Régine, who built the nightclub empire, dies at 92

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Running a small Parisian nightclub in 1953, the indomitable crimson-haired woman known as Régine sets up a linoleum dance floor and colored lights, standing on a chair and occasionally waving her hand to create a strobe light effect for her clientele . To eliminate the awkward gap between songs — a silence filled with the sound of couples kissing in the corner — she replaced the jukebox with two turntables and started spinning records herself.

“I was a bartender, doorman, toilet attendant, hostess – and I put the records on too. It was the very first nightclub,” she claimed decades later, “and I was the very first club disc jockey.

While nightclubs had been around for at least a century, Régine helped create a hip new model for dancing after dark, ushering in the disco era and her own empire of drug-fueled excess. Champagne. Within four years, she had opened a club in the Latin Quarter called Chez Régine, where she served spaghetti at 3 a.m., tangoed with Charlie Chaplin and taught the twist to the Duke of Windsor.

“If you can’t dance,” she proclaimed, “you can’t have sex.”

Régine, who opened nearly two dozen dance clubs around the world, hosting actors, aristocrats and other privileged customers while gaining a reputation as the “queen of the night”, died on May 1 at 92 years. His granddaughter Daphne Rotcajg confirmed his death to news agency Agence France-Presse but did not share further details.

Born in Belgium, the daughter of Polish Jews, Régine grew up in France, hiding in a convent during the Nazi occupation, before launching her nightclub career as a hat girl at Whiskey à Gogo in Paris. It was there, she later wrote in a memoir, that she realized she wanted to “make the night sparkle and become, as much as I could, a sort of high priestess of the here and now”.

At Régine, she served bottles of liquor instead of simple cocktails and played a then-exotic mix of rumbas, tangos, merengues and rock songs. His clients included Francoise Sagan, Yves Saint Laurent, Brigitte Bardot, Rudolf Nureyev, Georges Pompidou and a host of visiting Americans, including actors who had arrived in France to shoot the 1962 war film ‘The Longest Day’.

“John Wayne looked at me with a smile and said, ‘So you’re Régine,'” she recalled in an interview with BBC News. “He knew I had a thing with Robert Mitchum and a few other stars.” This group grew to include actor Gene Kelly, with whom she danced the night away and accompanied for two weeks. “Yes,” she confirmed to she magazine“we had private relations.”

For Spanish actor and nobleman José Luis de Vilallonga, Chez Régine was “a leper colony for the most privileged”. For tabloid journalist Robin Leach, the club was a godsend: “Working as a journalist covering the jet set in Paris at that time was extremely easy,” he told New York magazine. in 1999. “You would just go to Regine’s every night and wait for the princesses to arrive.”

Even as she opened nightclubs in France and abroad, Régine embarked on parallel careers as an actress and singer, performing at the Olympia in Paris and Carnegie Hall in New York. She recorded a French version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and appeared in nearly a dozen television shows and films, including “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (1976), a mystery of Sherlock Holmes with Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall.

Building on the success of her nightclubs, she also launched cafes, clothing and fragrance lines, dance classes and a magazine. For a time, his clubs reportedly brought in close to $500 million a year. Some 20,000 people carried gold membership cards inside Cartier cases, allowing them access to all of its locations, whether in Kuala Lumpur, London, Cairo or New York, where it opened in 1976 the restaurant and dance club Manhattan Régine’s at the Delmonico hotel.

As New York magazine later reported, his expansion into New York did not go smoothly. After being cited for plumbing violations in her first week, she filled three limos with the club’s dirty dishes and drove a few blocks to the French restaurant Le Cirque. “Suddenly there she was, this little lady at the door with all these dishes,” said restaurant owner Sirio Maccioni. “Of course, we opened the kitchen. For Régine, you did anything.

Serving egg dishes topped with caviar by celebrity chef Michel Guérard and charging an annual membership fee of $600, Régine’s was considered one of Manhattan’s most expensive nightlife destinations. “Order a drink and prepare to close your bank account,” said a 1982 guidebook. But it remained a glitzy haven for celebrities like Andy Warhol, Jack Nicholson and Diana Vreeland. A strict dress code was maintained – dark suits and ties for men, “evening elegance” for women – although exceptions were made for regulars, including Mick Jagger.

By the early 1980s, some of his longtime patrons had begun to drift away, drawn to more adventurous clubs such as Studio 54, which became known as an adult amusement park for public sex and drug use. Her Park Avenue club closed in 1991, and over the next decade she closed many of her other venues, including a Chilean nightclub in Santiago that was reportedly damaged by a bomb that one of her partners commercial blew up in an insurance scam.

Still, Régine continued to dance, sing and hustle, opening another Manhattan restaurant and club called Rage (she was appalled when guests stole some of the club’s glittering, art deco toilet seats) and perpetual search for the next business venture. “People my age are ready to die,” she told New York magazine at 69, “but I’m like a night flower. I don’t bloom until after midnight.

According to most accounts, she was born Regina Zylberberg just outside of Brussels on December 26, 1929. As she said, her mother moved to Argentina when Régine was a baby, and her father was a sometimes violent alcoholic. who ran a café in the Parisian district of Belleville.

“That’s where my ambition started,” she told the BBC. “It was a working-class Jewish cafe with all kinds of people passing by. I thought to myself: I want a place where I can choose who comes in. I wanted earls and dukes, people with titles.

After joining Whiskey à Gogo in the early 1950s, she befriended Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and members of the Rothschild family, who helped finance her first club.

She later became more famous than many of her clients, making headlines in 1996 when she and her son were arrested, reportedly after he started smoking on a plane and she began to curse the captain. “You can’t tell me what to do,” she said, according to an FBI affidavit. “The last time anyone told me what to do was when the Nazis invaded Paris.”

A brief early marriage ended in divorce. Her second marriage, to businessman Roger Choukroun, lasted more than three decades before they divorced in 2004. “My job is my passion first and foremost,” she told New York magazine a few years after they married. marriage. “I’ve never loved a man this way.”

Her son from her first marriage, Lionel Rotcage, died in 2006. Survivor information was not immediately available.

In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded him the Legion of Honor. Three years later, at age 81, she played flirtatious Solange La Fitte in a Kennedy Center production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” By this time she was growing nostalgic for the more private and exclusive club scene she had helped to promote, although she said she still enjoyed going out and dancing.

“These days society demands huge halls for thousands of people,” she told the BBC. “But I don’t like anonymity. The perfect nightclub takes 400 people, no more.

Edward K. Thompson