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PARIS (Reuters) - A set of love letters penned by Edith Piaf to her cycling champion lover Louis Gerardin have been published in France, where the late singer is as famous for her anguished love affairs as for her mournful ballads.
The great chanteuse's passionate months-long affair with the married Gerardin inspired a torrent of flowery, emotional missives, dotted with spelling mistakes and crossings-out, that reveal Piaf's fragility and desperate need to be loved back.
He was not Piaf's only paramour but it is the first time such heartfelt letters by the singer -- dubbed "La Mome Piaf," or little waif sparrow, as her mesmerizing presence propelled her from the streets of Paris to international stardom in the 1940s and 50s -- appear in a published collection.
"You have taken me like no other man has ever done, and I have given you what I have never before given, which is to say: myself!" wrote Piaf in early 1952 to her blond blue-eyed lover.
Three years her senior at 39, Gerardin was the object of Piaf's passion from November 1951 to September 1952, during which time she wrote over 50 letters to her lover, nicknamed "Toto."
"This is what I would like before leaving for America," Piaf wrote on April 13, 1952, before a tour. "To be so worn-out, so filled with love, that I cannot make love anymore for months but await my marvelous return to be with you again like your little pet dog."
Piaf wrote of her desire to have a baby with Gerardin, and offered to give up her singing career to be with him, yet her letters suggest an undercurrent of insecurity and desperation and a love that was not fully reciprocated.
"If you could write me, that would please me, but if it bothers you, don't do it!" Piaf wrote on Jan 25, 1952.
Gerardin reportedly said of his mistress: "Forty eight hours with Piaf are more tiring than a lap in the Tour de France."
Piaf was no stranger to romance. Her affair with Gerardin came two years after the death in a plane crash of boxer Marcel Cerdan, considered the great love of her life.
That affair was chronicled in the 2007 film "La Vie en Rose" which brought Piaf's sufferings to the big screen and won an Oscar and a French Cesar award for actress Marion Cotillard.
Another affair was publicized when a passion-filled letter Piaf wrote to Greek actor Dimitris Horn in 1946, while in a relationship with French crooner Yves Montand, was auctioned in 2009 for 1,500 euros ($2,222) in Greece.
Piaf's original letters to Gerardin were auctioned by Christie's in 2009 and bought by an anonymous collector for 67,000 euros. The letters, with the scribbles and errors cleaned up, were published by French house Bernard Grasset under the title "My Blue Love" and released in late March.
A 12-times sprinting champion with a chiseled frame and slicked-back hair when he became involved with Piaf, Gerardin would win the top French title once more in 1953.
In her letters, Piaf made plans for a future home with him -- "We will have pretty drapes and a beautiful table service" -- even sending him a copy of her accounts and expressing happiness that she could provide a comfortable retirement for them both.
Raised in a brothel after her mother abandoned her, and first spotted when she was singing for coins on the streets of Paris, Piaf looked up to the urbane Gerardin.
"I want to completely better myself, I want to be worthy of you, you must help me to transform, you will be my little professor, dear, and I will blindly listen to you like a master that I adore," she wrote in the January letter.
Piaf, who endured a lifelong struggle with drugs and alcohol and suffered the death of her toddler daughter, died from cancer in 1963 aged 47.
In later letters, Gerardin's wife, Bichette, crops up more and more. Sometimes Piaf expresses sympathy and says he should return to her. At other times she urges him to break ties.
On September 18, 1952, the last dated letter of the collection, Piaf wrote to Gerardin from New York to cut things off.
"When you receive this letter I will be married," wrote Piaf, now engaged to French singer Jacques Pills, expressing the hope that she and Gerardin could remain friends.
Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato