Victim of a heart attack on August 20, 1980 in Papeete, Joe Dassin collapsed, at only 42 years old, in full glory, and in the midst of a fierce battle for custody of his sons. A look back at the encounters, passions and dramas that forged his character...
Joe Dassin is the son of famous director Jules Dassin and renowned violinist Béatrice Launer. Little Joe, who was born in New York on November 5, 1938, has two sisters, Richelle, 2 years his junior, and Julie, born in 1945.
The family lives in New York and then Los Angeles. From the age of 5, Joe knows what he wants to do with his life: ' When I grow up, I'll go to the movies every day, like dad! ', reveals Betty Truck in the book 'Joe Dassin, the Unknown' released in 2018.
But the sky is quickly clouding over for the Dassins. Briefly a member of the American Communist Party, Jules Dassin was denounced by director Edward Dmytryk in the midst of a witch hunt initiated by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The director left the United States with his wife and children in 1950. Forced to follow the clan chief's filming, the Dassins were on the move and moved many times. The young Joe frequented several establishments in England, Italy and Switzerland. At 16, the teenager gets his baccalaureate hands down with a very good mention, but he has no intention of embarking on long studies.
A dream that Jules Dassin annihilated without definitively opposing it.
' You can do whatever you want in life, but later! Since you seem gifted, I advise you to do some real studies first. Before embarking on a fancy career, you must obtain an important university degree which will always allow you to find a job. You are very young, you are brilliant... So please listen to me and make a little more effort. Once you have your scroll in your pocket, you'll have plenty of fun! Not now.. .', Jules Dassin confided to his son as reported by Betty Truck in the book 'Joe Dassin, the unknown.'
A warning that the young Joe bears all the more badly as his father has just made a decision that he considers as a stab in the back. In 1954, Jules Dassin left the family home and his wife for the beautiful eyes of Melina Mercouri. The family shatters leaving Joe distraught and heartbroken. He misses his father terribly and to 'revenge' him the young man decides to leave everything to join the United States, this country which caused the exile of his family. Father and son will then meet again and finally share their passion for cinema and music.
If Jules Dassin was the mentor of his son Joe, Béatrice Launer, his mother, was a beacon in his life. It is she who allows him to discover the power of music by introducing him to the piano, banjo and guitar at a very young age.
She will never be very far from this son she so cherished and it was alongside his beloved mother that he breathed his last in 1980. Desperate Béatrice Launer refused for years to return to the violin before realizing that music was undoubtedly the best way to communicate with her son whom she would join 14 years after his sudden death.
The second important woman in Joe Dassin's life is Maryse Massiera, whose gaze he meets at Eddie Barclay's while he is still his father's assistant. The crush is immediate even if Maryse struggles to understand the young man who is so different from her. 'He was very Slavic. The depressive kind who, within half an hour, would take me in his arms to dance! And then, he also had a lot of humor... ', she explained to TV Star in 2014.
Discreet and reserved woman, it is she who is at the origin of his career and which allows him to win his first contract.
On January 18, 1966, the two young people get married, but have the pain of losing their son Joshua 5 days after his birth in September 1973.
In 1977, this immense pain caused the end of their relationship, which had been rocking ever since Joe Dassin met a young student named Christine Delvaux.
Two years after their meeting, they passed the ring finger at the beginning of the year 1978 in the south of France. At the start of their romance, Joe is overjoyed, especially as he, who dreams so much of becoming a father since the death of Joshua, welcomes his first son Jonathan, on September 14, 1978. But tensions then arise between Joe and Christine and the birth of their second child Julien in March 1980 does not change anything.
Christine and Joe no longer love each other and will soon declare a bloody war. 3 months after the birth of their second son, Joe Dassin filed for divorce and custody of his sons.
' What is happening to me? ': These are the last words spoken by Joe Dassin on August 20, 1980 while having lunch at the restaurant 'Chez Michel et Eliane', in Tahiti with Jonathan (1 year and a half) and Julien (5 months), his mother, and a friend.
The singer has yet waited for this moment when he can finally breathe surrounded by his loved ones. Victim a month earlier of a heart attack, he intends to take advantage of his sons and above all to obtain custody of them.
This is rare in the early 1980s when less than 5% of divorced fathers raise their children alone. But the 41-year-old singer was so convincing that the judge granted him temporary custody of his sons.
Happy, he now wants to keep them with him permanently and see them grow up, he who suffered so much to see his father leave. ' I'm a sugar daddy... doggy', did he like to repeat as Betty Truck says in the book ' Joe Dassin, the unknown '.
Determined, Joe Dassin gave himself the means to achieve his goal of being the perfect father for his boys: he knows French divorce laws inside out and has decided to put his career in the background.
His dream ? Build a house in Papeete and settle there permanently with Jonathan and Julien. But death comes to shatter this sweet hope and it is without their father that the little boys will become men.
' I didn't have time to get to know him, to have memories, anecdotes. I don't know him any better than his audience, since I only saw him through photos and videos. What I have more are the testimonies of his sisters, my aunts, to whom I am very close. But him, my father, I never had him in front of me ', explained Jonathan Dassin to The Obs in 2015.
After the premature death of Joe Dassin, it was with their mother, Christine, that Jonathan and his brother Julien grew up in the house that their father had built in the Yvelines before Christine died prematurely of an asthma attack in 1995.
Ties with the paternal family were not broken, however, and Jules Dassin would watch over his grandsons until his death.
' In life, you meet men who could become father figures. Me, fathers, I had tons of them, I think especially of my grandfather. I saw Mélina and Jules about three times a year, during school holidays. He was very observant about what we were becoming. As for Mélina, she was like a grandmother to me. She had a lot of character, she was a tough woman, but I got along very well with her. “, confided the son of the singer always to The Obs in 2015.
Now 43, Jonathan has become a singer as his brother manages the family inheritance. If he does not remember the unforgettable interpreter of Indian summer , the eldest of his sons is happy to share a particularity with his famous father.
' What pleases me the most is being told that we have the same tone of voice. If I inherited a little part of this, I'm the happiest of men ', said Jonathan Dassin to Gala in 2019. A story of gene and talent without a doubt!