her life, as she made clear in interviews.

She went to a Roman Catholic parochial school in the neighborhood and later attended classes at the Institut d’Études Politiques and the Sorbonne.

But it was the gift of a guitar from her father, after she had received her high school diploma at 16, that proved decisive, she later remembered. She would practice for hours in the kitchen of her mother’s tiny apartment. By age 17, she had landed her first recording contract.

She would later say that her long relationship with Dutronc, whom she finally married in 1981, having first met him in 1967, inspired the “sufferings, frustrations, disillusions and profound self-interrogations” that suffused her songs. They separated in 1988.

As her health declined in the 2000s, after her cancer diagnosis, Hardy became an outspoken supporter of euthanasia. In 2016, she was placed in a coma, her doctors thinking that she would never wake up. She did, and went on to record another album, “Personne d’Autre” (“Nobody Else”), which proved to be her last, in 2018.

Her son is her only immediate survivor.

In his statement Wednesday, Macron described Hardy as a singer who “with reserved elegance, almost shy, didn’t hesitate to lay bare, raw emotion, in her sentimental ballads.”

“She sang of love,” he said, “that was dreamed, deceived, wounded.”

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