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Remembering Lys Assia: Twelve memorable moments

26 March 2018 at 09:00 CEST
Lys Assia at the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf, Germany. EBU
In this story we look back at some of the memorable moments — ups and downs — in Lys Assia's life. We welcome you to share your personal memories of the First Lady of the Eurovision Song Contest, who passed away at the age of 94 this Saturday, 24th of March 2018, in the comments.

12. Personal tragedy

We of course remember Lys Assia as a singer and remarkable ambassador of the Eurovision Song Contest. But not everyone knows about the personal tragedies that shaped her over the decades.

Just months after her Eurovision victroy, a young Lys Assia married Johann Heinrich Kunz in January of 1957. In a terrible turn of events, he died just nine months later after battling a serious illness. 

With her second husband, the Danish diplomat and multimillionaire Oscar Pedersen, Lys Assia settled in Denmark and ran hotels with him in Europe, Japan and South America. He died an accidental death in 1995, after 32 years of marriage.

From both marriages she had four steph daughters.

11. "I don't have time for this"

In 2013, just ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Lys Assia was admitted to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a serious case of pneumonia. Not only Eurovision fans feared for her life, Lys herself did so as well, telling Swiss journalists that she thought she might die. Nevertheless, she fully recovered, and even made it to Malmö after all.

In the summer of 2015, Lys Assia has an unfortunate accident on her balcony, which resulted in eighteen stitches in her arm and leg. After one night in hospital, she refused further care and decided to go home, telling the doctors "I don't have time for this".

10. "It was fun, I won!"

 In 2003, when the contest took place in Riga, she spoke to the crowd through a satellite link with Cyprus, one of her favourite holiday destinations. "It was fun, I won," she said, when asked what it was like back in 1956. "All my heart is with you," she concluded.

9. Supporting charity

In an interview with back in 2011, while sipping a glass of champagne, Lys Assia revealed that she dedicated all royalties she made from her winning song Refrain to charity.

In 2012, in an interview with the magazine Blick, she spoke out the wish that after her death, the Lys Assia Foundation should be established: "It should be a foundation that takes care of stray animals. Animals make people so happy. I would like my foundation to give those poor dogs and cats a new home."

8. Zip it

In 2008, Lys Assia secretly travelled to Belgrade, Serbia, where she helped to unveil the first permanent Winner's Trophy, the now iconic glass microphone. Despite well into her eighties, she gave interviews 'like a pro', She fiercely defended the expansion to two Semi-Finals, but also warned the organisers to "keep the glamour" in the contest.

She was firm towards participants who criticise their fellow competitors. Of Dana International, who was not so positive towards the Irish entry of that year, she said: "She just should..." followed by a gesture zipping her mouth.

In 2009, she returned to the contest to hand over the trophy to Norway's Alexander Rybak. 

7. @LysAssia

"Living the musical life," her Twitter biography said. Yes indeed, the Grand Dame never failed to adapt to changing times and had her own Twitter profile @LysAssia, where she would happily receive birthday wishes, retweet media appearances and comment upon the Eurovision Song Contest. And if it wasn't on Twitter, she turned to Facebook to share her views with the world.

In 2016, when Europe was struck by the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, she reflected upon the role the Eurovision Song Contest plays in the grand scheme of things:

6. Hello?

The First Lady had a particular sense of humour and she never hesitated to show that in her tweets. In 2015, just days before her balcony accident, she met with Lionel Richie, famous for his song Hello, accompanying the photo of the two with the line: "Hello, is it Lys you're looking for?".

In another remarkable tweet, she did not hesitate to point out that she is the only Swiss singer to win the Eurovision Song Contest for Switserland. "The other star, Celine Dion, is Canadian," the tweet concluded.

5. Boarding time!

In 2012, we spotted Lys with one of her small dogs on board the plane from Baku to Vienna, days after the Eurovision Song Contest. While various other contestants were on board, it was Lys who stole the show as fans lined up to speak with her and take selfies with the legendary Eurovision winner.

4. Time to party

She would never miss out on a good party. In 1995 she attended the contest's 40th anniversary and in 2005 she performed her Refrain during Congratulations, the 50th anniversary show of the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2006, she attended the German national final as special guest and in 2013 she appeared at Stockholm Pride, just to name a few occasions. And during the 60th anniversary show in London, back in 2015, she was officially crowned Queen of Eurovision by BBC presenter and commentator Graham Norton — crown included!

At the afterparty in Moscow (2009), she promised people to return the following year, when Norway would host the contest. Not only did she keep her promise, but was also spotted partying in the EuroClub at 3:30 in the morning, showing no sign of fatigue.

3. Come-back Lys

Lys Assia is most known for winning the first ever Eurovision Song Contest. She kept coming back representing Switzerland in the following years, finishing 8th (out of ten) in 1957 with L'enfant Que J'étais and 2nd (out of ten) in 1958 with Giorgio.

Ahead of the 2012 contest, she entered her song C'était Ma Vie, written by legendary Eurovision composer Ralph Siegel and Jean Paul Cara, into the Swiss national selection. She finished 8th in the national selection, and despite not going to Baku to represent Switzerland, she attended the Grand Final as a guest of honour.

Ahead of the 2013 contest, she entered the Swiss national selection again with the song All In Your Head, featuring  hip-hop group New Jack. The song didn't make it to Malmö, and rumours of Lys Assia eventually representing San Marino with the song appeared... just rumours.

2. Refrain

Performed with grace, Lys Assia won the hearts of the jury and won the first ever Eurovision Song Contest back in 1956 with the song Refrain. While the video tape with a full recording of the show has never been found, recordings do exist of Lys Assia performing Refrain.

2016 marked the 60th anniversary of Lys' 1956 victory.

1. Lys

In the end, all particular ups and downs aside, the most memorable about Lys Assia is... Lys Assia herself. Her strong character, her energy, her vocal opinion, her sense of humour and her commitment to the Eurovision Song Contest will never be forgotten.

For a closing statement, we leave it to the First Lady herself:

"Life is too short to spend on unimportant things," she said in an interview with a German journalist. "Unfortunately, one notices this but usually only in retrospect. My life was very happy. We should never be jealous of other people's happiness."