Jacques Brel (French pronunciation: [ʒak bʁɛl]; 8 April 1929 – 9 October 1978) was a Belgian singer-songwriter who composed and performed literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that generated a large, devoted following in Belgium and France initially, and later throughout the world. He was widely considered a master of the modern chanson. Although he recorded most of his songs in French, he became a major influence on English-speaking songwriters and performers such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Marc Almond and Rod McKuen. English translations of his songs were recorded by many top performers in the United States, including Ray Charles, Judy Collins, John Denver, the Kingston Trio, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Scott Walker, and Andy Williams. In French-speaking countries, Brel was also a successful actor, appearing in ten films. He also directed two films, one of which, Le Far West, was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973. Jacques Brel has sold over 25 million records worldwide, and is the third best-selling Belgian recording artist of all time.
Jacques Romain Georges Brel was born on 8 April 1929 in Schaarbeek, Brussels, Belgium to Romain Brel and Elisabeth Lambertine Brel. Although his family spoke French, they were of Flemish descent, with some of the family originating from Zandvoorde, near Ypres. His father worked in an import–export firm, and later became co-director of a company that manufactured cardboard. Jacques and his older brother Pierre grew up in an austere environment, attending a Catholic primary school run by the Saint-Viateur Brothers. They were also members of the local Cub Scouts troop. The family lived at 138 Avenue du Diamant in Schaerbeek, one of the 19 Brussels municipalities. Jacques was close to his mother, fascinated by her generosity and sense of humor, which he inherited.
In 1941, his parents enrolled Jacques at the Saint-Louis College, at rue du Marais, near the Botanical Garden of Brussels. Although he did poorly in many subjects, he showed a talent for writing. He helped set up the Saint-Louis College Drama Club, and took on his first stage roles with great enthusiasm. He wrote short stories, poems, and essays. In 1944, at the age of 15, Jacques began playing the guitar. The following year, he formed his own theatre group with friends and began writing plays.
Brel was never a good student, failing many of his exams. In August 1947, at the age of 18, he went to work at his father's cardboard factory. To offset the boredom of his daily office routine, he joined a local Catholic youth organization, La Franche Cordée, which was dedicated to philanthropic work. In 1948, Brel also enrolled for part-time military service. By 1949, Brel became president of La Franche Cordée, and produced a number of benefit plays for the organization, including Saint Exupéry's Le Petit Prince.
While working at La Franche Cordée, Brel met his future wife, Thérèse Michielsen, known to her friends as Miche. On 1 June 1950, Jacques and Miche were married at Laeken, a suburb of the City of Brussels. On 6 December 1951, Miche gave birth to their first daughter, Chantal.
In 1952, Brel began writing songs and performing them at family gatherings and in Brussels' cabaret circuit. His family and friends were not supportive of Brel's stark lyrics and violent, emotional performances. That year he performed on a local radio station for the first time.
In January 1953, Brel performed at the cabaret La Rose Noire in Brussels. In February he signed a contract with Philips Records and recorded his first 78 rpm record, "La foire" (The Fair), which was released in March. The talent scout and artistic director at the record company, Jacques Canetti, invited Brel to move to Paris. Despite his family's objections and the added pressure of raising a second daughter, France, born on 12 July, Brel left Brussels for Paris in the fall of 1953.
In Paris, Brel worked hard to get his career off the ground. He stayed at the Hotel Stevens and gave guitar lessons to artist-dancer Francesco Frediani to pay his rent. He found work on the cabaret circuit at venues such as L'Ecluse, L'Echelle de Jacob, and in Jacques Canetti's cabaret Les Trois Baudets.
In 1954, Brel competed in the music contest Grand Prix de la Chanson in Knokke-le-Zoute, finishing a disappointing 27th out of 28 participants. One positive result of the experience was that the French star Juliette Gréco requested to sing one of Brel's songs, "Là va le diable" (There goes the devil), at her upcoming concert at the prestigious Olympia music-hall. She went on to record the song that spring. In July 1954, Brel made his first appearance at the prestigious Olympia Theatre in Paris. Later that summer, Brel embarked on his first French tour, appearing on the bill with French singers Dario Moreno, Philippe Clay, and Catherine Sauvage. By the end of the year, Philips released his debut album, a nine-song, 10-inch LP called Jacques Brel et ses Chansons (Jacques Brel and his songs).
In February 1955, Brel met Georges Pasquier (known as Jojo) who would become the singer's closest friend, manager, and personal chauffeur. He began singing with a number of Christian associations, which later led to his nickname of "Abbé Brel". In March, Brel's wife and children joined him in France and the family settled in the Paris suburb of Montreuil-sous-Bois at the rue du Moulin à Vent. In June, Brel toured France again with Canetti's show Les Filles de Papa, which included Françoise Dorin, Perrette Souplex, and Suzanne Gabriello.
In March 1956, Brel performed in North Africa, Amsterdam, Lausanne, and throughout Belgium. In July, while visiting Grenoble, Brel met François Rauber, a classical pianist who would become his accompanist on future recordings. Rauber played a major role in providing Brel with the formal musical training he was lacking, and was responsible for Brel's musical arrangements. In September, Brel recorded "Quand on n'a que l'amour" (When you only have love), which would prove to be his commercial breakthrough. The song was released in November on a Philips 7-inch EP Quand on n'a que l'amour. The song reached number three on the French music charts.
In February 1957, Brel performed at the Alhambra Theatre with Maurice Chevalier, Michel Legrand, and ballet dancer Zizi Jeanmaire. In April, Brel released his second studio album, Quand on n'a que l'amour, which contained the popular title song. The album was recorded at the Théâtre de l'Apollo in Paris, with André Popp and Michel Legrand conducting. In June, Brel won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque from the Académie Charles Cros. In September, he appeared on the bill in the Discorama programmme Au Palace d'Avignon with Raymond Devos, Pierre-Jean Vaillard, and Les Trois Ménestrels. In November, Brel met Gérard Jouannest, another talented pianist, who would accompany the singer on his many concert tours. Brel and Jouannest would also collaborate on many of Brel's future classic songs, such as "Madeleine", "La chanson des vieux amants" (Song of the old lovers), and "Les vieux" (The old ones).
In February 1958, Brel's wife Miche and their two children returned to live in Belgium, while Brel rented a room near Place de Clichy in Paris—a place to stay on those rare occasions when he was not touring. In March and April, Brel recorded his third album, Au Printemps (In the spring), which would be released later that year. In May, while touring Canada for the first time, Brel met Félix Leclerc. On 23 August, Brel's third daughter, Isabelle, was born back in Belgium. In November, Brel gave a recital at the Halles d'Arlon in Belgian Luxembourg with Stéphane Steeman. In December, Brel appeared at the Olympia in Paris as the supporting act to Philippe Clay. The pianist Gérard Jouannest and François Rauber joined Brel on stage for this performance. Brel's incredibly emotional performance brought the house down.
In January 1959, Brel signed a new recording contract with Philips Records. He continued to tour extensively throughout the year. On 22 February, Brel performed at the Bolivie Gala in the Solvay Casino in Couillet. In March, he starred at the Trois Baudets with Serge Gainsbourg. In September, Brel recorded his fourth album, La Valse à Mille Temps (The waltz a thousand times as fast), with François Rauber and his orchestra. On 14 October, he appears at the Eden in Mouscron with Raymond Devos. On 20 November, he sang with Charles Aznavour at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. At the end of the decade, Brel had gained an impressive and enthusiastic following across France. He was so popular that he was invited to headline the end-of-year concert at the renowned Bobino Cabaret in Paris. The concert was an enormous success. During these appearances, Brel stopped accompanying himself on the guitar to concentrate entirely on his increasingly theatrical vocal performances.Jacques Brel, 1963
In January 1960, Brel's new impresario, Charles Marouani, organised a series of international concert tours for the singer that would take him from the French provinces to the then Soviet Union, the Middle East, Canada, and the United States. From 19–24 March, he appeared at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. On 19 October, he performed at Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo. The year's concert tours brought him international recognition and popularity. His appearances initiated the first United States release of a Jacques Brel recording, American Début, released on Columbia Records. It was a compilation of previously-released Philips tracks.
In January 1961, Brel made a triumphant return to the Bobino Theatre. By now, accordionist Jean Corti had joined Brel's touring group. Between 22 February and 12 April, he recorded his fifth album for Philips simply titled, No. 5, which introduced the future Brel classics "Marieke" and "Le moribond" (The dying man). In March, Brel toured Canada again. In Montreal, he met French actress and singer Clairette Oddera at her club on the rue Saint-Jacques. They would become good friends. While in Montreal, Brel appeared with Raymond Devos at La Comédie Canadienne. In May, Brel performed at the Kurhaus of Scheveningen in The Hague in the Netherlands. From 12–29 October, Brel returned to the Olympia Theatre in Paris with star billing, after Marlene Dietrich cancelled at the last minute. Many critics point to these inspired performances as the turning point in Brel's career. The audiences responded with rapturous applause, and the critics proclaimed him as the new star of French chanson.
In March 1962, Brel left Philips Records and signed a five-year contract with Barclay Records. The contract was to be renewed in 1967 for another six years. His first album release for his new label was a live album, Enregistrement Public à l'Olympia 1961, recorded the previous year. On 6 March, he recorded his first song for Barclay, "Le plat pays" (The flat country). During the second week of March, he recorded the remaining tracks for his sixth studio album,Les Bourgeois (The middle class). In addition to the title song and "Le plat pays", the new album contained the future Brel classics "Madeleine", "Les biches" (The does), and "La statue" (The statue). In October, Brel set up his own music publishing company, Arlequin, which was soon renamed Editions Musicales Pouchenel. Brel's wife Miche was appointed company director. In November, he recorded "Les Bigotes", "Quand maman reviendra" (When mother returns), "Filles et les chiens" (Girls and dogs), and "La Parlote" as singles.Jacques Brel, 1963
In April 1963, Brel performed at the Bobino in Paris. In July, he headlined at the Casino in Knokke for the fifth Coupe d'Europe de Tour de Chant. During this engagement, he performed the classic "Mathilde" for the first time. Brel also returned for another triumphant engagement at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, performing with Isabelle Aubret, who was the support act. Once again, Brel's performance was a critical and artistic success, with the audience leaping up from their seats in a standing ovation following Brel's emotional rendering of "Amsterdam".
The year 1964 brought a mix of personal tragedies and professional triumphs. On 8 January, Brel's father Romain died of bronchial pneumonia. Only two months later, on 7 March, his mother Elisabeth (nicknamed Mouky) also died. At the same time, he was given the Gold Medal of Brussels from the Tourist Information Bureau, and won a prize from the Société d’Auteurs Belge / Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij (SABAM). He was also awarded the French Academy's Grand Prix du Disque. Brel continued his ambitious touring schedule. By the end of the year, he released a new live album, Enregistrement Public à l'Olympia 1964. That year, Brel discovered a new passion, aviation. After taking flying lessons with Paul Lepanse, he purchased a small plane. In the United States, Brel's audience was growing. American poet and singer Rod McKuen began translating Brel's songs into English, and the Kingston Trio recorded one of his English versions on their Time to Think album, "Seasons in the Sun", based on Brel's "Le moribond" (The dying one).Drawing of Jacques Brel by Reginald Gray, 1965
In 1965, Reprise Records licensed tracks from Barclay for a United States album titled Jacques Brel. On 25 March, Brel performed at the Kurhaus of Scheveningen in the Netherlands. In October, he completed a successful five-week tour of the Soviet Union, which included a week's engagement at the Estrada Theatre in Moscow. On 6 November, he was back in France, recording the songs "Fernand", "Les désespérés" (The despaired), and "Ces gens-là" (Those people) for Barclay. On 4 December, he appeared at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City. His performance was received with high public and critical acclaim.
By 1966, Brel had grown increasingly weary of his grueling concert schedules. In April, he toured Djibouti, Madagascar, Reunion Island, and Mauritius. On 21 August, while on tour in Vittel, he revealed to his musicians his decision to retire from touring. In subsequent public statements, Brel stated that he had nothing more to give to the music world, and that he wanted to devote more time to other projects. In October 1966, Brel gave a series of farewell concerts at the Olympia in Paris. Thousands of devoted fans flocked to see these final performances, which took place over the course of three weeks. On 1 November, he gave his final concert at the Olympia. After a highly emotional and stunning performance, the audience's standing ovations prompted Brel to return to the stage seven times for his final bows. Brel spent the next six months fulfilling his concert commitments. On 15 November, he gave his farewell performance at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Later that month, he gave his final UK performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. During these last months of his world tour, many of Brel's close friends, including Charles Aznavour, urged him to reconsider his decision to retire from singing, but Brel was adamant about his decision. On 4 December, Brel returned to Carnegie Hall in New York City and gave inspired performances before enthusiastic fans. By then, several English recordings of his songs were on the charts, including Damita Jo's "If You Go Away", based on "Ne me quitte pas", Judy Collins' "The Dove", based on "La colombe", and Glenn Yarbrough's "The Women", based on "Les biches".
In January 1967, Brel finished recording songs for a new studio album, Jacques Brel 67, which was released later in the year. The album included "Mon enfance" (My childhood), "Fils de..." (Sons of...), "Les bonbons 67" (The candies 67), and "La chanson des vieux amants" (Song of the old lovers). In late January, Brel returned to Carnegie Hall and gave one final performance. While in New York, he went to see Man of La Mancha, a musical based on Cervantes's novel Don Quixote, at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in Greenwich Village. Moved by the experience, he began planning a French language production of the musical for Europe. Brel returned to France in the spring, and on 16 May 1967, he gave his final concert performance in the town of Roubaix in northern France. Toward the end of the year, with vague plans of sailing around the world, Brel purchased a yacht.Jacques Brel, 1971
Following his retirement from the concert stage, Jacques Brel's professional life focused on film. He would record only four more studio albums in the last decade of his life. In September 1968, Brel recorded the songs for the album, J'arrive (I'm coming), which would be released later in the year. In addition to the title song, the album included "Vesoul", "Je suis un soir d’été" (I am a summer's eve), and "Un enfant" (A child). In October 1968, Brel's L'Homme de La Mancha (Man of La Mancha) premièred in Brussels, with Brel playing Don Quixote and Dario Moreno playing Sancho Panza. Moreno would die tragically only ten days before the musical's Paris première. From 23 to 27 November, Brel and his fellow cast-members recorded the studio albumL'Homme de la Mancha. Brel adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and played the lead role. This was the only time he ever adapted songs by other writers or appeared in a stage musical. The album contains Brel's classic performance of "La quête" (The quest). Moreno was replaced by Robert Manuel, and the first performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris went ahead as planned on 11 December 1968. Brel's performance received unanimous praise. After 150 performances of L'Homme de La Mancha, Brel gave his final performance in the role of Don Quixote on 17 May 1969. He was never replaced.
In 1972, Brel signed a special 30-year contract with Barclay Records. Although there were no new songs to record, Barclay persuaded Brel to return to the studio to rerecord eleven of the better-known songs he cut for Philips Records during the early years of his music career. The result was the album Ne me quitte pas (Don't leave me), which contained the title track, "Marieke", "Les Flamandes" (Flemish women), "Quand on a que l’amour" (When you only have love), "Les biches" (The does), "Le moribond" (The dying one), "La valse à mille temps" (The waltz a thousand times as fast), and "Je ne sais pas" (I don't know). Brel's earlier youthful energy was now lovingly harnessed by his long-time colleagues, arranger Francois Raubert and pianist Gerard Jouannest.
In 1967, Brel began his film career appearing in André Cayatte's Les risques du métier (Risky Business), co-starring Emmanuelle Riva, Jacques Harden, and Nadine Alari. Brel also produced the soundtrack with François Rauber. The film tells the story of a teenage girl who accuses her primary schoolteacher, Jean Doucet (Brel), of trying to rape her. The police and the mayor investigate, but Doucet denies the charges. Two other students come forward to reveal more of Doucet's misconduct—one confessing to be his mistress. Doucet faces trial and hard labour if convicted. The film was released on 21 December 1967. Film critics praised Brel's performance.
In 1968, Brel appeared in his second film, La Bande à Bonnot (film) (fr) (Bonnot's Gang), directed by Philippe Fourastié, and co-starring Annie Girardot and Bruno Cremer. Once again, Brel produced the soundtrack with François Rauber. The story is set in 1911 Paris . Raymond-la-science (Brel), an anarchist, is released from prison after serving a sentence for spreading agitation among his co-workers. He meets up with his friends who live together with their families in the villa of their political leader. They get involved with the notorious Bonnot Gang—gangsters who revolt against society by robbing, stealing, and killing. The film was released on 30 October 1968.
In 1969, Brel appeared in his third film, Mon oncle Benjamin (My Uncle Benjamin), directed by Édouard Molinaro, and co-starring Claude Jade and Bernard Blier. He also produced the soundtrack. The film is a period piece, set in 1750 during the time of Louis XV. Benjamin (Brel) is a country doctor in love with the beautiful innkeeper's daughter, Manette, but she refuses his advances until he produces a marriage contract. After suffering a humiliating practical joke and being condemned to prison, Benjamin escapes with Manette, who realizes she prefers happiness to a marriage contract after all. The film was released on 28 November 1969.
In 1970, Brel appeared in his fourth feature film, Mont-Dragon, directed by Jean Valère and co-starring François Prévost, Paul le Person and Catherine Rouvel,with a screen play by Robert Margerit. The story involves a soldier, Georges Dormond (Brel), who seduces Germaine de Boismesnil and is subsequently driven out of the army by one of Germaine's friends who is a colonel. After Germaine's husband dies, Dormond returns to the widow's castle seeking revenge. After seducing Pierrette the maid, he reminds Germaine of their past love affair and arranges a meeting with the widow, at which he underdresses her, humiliates her, and then leaves. The orphan Marthe, who witnesses the scene, throws herself at Gaston, the colonel's orderly, to avenge her mother. Georges ridicules their feelings and forces Germaine to reveal her attachment to Pierrette, thereby causing a scandal. The film was released on 16 December 1970.
In 1971, Brel appeared in his fifth feature film, Franz, the first film he directed. Brel also co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Andréota, and produced the soundtrack with François Rauber. The film co-starred Barbara, Danièle Evenou, Fernand Fabre, Serge Sauvions, Louis Navarre, Jacques Provins, and François Cadet. The film is about Léon (Brel) and Léonie (Barbara), who meet in a convalescent home for state employees in Blankenberge: Catherine (Danièle Evenou) is Léonie's friend. Léonie is shy and reserved while Catherine is loose and flirtatious. Most men are attracted to her vitality, but Léon is the exception. Léonie is intrigued by Léon's secretive personality. She gradually becomes attracted to his clumsy behaviour and they fall in love. The other residents, amused by this unlikely love affair, decide to obstruct their relationship which drives Léon to suicide. The film was released on 2 February 1972, and although praised by the critics, it was not a commercial success.
In 1971, Brel appeared in his sixth feature film, Les assassins de l'ordre (Law Breakers), directed by Marcel Carné and co-starring Paola Pitagora, Catherine Rouvel, and Charles Denner. Brel plays Bernard Level, a provincial judge, who presides over a delicate case. A man who was arrested for a minor crime died during police questioning. When Level decides to prosecute the policemen and initiates an investigation, he receives threats and intimidation from those wanting to stop the investigation. The film was released on 7 May 1971.
In 1972, Brel appeared in his seventh feature film, L'aventure, c'est l'aventure (The Adventure, is the Adventure), directed by Claude Lelouch. The story follows five crooks who decide to switch from bank robbery to political kidnapping. Among their first hostages is singer Johnny Hallyday. The film was released 4 May 1972, and became a huge box office smash. While filming L'aventure c'est l'aventure on location in the Caribbean, Brel met and fell in love with a young actress and dancer by the name of Maddly Bamy (fr). Brel would spend the final years of his life with her.
In 1972, Brel appeared in his eighth feature film, Le bar de la fourche (The Bar at the Crossing), directed by Alain Levent, and co-starred Rosy Varte and Isabelle Huppert. Brel plays Vincent Van Horst, a hard-drinking bon viveur ho loves his freedom and his women. He leaves Europe in 1916, which is torn apart by the war, and moves to Canada, intending to meet up with Maria, the only woman he ever loved. On the way to Canada, he meets a young boy who dreams about fighting in the European war. When Vincent arrives at the Bar de la Fourche, managed by Maria, he finds her looking older. He finds consolation in another woman, Annie, who looks down on him and drives Vincent and Olivier to fight a duel against each other. The film was released on 23 August 1972.
In 1973, Brel appeared in his ninth feature film, Le Far West, his second directorial effort. The film co-starred Gabriel Jabbour, Danielle Evenou, and Arlette Lindon. The story is about Jacques, a 40-year old citizen of Brussels, who meets the fakir Abracadabra who, before dying, gives him a special power. Jacques meets Gabriel, a generous man, who dresses up as Davy Crockett, and who follows Jacques without asking questions. The two companions and other new friends set out to conquer the Far West, their childhood—just as Voltaire sought Eldorado, and Saint-Exupéry the unknown planet. The Far West they seek cannot be found, because it is an imaginary place, a piece of happiness buried in our hearts. The film was released on 15 May 1973.
In 1973, Brel appeared in his tenth and final feature film, L'emmerdeur (The troublemaker), directed by Edouard Molinaro and co-starred Lino Ventura, Caroline Cellier, and Jean-Pierre Darras. Jacques Brel et François Rauber produced the soundtrack. The story is about a contract killer, Ralph Milan, who works for the Mafia. He is paid to kill Louis Randoni, whose testimony in various trials could harm the organisation. Ralph waits for his prey in his hotel room, but is interrupted by his comical neighbour, François Pignon (Brel). The film was released on 20 September 1973.Jacques Brel's grave in Atuona
By early 1973, Brel knew that he was ill. He prepared his will, leaving everything to his wife Miche. In the spring he recorded a new single, "L'enfance" (My childhood), the proceeds of which he donated to La Fondation Perce Neige, an association set up to help handicapped children. After completing his last film, L'emmerdeur, he took his daughters on a cruise. In November, he embarked on a two-month cruise across the Atlantic with five of his closest friends on the training ship Le Korrig.
The final years of Brel's life were devoted to his passion for sailing. On 28 February 1974, Brel purchased the Askoy II, a 19-meter (62 ft) sailing yacht weighing 42 tons. He began planning a three-year voyage to circumnavigate the world. In July, Brel set off on his world trip with Maddly and his daughter, France, aboard his new yacht. In August, while sailing around the Azores, he learned of the death of his old friend Jojo. He returned to France for his friend's funeral, and stayed on to attend the September wedding of his daughter, Chantal. In October, following medical tests in the Canary Islands, Brel learned that he had a small tumour on his left lung. In November, Brel was rushed to a hospital in Brussels, where he underwent an operation on his left lung. He was suffering from an advanced stage of lung cancer. Knowing his days were numbered, Brel issued a statement indicating that he wished to die alone in peace.
In January 1975, after 27 days at sea, the Askoy II anchored in the Fort-de-France Bay. From February to July, Brel cruised around the West Indies before going through the Panama Canal. In November, the Askoy II reached Atuona Bay at Hiva-Oa in the Marquesas Islands archipelago after spending 59 days crossing the Pacific Ocean. Jacques and Maddly decided to live in theMarquesas Islands, living on the Askoy II off the island of Hiva-Oa.
In 1976, Brel returned to Brussels twice for medical examinations. Against the advice of his doctors, Brel returned to the Marquesas, where the tropical climate was particularly unsuitable for his lungs. In June, after selling the Askoy II, he rented a small house in Atuona on the island of Hiva-Oa. In July, Brel renewed his pilot's licence, and took advanced flying lessons with his friend Michel Gauthier. Brel purchased a twin-engine plane, which he named Jojo in memory of his lost friend. This enabled him to travel more easily from Hiva-Oa to Tahiti. He also used the private plane to transport food and other supplies to the inhabitants of the neighbouring islands.
In 1977, Brel decided to record one final album. Despite his recent years away from the continent, Brel's legend continued to live on in Europe, and his records still sold millions of copies each year. In August, Brel returned to Paris and moved into a small hotel. He had quit smoking and, despite his poor health, was enthusiastic about working again with his faithful collaborators François Rauber and Gérard Jouannest. In September and October, Brel recorded 12 of the 17 new songs he had written in the Marquesas. The result was his final album, Les Marquises, which included "Jaurès", "Vieillir" (To grow old), "Le Bon Dieu" (The good Lord), "Orly", "Voir un Ami Pleurer" (To watch a friend cry), "Jojo", and "Les Marquises". The new album was released on 17 November, and was received as a historic national event in France. At Brel's request, Barclay did not run a huge promotional campaign for the album, and still, by word of mouth alone, over a million fans placed advance orders. The day the album was released, Jacques and Maddly returned to their home in the Marquesas Islands.
From January to June 1978, Jacques and Maddly lived quietly at their home on Atuona Bay on Hiva-Oa island. In July, after his health began to fail, Brel was flown back to France and rushed to a hospital in Neuilly where doctors discovered a cancerous tumour. He remained in the hospital for six weeks, and then spent the rest of the summer in Southern France. On 7 October, he was rushed to a hospital in Bobigny near Paris. He died of a pulmonary embolism at 4:10 am on 9 October 1978, at the age of 49. On 12 October, Brel's body was flown back to the Marquesas Islands, where he was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Atuona on the southern side of Hiva Oa island in the Marquesas, French Polynesia—a few yards away from the grave of painter Paul Gauguin.
In the Francophone world, Brel has left an enduring influence on music and culture. Further afield his influence has been somewhat tempered by differences in language, though he has influenced many artists globally. Some international artist that have covered his songs include: