The name of Régine Zylberberg (Belgium, 1929) probably doesn’t sound too much to you. But if we tell them that it was she who invented the disco as we know it today, who taught the Duke of Windsor how to dance the twist, who scored some tango with Chaplin, who collaborated in his musical career with Gainsbourg or Aznavour, who was one of the first gay icons and who – here comes the definitive data – Netflix is studying the possibility of doing a series about his life, perhaps this Régine seems to him the most fascinating character in the world.
Jane Fonda said: “He has a dreamy body and the surgery is something formidable. I liked his father. ” Steve McQueen who was one of his best friends. From Frank Sinatra who was a player. From Jacques Chirac, that his sexual voracity had no limits
This singer and businesswoman, who turned 90 last December and now publishes a comprehensive box with all her successes (From la p’tite poule à la grande Zoa), can boast of having a life in which nothing has been lacking. In his childhood he hid from the Nazis, he has photos with Grace Jones, Warhol, Harrison Ford, Stallone, Michael Jackson, Alain Delon, Jane Birkin, Liza Minnelli, Julio Iglesias or Stevie Wonder, his only son died not without first experiencing a tragic one existence, in the seventies he brought out a line of nightwear with the unmistakable name of Ready-to-Dance for sale at Bloomingdale’s, has participated in a reality after founding a true empire and continues to provide headlines in every interview he gives. The last one: “The party was also Françoise Sagan and Barbara getting their butts spanked by yoqueis”.
Like any self-respecting legend, Régine’s childhood (who chose to make herself known only by her given name given the convolutedness of her full name: Régina Zylbelberg Choukroun) is riddled with setbacks. From a Polish Jewish family, an absent mother and a gambling father (he lost his bakery to poker), Régine remembers his childhood wandering from boarding school to boarding school before managing to hide in a convent in a free zone during the occupation.
In an interview in 2014 for the magazine Gala remembered: “I spent two years in a convent transformed into a refuge for the elderly. So yes, I stored a lot of pain. But I always kept laughing and dancing. I never lost my good mood. During the exodus, for example, I improvised a dance floor: I made a circle around a tree and did not allow more than the ones I chose to enter … ”A precarious childhood that, according to her, inspired the very Romain Gary (aka Émile) Ajar) for his famous book La vie devant soi [[The life ahead].
But Régine, who always did what she wanted (at 19 and a half she was already divorced), soon began a musical career that, although not very extensive in time, it was in intensity. His are some of the songs that France knows by heart. The other stocking is too young. The famous Les petits papiers, composed by Gainsbourg, is studied in schools. “It is part of the heritage of French song”, Régine always brags.
For her they composed all the greats of the moment: from Gainsbourg to Aznavour, Henri Salvador or Barbara. Gainsbourg has always been remembered as “a great friend, a great man”, contrary to other women who worked with him such as Catherine Deneuve or Lio. In this regard, he declared in an extensive interview in Pure Charts in 2015: “Who the hell is interested in Lio or Catherine Deneuve? We sweat it what they think! ”
So why leave the world of song to dedicate yourself entirely to the world of the night? He would explain it very well, in his sharp record, in an interview with Gala: “Why didn’t I give up on discos? Because they allowed me to make a good living. Seeing my depressed artists, almost on the verge of suicide, because they had no success on the radio or any movie on the billboard made me reflect. It was not the kind of life that corresponded to me. The night, yes. Receiving people, giving them moments of joy and good humor, promoting meetings, promoting friendships, yes, that filled me ”.
Thus, after running a pub like Whiskey à Gogo, in 1957 he founded Chez Régine, which soon became the meeting place of the Parisian night. From there, Régine begins an empire that would have 23 clubs on three continents. Lagerferd would say that she “simply invented the night clubbing” And he was not at all misguided.
Régine made up almost everything in the night world. It could be said that the modern disco is his creation. His was the idea to replace the machines juke-box (in which each one put the song that they wanted) by DJs to avoid that mania so old that some heavy man put on the same song five times in a row destroying the atmosphere of the room.
His was the idea of having themed parties (Barbarella, Russian New Year, Moroccan night or a contest chaired by Warhol who, by the way, came every night to record everything with one of his tiny recorders). And his, above all, was that strategy of restricting entry by creating a voracious effort to be there. He would count it in his memoir Gueule de nuit (2018): “For people to come, I started by rejecting a few. That generated desire. He put a red carpet and filtered with great severity who entered and who did not. A method so terribly effective that it has survived intact to this day.
In fact, one of the first victims of this cruel siege was Jagger himself. Account the Women’s Wear Daily that Jagger was not allowed to enter the opening of the Régine in New York (in the year 72) for wearing a jacket and sneakers – he visionary – instead of the required dark suit for men. But let no one think of a matter of pure elitism. Another of Régine’s innovative bets was to trust that success was in the mix. That of the anonymous people going to see the famous. In the absence of money, all that was required was personality and being fun. Among those habitual ‘anonymous’, by the way, there was one then unknown Karl Lagerfeld.
But not only Jagger. Everyone came to Régine’s clubs. From Onassis to Saint Laurent, passing through Dalí, María Callas, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner or José Luis de Vilallonga (who said that the Régine de Paris was “a leper colony for the most privileged”). With that level of acquaintances parading night after night in their establishments, it is not surprising that Régine has accumulated juicy anecdotes.
Let us give thanks to their proverbial generosity when it comes to telling them in interviews or in books. Jane Fonda said: “I met her when she was 18 years old, at that time she was married to [Roger] Vadim. He has always done a lot of sports. He has a dreamy body and the surgery is formidable. I liked his father Henry Fonda. I liked her better! ”
From Steve McQueen who was one of his best friends, from Frank Sinatra who was a player, from Jacques Chirac that his sexual voraciousness had no limits. He assures that he maintained a passionate although very brief affair with Gene Kelly, who was betrothed to “the most famous bullfighter of the time”, who had something with Robert Mitchum and who was responsible, in 1960, for presenting to a very nervous Johnny Halliday his great idol: Elvis Presley. And she is perhaps the only one who has dared to say that she met Amanda Lear when she was a boy.
Regine was the undisputed queen of the night, appellative, which incidentally, she detested. She preferred to be called ‘hostess’. And she was also one of the most famous women of the moment. In an anecdote collected by the New York MagazineDiane von Furstenberg once related that she flew with her to Paris at the Concorde and was the only one who was not asked to show her passport at customs. “They just said to him:‘ Bonjour, Madame Régine. “
A fame and a night empire that Régine built away from drugs and alcohol. When in an interview in Paris match Asked about it, she replied: “I’m not like everyone else! I hate alcohol. Probably because of my father who drank a lot. ” Regarding drugs, it was always blunt: he could not bear the people who took them. “I’ve kicked a few out of my club for that reason.”
In fact, perhaps that explains why in the early 1990s, the Régine closed its doors. Studio 54 had won the battle. According to the New York Magazine, consuming cocaine on the tables was not well regarded, they were not supplied quaaludes to movie stars (standard practice in Studio 54, according to legend), not even the waiters were shirtless. Times had changed and people wanted something else.
His world was another. So much so that in 1984 he founded SOS Drogue International, a huge anti-drug association. In any case, for her, the night ended long ago. “You can’t call it Parisian night now,” he lamented.
Probably the most dramatic episode in Régine’s life was the death of his son Lionel, to whom he dedicated the book. À toi, Lionel, mon fils… (“To you, Lionel, my son”, from the Flammarion publishing house) in 2010 and with whom it seems he had a complicated relationship. Régine always felt guilty for not paying enough attention to a son who was claiming an absent mother. “He accused me of being more interested in my rags and my parties than in him,” he would write bitterly on the back cover of the book that he dedicated to him as a posthumous reunion. “I adored him, our relationship was complicated since he was very exclusive, he was jealous of the night. I did not understand his need for love and I continue to reproach myself constantly. I wanted her to be a real mother. And I was not. “
Lionel’s story reaches levels of drama that are hard to beat. Lionel died in 2006, at the age of 58, from lung cancer. Reputed journalist (he was a reporter for Paris match before turning 18), his life was a succession of tragedies. Apart from the complicated relationship with his mother, in 1971 his eleven-month-old son died in a traffic accident. She married in second nuptials to Telsche Boorman (the daughter of British filmmaker John Boorman), who passed away in 1997.
As a result of that failed marriage, Daphné was born, with whom Régine maintains a very close union. As if all this accumulation of misfortunes were not enough, Lionel remarried the artist and businesswoman Sylvie Bezançon, previously married to Claude Perdriel, one of the heavyweights of the publishing industry in France. The romance forced Lionel to resign from Challenges, economic weekly belonging to the Pedrier publishing group.
It was by the way with her son with whom she starred in one of those adventures that so well define the spirit of this woman. On an American Airlines flight to Miami and disobeying the recommendations of the crew, they started smoking. The altercation was huge: they were handcuffed on a scale in Boston and made available to the FBI for disturbing the flight. Bail of $ 10,000 and a possible penalty of $ 250,000 and up to 20 years in prison. Régine, in turn, threatened to denounce for violation of human rights. Finally, the singer was acquitted and her son forced to pay $ 3,000 to the airline.
With such a record (famous is his story of sending a cactus to a food critic in The New York Times who had criticized Régine’s restaurant in New York) and considering his ease of releasing pearls, it was a matter of time that Régine ended up where, in these times, all the veteran stars who resist retiring: a reality. His was La Ferme Celebrités. “It was hell, disgusting,” he would say after his time on the show. Of course, it gave her unprecedented popularity among young people for whom she became the absolute boss.
Compulsive shoe collector (she has 700 pairs and all heeled), Régine, as an absolutely modern lady that she is, is horrified by the past, nostalgia and everything that has to do with recreating herself in what was. Maybe that’s why everyone has copied it ad nauseam. “They have copied me all over the world. So much so that you no longer need to go on tour! ”
But if anyone knew how to capture perfectly the life of this incredible woman, it was in a profile published in New York Magazine in 1977: “All her parties are the birthdays she never had as a child.”