In 1951, Dalida entered a beauty pageant, and shortly after began working as a model for a Cairo-based fashion house. In 1954, she entered the Miss Egypt pageant, and was awarded first prize. It was here she was spotted by French director Marc de Gastyne, and, much to the reluctance of her parents, she moved to Paris on Christmas Eve of the same year with the intention of pursuing a career in motion pictures. It was about this time she adopted the name Dalila, which was shortly thereafter changed to the more familiar Dalida.
Dalida performed and recorded in more than 10 languages including: French, Italian, Arabic, German, Spanish, English, Dutch, Japanese, and Greek. Some of Dalida's most well known songs are: Avec le temps, Je suis malade, Paroles, Paroles (with Alain Delon), Il venait d'avoir 18 ans, Gigi l'Amoroso, Salma ya salama and Laissez-moi danser.
Dalida’s quest for a career in French cinema proved to be of limited success. Instead, she began taking singing lessons, and was booked as a cabaret act on the Champs Elysées, which proved successful. Performing the song "Etrangère au Paradis" in a variety show at Coquatrix’s recently-opened Paris Olympia theatre, Dalida was introduced to Lucien Morisse and Eddie Barclay, who played a considerable part in launching the starlet’s career. Morisse was artistic producer of the popular Radio Europe 1, and Barclay an established record producer. After signing a recording contract with Barclay, Dalida’s debut single "Madona" was promoted heavily by Morisse, and was a moderate success. However, the release of "Bambino" in 1956 would prove to be even more triumphant - it spent 46 weeks in the French top ten and remains one of the biggest-selling singles in French history, and for its sales (which exceeded 300,000 copies) Dalida was awarded her first gold disc, presented on 17 September 1957. In the same year, she would also support Charles Aznavour at The Olympia. The follow up single to "Bambino", the exotic-sounding "Gondolier", was released in the Christmas on 1957, was also a great success, as were other early releases such as "Come Prima (Tu Me Donnes)", "Ciao Ciao Bambina", and a cover of The Drifters’ "Save the Last Dance For Me", "Garde-Moi la Dernière Danse".
Dalida toured extensively from 1958 through the early 1960s, playing dates in France, Egypt, Italy and United States. Her tour of Egypt and Italy spread her fame outside of France and Dalida soon became well-known throughout Europe. However, her tour of America was less successful and fame eluded her in English-speaking markets.
In 1961, Dalida performed a month of shows at the Olympia, with each selling out completely. Shortly afterwards Dalida embarked upon a tour of Hong Kong and Vietnam. Throughout the 1960s Dalida would frequently perform sell-out shows at The Olympia, and international dates became more frequent. In December 1968, she was awarded the Médaille de la Présidence de la République by Général de Gaulle, the only person from the music industry to have received this accolade.
The early 1970s became a transitional period for the singer, highlighted by some of her most successful singles . After gaining a keen interest in academia in the mid-1960s she chose to sing songs with more profound lyrics. Bruno Coquatrix was dubious about Dalida’s career evolution, and was hesitant to book her for a series of performances in 1971. Dalida hired the hall herself, and her show was met with an impressive public response. In 1973, a French version of the Italian song "Paroles Paroles", originally performed by Mina, was recorded by Dalida and her close friend Alain Delon. The song became a big hit and was the number one single in France and Japan. The follow up, "Il Venait d’Avoir Dix-Huit Ans", reached number one in nine countries, and sold three and a half million copies in Germany. "Gigi l’Amoroso", released in 1974, would actually perform better in the charts than its predecessor, reaching number one in 12 countries. Touring would follow this period of unprecedented sales, with Dalida performing in Japan, Canada and Germany. In February 1975, French music critics presented the singer with the prestigious Prix de l'Académie du Disque Français.
1976 saw another career reinvention for Dalida; releasing what is widely regarded as the first French disco single, "J’attendrai". Around the same time, the popularity of the variety show in France was soaring, and Dalida made many television appearances during this period, not only in France but across Europe. In 1978, she recorded "Salma Ya Salama", based on a traditional Egyptian folk song, which due to its chart success was translated into Arabic, French, Italian, and German languages.
This and other songs in Arabic by Dalida (such as "Helwa ya baladi" and "Ahsan nas") became extremely popular in Egypt, making Dalida the only Western singer ever to break through the barrier separating Arab and Western music and achieve true success (as opposed to niche popularity) in an Arab country. Her close friend Fairouz was the other major artist to be crossing boundaries but in the opposite directions, from the East to the West with her immense success throughout Europe, North and South America, and Australia.
The success of "Salma Ya Salama" was followed by the first French medley single, "Génération ‘78", a disco-fused combination of her biggest hit singles to date. It also became the first French single to be accompanied by a video clip. During this disco period, Dalida would earn a gay audience, a following which is still maintained today. In November, Dalida performed a Broadway-themed show at Carnegie Hall in New York, choreographed by Lester Wilson, who created the dance routines for John Travolta in the previous year’s cinema smash Saturday Night Fever. Two years later, following the success of "Monday Tuesday... Laissez-Moi Danser" in Summer 1979, she would replicate the show at the Palais des Sports, and each show sold-out, encouraging the singer to embark on a national tour which lasted until the autumn. In the same year, the lengthy "Gigi in Paradisco", a follow-up to the earlier "Gigi l’Amoroso", was released.
1981 marked the release of "Rio do Brasil", and several dates were played at The Olympia, emulating her successful 1980 tour. On the night of her first performance she became the first singer in the world to be awarded with a diamond disc, in recognition of her record sales which at that point in her career had exceeded 86 million. Dalida spent much of 1982 and 1984 on tour, releasing the album "Les P'tits Mots" in 1983 which featured hit singles in both "Lucas" and "Mourir Sur Scène". The album "Dali" was released in 1984, and was accompanied by the release of several singles, including "Soleil", "Pour te Dire Je T’aime", a cover of Stevie Wonder’s "I Just Called to Say I Love You", and "Kalimba de Luna", originally recorded by Tony Esposito. All three achieved moderate chart success, and her next 1986 album, "Le visage de l'amour", would become her last album of completely new recordings (except the final song being "Mourir Sur Scène").
Dalida underwent two major ophthalmic operations in 1985, forcing her to put her career on hiatus. In 1986, she would play the role of a young grandmother in the Youssef Chahine film Le Sixième Jour, for which she received favourable critical response.
On May 3, 1987 Dalida died as a result of an overdose of barbiturates, leaving a suicide note reading "Life has become unbearable ... Forgive me." Dalida was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris, and a life-size statue of the singer stands outside her tomb.
Since her death, Dalida has become a cult figure to a new generation of fans. In 1988, The Encyclopedia Universalis commissioned a poll which was eventually published in daily newspaper Le Monde, the aim of which was to reveal personalities that had the greatest impact on French society. Dalida polled second, behind Général de Gaulle.
In 1997, the corner of the rues Girardon and Abreuvoir in the Butte Montmartre, Paris, was inaugurated as Place Dalida and a life-size bust to her memory was erected. In 1999, a 3-CD box-set compiling her greatest hits was released. In 2000, Dalida's longtime friend Charles Aznavour recorded the hit "De la scène à la Seine", a joyful song of her life in France, and in 2002, the French government honoured her memory with a postage stamp done in commemmoration of the 15th anniversary of her death. In the same year, Universal Music Group released Dalida's early album releases in special-edition packaging, with all of the tracks digitally remastered. Her output has also been the subject of various remix albums. She sold a total of 100 million records from 1956 to 2006.
In 1999 the play "Solitudini - Luigi Tenco e Dalida", written and directed by Maurizio Valtieri, was performed in Rome.
In 2005, her life was documented in the two-part TV film Dalida, in the role of Dalida was Sabrina Ferilli.
From May 11 to September 2007, The Paris City Hall commemorated the 20th anniversary of Dalida’s death with an exhibition of her outfits and previously unreleased photographs.