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Dalida: the woman whose immense musical success was only dwarfed by her tragic private life

By Nina Steele 

Dalida’s rendition of the song ‘Je suis malade’, which translates in English as ‘I am ill’, is haunting and inevitably draws comparison to her life and state of mind at the time. The year was 1973, 14 years before her untimely death, aged 54. The lyrics are extremely sad and evocative of someone in the throes of depression. Depression was an illness she battled with, for much of her adult life.

Dalida (born Yolanda Gigliotti- 1933 – 1987), who was childless, can only be described as one of the greatest and most successful artists the world has ever known. That “platinum and diamond record certificates were invented for her”, gives you an idea of how successful she was. To date, she is said to have “sold 140 million albums and singles worldwide”. Although she was of Italian heritage, she was born in Cairo and moved to France in 1954. She became a French citizen in 1961 and was and still is hugely popular with the French public. So much so that, she came second in a poll for “personalities who had the greatest impact on French society”.

Her story is a classic example of the extreme duality in circumstances some people experience during their lifetime. As mentioned before, on the career front, she was arguably one of the greatest and most successful artists that has ever lived, and that success has continued to this day. On the other hand, her private life was marred by one tragedy after another.

In 1967 her lover committed suicide. It was to be the first of many among some of the people closest to her. That first suicide hit her very hard to the point of attempting to take her own life. Her first suicide attempt, a month after her lover died, failed. However, she is said to have “spent five days in a coma”. And even though she recovered physically and continued to be greatly successful, by then, depression had entered her life and it would never leave her.

The further suicides of people close to her, meant a worsening of her already fragile state of mind. Her first husband who also happened to be the man who discovered her, committed suicide in 1970. Two more suicides would follow, one was of a close friend and the other, a former lover. She is said to have become convinced that she brought men bad luck. All these events would lead to her second suicide attempt, only this time, she succeeded. It was on May 2, 1987. The suicide note she left behind read: “Life is unbearable for me. Forgive me”.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death, her brother gave an interview in which he tried to make sense of the events that led to her death. In addition to the loss of the people close to her, the interview also alluded to the fact that her childlessness was not a choice she made. That she was childless not by choice, the article concluded, may have been a contributing factor in her depression.

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