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Lys Assia: Eurovision’s first winner dies at 94

by | Mar 24, 2018

Lys Assia: Eurovision’s first winner dies at 94

by | Mar 24, 2018 | Eurovision, Featured |

We thought she would outlive us all.

On Saturday evening, the Eurovision world learned the sad news of the death of Lys Assia at the age of 94. Assia won the very first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 for Switzerland with the song “Refrain” and remained a lifelong ambassador for the competition. She had been in hospital since the start of this week.

The first Eurovision Song Contest was held in Lugano, Switzerland, and for many years it was assumed in fan circles that no footage of the event existed. However, we now have a few minutes showing Lys receiving the prize and singing part of the winning reprise of “Refrain”.

As if that wasn’t enough, Lys Assia returned to represent her country at the 1957 and 1958 contests. Indeed, she came very close to recording a second victory with her 1958 entry “Giorgio”, a novelty song about a holiday romance that holds a place in every gastronomically inclined ESC fan’s heart for its enthusiasm for the delights of risotto, Chianti and polenta.

In 1985, on the occasion of the 30th Eurovision Song Contest, Assia was a guest of honour in Gothenburg and enjoyed a warm round of applause from the crowd upon being introduced by host Lill Lindfors. She would become a frequent visitor to the ESC arena in that role, starting the voting at the 2008 event and appearing via a satellite link from the town of Cyprus in 2003 to deliver her now-legendary line about the 1956 competition:

Her love for the contest never wavered, and in her later years she even made two attempts to represent Switzerland again. In late 2011, she participated in the Swiss final for ESC 2012 with “C’était ma vie”, penned by fellow Eurovision legend Ralph Siegel, but she failed to win the ticket to the international competition. The next year, she submitted another song that sadly didn’t make it to the national final stage – but “All In Your Head” by Lys Assia feat. NewJack remains a legendary piece of work among fans, skateboard and all.

One thing that set Lys Assia aside from some winners is that she continued to engage with the event, attending fan events, happily posing for photographs, and even compiling a list of her favourite songs each year like every good ESC fan in the internet era. She understood her importance as the contest’s first ever winner, and this year’s production team will surely make a point of honouring her during the show in Lisbon.

Late last year, Lys Assia reflected on her life in Swiss newspaper Blick: “Life’s too short to worry about unimportant things, but we often only realise that after the event. My life has been a very happy one. One should never be jealous of other people’s happiness.”

We couldn’t put it any better. Rest in peace, Lys Assia – this truly is the end of an era.

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