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Long queen of Parisian nights, businesswoman, Régine, who died on Sunday at the age of 92, was known to the public for songs like “La grande Zoa”, “Azzurro”, “Les p’tits papiers” or ” Patchouli Chinchilla”.
Laa singer Régine died at the age of 92, announced on Sunday 1er May, the artist’s granddaughter. Born in Belgium, Régine was nicknamed the “Queen of the night” because of the many discos she hosted in Paris and around the world.
Charles Aznavour, Barbara, Henri Salvador or Françoise Sagan have signed hits for this fighter with a bewitching and slightly hoarse voice, with a pragmatic, melancholic and humorous personality.
She has also made films, appearing in the credits of a dozen films, such as “Jeu de massacres” by Alain Jessua, “Robert et Robert” by Claude Lelouch or “Les ripoux” by Claude Zidi.
A hidden Jewish child
Régina Zylberberg was born on December 26, 1929 in Anderlecht to Polish Jewish parents. In Aix-en-Provence, in 1941, she escaped deportation thanks to non-Jewish French people, to whom she would owe eternal gratitude.
After the Liberation, the family moved to Paris, where the father opened a bar in Belleville. His daughter takes a liking to outings in the clubs of the capital.
A friend entrusts her with the animation of a nightclub in the center of Paris, rue de Beaujolais, the Whiskey à gogo, where she meets a beginner named Serge Gainsbourg. The young girl knows how to set the mood, sometimes has fun dancing with a full glass on her head, but prides herself on never drinking alcohol.
“The Great Zoa”
In 1956, she opened her first nightclub, Chez Régine, in the Latin Quarter. This will be followed by the opening in Montparnasse of New Jimmy’s, the club where you dance wild twists. “Time spent sleeping is time wasted,” assured this tireless party girl.
Nicknamed “the Great Zoa”, it opened night establishments in New York and Monaco, then in Brazil and Malaysia. Régine, then wearing a mullet as red as her boa, will manage a total of twenty discotheques. Andy Warhol, Liza Minelli, the Rothschilds or the Kennedys frequent its clubs.
She discovered the music hall in the 1960s. After passing through the Olympia, she sang at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1969, becoming – with Édith Piaf in particular – one of the rare French women to have conquered America. In Paris, she will then go on the stage of Bobino or La Cigale.
At the same time, with her second husband, the businessman Roger Choukroun, married in 1969, she continued the business. In particular, she had the idea of creating a membership card so that her clients could easily go from club to club around the world. Up to 20,000 people will have this card, paid very expensive, in the 1980s.
The couple invests in hotels, restaurants, launches lines of clothing, perfumes, sponsors luxury cruises. Régine knows how to mobilize “celebrities” for causes that are important to her, such as the fight against drugs, launching the association SOS Drogue international. In 2008, her “friend”, President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom she accompanied on a trip to Israel, raised her to the rank of officer of the Legion of Honor.
Ironically, a search in 1996 caused the closure of the “Palace”, a legendary club that she had owned for four years, after the discovery of narcotics. In 2004, she separated from most of her clubs, and divorced her husband. Two years later, she lost her only son, the journalist Lionel Rotcajg, born from a first marriage.
“I am an exhibitionist. But I have always been unhappy with dignity,” she says, careful not to spread her pain in the public square.
In 2009, she had to sell her Chez Régine discotheque on rue de Ponthieu, a long-time unmissable meeting place for Parisian golden youth near the Champs-Élysées. The one who said she spends a fortune every day then claims to be “ruined”.
This does not prevent him from multiplying talk shows and concerts. Wrapped in her legendary boa, at 86, she was still singing in 2016 at the Folies Bergère with her usual enthusiasm, “I will survive”, a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s hit.
With AFP and Reuters