France’s self-proclaimed disco pioneer and nightclub queen dies

French singer and actress Regine, who claimed the invention of the modern discotheque and once ran a nightclub empire from Paris to Los Angeles, died on Sunday aged 92, her grand-daughter told AFP.

n this file photo taken on January 01, 2015 French singer, actress and businesswoman Regine waves to the crowds during a parade, along the Champs-Elysees in Paris to celebrate the New Year.
French singer, actress and businesswoman Regine waves to the crowds during a parade, along the Champs-Elysees in Paris to celebrate the New Year, January 1st, 2015. Regine died at the age of 92, her grand-daughter told AFP on May 1st, 2022. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

Regine, born Regina Zylberberg in Belgium, opened her first club in Paris’s Latin Quarter in the 1950s, replacing the juke-box, ubiquitous in dance venues at the time, with turntables and disc jockeys.

The new format, she often said, justified her claim to “the invention of the discotheque”. She famously said: “If you can’t dance, you can’t make love.”

The new discos caught on with the jet set and Regine, who became known as the “queen of the night”, opened several more venues, including “Regine’s” in New York in the 1970s, and others in Miami, Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles.

“Regine left us peacefully at 11 am (0900 GMT) on this May 1st,” her grand-daughter Daphne Rotcajg said.

In a statement sent on behalf of Regine’s family her friend, the comic Pierre Palmade said: “The queen of the night has left. Closing time following a long and great career.”

Regine “had the stars of the whole world dancing in her nightclubs”, he added.

A picture shows photographs of French singer and night clubs owner Regine prior to an auction at the Mirabaud-Mercier auction house in Paris, on January 14, 2021.

Photographs of Regine, prior to an auction at the Mirabaud-Mercier auction house in Paris, on January 14th, 2021. Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

At its height, Regine’s disco empire comprised 22 establishments, and some 20,000 people owned an exclusive membership card in the 1980s that gave them access to all of them.

Pop artist Andy Warhol, showbiz star Liza Minelli, bankers the Rothschilds, and the Kennedys were among her customers.

Her name “became synonymous with the crazy nights that lasted until the small hours”, Palmade said, adding that Regine herself would “hit the dance floor until closing time”.

Among people paying tribute to Regine was former French culture minister Jack Lang who called her a “poetic and glittering Parisian legend”.

British singer Boy George tweeted: “R.I.P to the legendary French Diva Regine! x”, and included a picture of himself with her.

“The night is orphaned, having lost its queen,” said veteran French singer Line Renaud, also on Twitter.

‘Made her city vibrate’

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said Regine “made her city vibrate like nobody else could”.

While most famous internationally as a nightclub entrepreneur, back home Regine was always considered more for her contribution to French songwriting.

French singer Renaud called her the last historic representative of the French chanson, inspiring an entire generation of singer songwriters, including Serge Gainsbourg and Barbara.

After performing in the legendary Olympia venue in the French capital in the 1960s, Regine sang in New York’s Carnegie Hall to a warm reception by an American audience, a feat that among French singers only Edith Piaf could match.

“It would make me very happy if people still listened to my songs 50 years from now,” she told AFP in 2020, adding that she was “very proud” that some of them had become part of France’s standard repertoire.

French singer Regine poses on the red carpet during the 42nd Deauville US Film Festival, on September 10th, 2016

Regine poses on the red carpet during the 42nd Deauville US Film Festival, on September 10th, 2016 in the French northwestern sea resort of Deauville. Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

“My first profession was discotheques,” she said. “For a long time, songs were just a hobby. But now I realise that the stage has been the most important part of my life.”

She also acted in several films, including by star directors Claude Lelouch and Claude Zidi.

Having sold all of her nightclubs by the late 2000s, Regine — who had boasted that she spent “a fortune” each day — declared herself “ruined”.

French actress and singer Regine poses with a long Ted Lapidus skirt drawn by Erte with the famous "boa" at the Tajan galery in Paris, January 9th, 2012.

Regine poses with her famous “boa” at the Tajan galery in Paris, January 9th, 2012. Photo by Eric Feferberg / AFP

But she went on to harness her showbiz connections for causes close to her heart, such as the fight against drug abuse, and continued to perform on stage and participate in talk shows.

In 2008 she received the highest French order of merit, the Legion d’Honneur, from then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

As late as 2016, at 86, she appeared at the Parisian cabaret “Folies-Bergeres”, wearing her famous boa, and sang a French cover of “I will survive”, Gloria Gaynor’s hit.

“Retire? There’s absolutely no rush,” she told AFP at the time.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Miss.Tic, whose provocative work began cropping up in the Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris in the mid-80s and made her a pioneer of French street art, died on Sunday aged 66, her family told AFP.

Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Radhia Novat grew up in the narrow streets in the shadow of Sacre-Coeur basilica, the daughter of a Tunisian father and a mother from Normandy in western France, where she began stencilling sly and emancipatory slogans.

Her family said she had died of an unspecified illness.

Other French street artists paid tribute to her work.

On Twitter, street artist Christian Guemy, alias C215, hailed “one of the founders of stencil art”. The walls of the 13th arrondissement of Paris – where her images are a common sight – “will never be the same again”, he wrote.

Another colleague, “Jef Aerosol” said she had fought her final illness with courage, in a tribute posted on Instagram.

And France’s newly appointed Culture Minister, Rima Abdul Malak, saluted her “iconic, resolutely feminist” work.

Miss.Tic’s work often included clever wordplays — almost always lost in translation — and a heroine with flowing black hair who resembled the artist herself. The images became fixtures on walls across the capital.

Miss. Tic with some examples of her work. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

“I had a background in street theatre, and I liked this idea of street art,” Miss.Tic said in a 2011 interview.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to write poems’. And then, ‘we need images’ with these poems. I started with self-portraits and then turned towards other women,” she said.

Miss.Tic also drew the attention of law enforcement over complaints of defacing public property, leading to an arrest in 1997.

But her works came to be shown in galleries in France and abroad, with some acquired by the Paris modern art fund of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, according to her website.

And cinema buffs will recognise her work on the poster for Claude Chabrol’s 2007 film “La fille coupee en deux” (“A Girl Cut in Two”).

For a spell she was a favourite of fashion brands such as Kenzo and Louis Vuitton.

“So often it’s not understood that you can be young and beautiful and have things to say,” she told AFP in 2011.

“But it’s true that they sell us what they want with beautiful women. So I thought, I’m going to use these women to sell them poetry.”

Her funeral, the date of which is still to be announced, will be open to the public, said her family.