Born Lucien Ginzburg in Paris to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants, controversial French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg admired music since childhood, especially classics and jazz. After first studying art, he became a pianist in a bar and later began to perform his own songs in a cabaret. He was rather shy at the time and tried to hide it by provoking the audience with his extravagant attire and behavior. "Sometimes they accepted me, sometimes they didn't, but they didn't love me," he once remembered. So he found acceptance by first giving his songs to the popular female singers Juliette Greco and Michelle Arnaud. Audiences and critics appreciated his songs when performed by others.
In order to survive, Gainsbourg turned to the cinema both as a composer and an actor in supporting roles. In the 60's, as "The Twist" conquered France, Gainsbourg wrote "La chanson de Prevert," "Le poinconneur de Lilas" and "La Javanaise," songs that are considered classics now but were not very much appreciated at the time. Luckily, Petula Clark began to collaborate with him. Being incredibly sensitive to the new musical trends and fashions, Gainsbourg quickly adapted himself to the Beatles-inspired "yeah-yeah" craze and wrote "Poupee de cire, poupee de son." Performed by France Gall, the song won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1966 and immediately became a hit. Suddenly, his lyrics and music were in high demand. This resulted in a brief but much-publicized love affair with Brigitte Bardot to whom he wrote a few songs and devoted his album Initials B.B. In 1969 he married young actress Jane Birkin with whom he recorded Je t'aime moi non plus, the title track of which went to #69 on the U.S. charts and earned Gainsbourg cult status there. Birkin was the one who invented Gainsbourg's now-famous and notorious trademarks: facial stubble, well-worn jeans and ponderous posturing with cigarettes. The actress was featured in a number of his albums and starred in his debut as a film director, Je t'aime moi non plus (1975).
Gainsbourg remained astonishingly prolific, writing songs for innumerable other artists. His own albums, featuring compositions in different styles ranging from rock to reggae, earned the respect and admiration of the new generation. He wrote numerous songs for his teen-age daughter Charlotte as well as directing and appearing with her in Charlotte For Ever (1986), shocking audiences with the film's incestuous implications. In total, he wrote the music for more than 20 films and directed four features and numerous video clips and commercials. A couple of years before his death he promoted the new teenage star Vanessa Paradis. His death in 1991 virtually lead to national mourning in France. He was posthumously distinguished with the Cesar Award (the French Oscar) in 1996 for the musical theme used in Elisa (1995).