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Lys Assia, First Lady of the Eurovision Song Contest, dies aged 94

24 March 2018 at 19:30 CET
Lys Assia placed 8th in 1957, wearing a simple white gown on stage Unknown
Lys Assia, winner of the first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956, has passed away. She was 94 years old.

During her long and successful career, she performed for Queen Elizabeth II, the Egyptian King Faruk and Eva Peron. She was also involved with many charitable events all over the world. Born Rosa Mina Schärer in 1924 in Rupperswil, in the North of Switzerland, the artist who we would get to know as Lys Assia started her career as a dancer, but soon turned to singing, achieving her biggest hit in 1950 with O Mein Papa.

Lys Assia also starred in some roles as an actress, but she is mostly remembered for winning the very first Eurovision Song Contest, held in Lugano, in her native Switzerland, in 1956. She performed the two Swiss entries in that first contest, the winner being the second one, titled Refrain:

Winning is always fun, and having enjoyed the experience, Lys came back to the competition on two further occasions, in 1957 trying, unsuccessfully, to repeat her early success with the same team from the year before, and in 1958 with the distinctive Giorgio, which finished in 2nd place, one better than Domenico Modugno's Volare.

"It was fun — I won!"

Lys Assia remained a loyal supporter of the Eurovision Song Contest, being a guest of honour in many occasions, like in Gothenburg in 1985 when Eurovision was celebrating its 30th edition. In 2003, she addressed millions of viewers via a satellite link from Cyprus, wishing the contestants the best of luck ahead of the Grand Final in Riga. Being asked by presenter Marie N., who also won the contest the year before, how she looked back at the 1956 contest, she spoke the legendary words: "It was fun — I won!" 

In 2005, she performed during Congratulations, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest and in 2008 she started the voting in Belgrade.

C'était Ma Vie

In 2011, she decided it would be time for her return to the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest as a contestant. She entered the Swiss national selection for 2012, becoming one of the fan favourites with the nostalgic C'était Ma Vie (It Was My Life), written by Eurovision winners Ralph Siegel and Jean-Paul Cara:

It was my life, it's my destiny

And I will sing all my refrains until the end

It was my life, it was the joy

It was both of us, happy days for you and me

However, it was not to be and Lys was not selected for Switzerland that year. She also applied for the Swiss ticket the following year, but did not reach the Swiss final for the 2013 contest with All In Your Head, which she performed together with the group New Jack.

The first winner of the Contest, Lys Assia, secured her win in a dark, formal dress, fitting for the time. EBU

Many fans still remember her performance of her winning song Refrain in the Euroclub in 2009, in Moscow, when it seemed like no years had passed since her victory. This was understandable, as she once said: "Singing gives me back the joy of life."

In Stockholm, just days before the city hosted the 2016 contest, she took part in a special meet and greet event for fans and press, where she shared her memories in a variety of languages -she was fluent in at least six- and took pictures with every single person who asked.

In the last years, Lys Assia lived on Zurich's Goldcoast fighting with health problems. "Life is too short to spend on unimportant things," she said to the German press. "Unfortunately, one notices this but usually only in retrospect. My life was very happy. We should never be jealous of other people's happiness." Lys Assia passed away on the 24th of March, 2018 at Zürich's Zollikerberg Hospital, having recently turned 94.

In the coming days, we will pay tribute to Lys Assia's life and her lasting commitment to the Eurovision Song Contest.

We would like to use this opportunity to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Lys Assia.