She opened the world’s first discotheque, Chez Régine, in 1958 in Paris, where she taught the Duke of Windsor to dance the Twist; she’s lost count of how many men she’s loved and how much money she’s spent; and at nearly 80, she’s still partying and surviving three hours sleep per night. Over a bowl of sorbet on the terrasse of Paris’ Plaza Athénée hotel, we sat down with notorious night bird Régine Zylberberg, who’s working on an autobiography to be published in France by Flamarion later this year.
During all your nights out, who was the best dancer you met?
Porfirio Rubirosa, a real gentleman and a huge polo player. He was from a big family from Santo Domingo and was married to Flor de Oro, the daughter of Trujillo [the Dominican Republic dictator]. Porfirio was very supple and unbelievably handsome.
You had affairs with a lot of famous men.
One night John Wayne came to my club. He looked me up and down and said, “You are ze Régine?” He said in such a way I said to myself, “Oh la la la, what a bad reputation I must have.” You know, I’ve had as lovers Robert Mitchum, Warren Beatty, Gene Kelly…
You were known for your strict door policy. If you were to open a new club today, who would you let in?
You’re almost finished writing your autobiography. What’s the focus of the book?
It’s about all the personalities I met, how I went from being a barmaid to what I became. How I spent all my money and went bust and how, thanks to the fact that I went bust, I became a young girl again because I was obliged to start all over again. And that suits me fine. Otherwise I’d be an old lady with a chauffeur and lots of homes, which would totally bore me.
Where do you like to go out in Paris today?
I like to have dinner with friends at the Stresa, which is my canteen.
What’s your favorite tipple?
Green tea. I don’t drink or smoke.
Were you affected by Michael Jackson’s passing?
I knew him very well. I met Michael when he was filming The Wiz in 1978. Diana Ross was a very close friend of mine—I knew her when she was in The Supremes and I taught her to do the Twist. Michael was a dear, so charming. It was a miracle to see him dancing, and levitating! Michael was a victim. You know, I also knew Elvis Presley. These are icons who are out of the ordinary, with a talent so strong and at the same time they’re haunted by demons that they end up harming themselves. Michael once told me that he wouldn’t live to be an old man—he couldn’t see himself growing old.
What’s the strangest thing you ever saw in one of your clubs?
Myself. It was me who put a tiger in the club, and snakes. But I was the strangest thing there, that’s why everyone came to see me. I was the attraction.
Photo by Katya Foreman