6, December 2017
Veteran French rocker Johnny Hallyday has died after a battle with lung cancer. He was 74.
The death of Hallyday, a rock and roll giant in France with a career that lasted more than 50 years, was announced by the office of the French president. “He brought a part of America into our national pantheon,” French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said early on Wednesday.
Macron, who spoke with Hallyday’s family after the news, said “we all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us.” Hallyday had announced in March that he was being treated for cancer but had played down the severity of his condition.
“Johnny Hallyday has left us,” the singer’s wife, Laeticia, said in a statement to Agence France Presse. “I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us.”
Known simply as “Johnny” to his fans, Hallyday was the closest France got to Elvis and was once dubbed “the biggest star you’ve never heard of” by USA Today. Hallyday enjoyed a huge following in France, having sold more than 100 million records in his decades-long career.
In a sign of his standing in the country, Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, as mayor of the rich enclave of Neuilly-sur-Seine on the western edge of Paris, presided in 1996 over the entertainer’s marriage to his fourth wife, Laeticia.
His health had been the subject of media speculation since he was hospitalised in 2009 in the United States for complications following a hernia operation, and was put in an artificial coma.
“For each of us, he means something personal. Memories, happy moments, songs and music,” Sarkozy said at the time. Hallyday was a colourful character loved for hits such as “Allumez le Feu”, but also home-grown versions of rock standards such as Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog and Bebop a Lula by Gene Vincent.
But he had also sparked considerable controversy, in particular for choosing to dodge French taxes by taking up residence in Switzerland, saying he had had enough of being “fleeced” back home.
Part of the “Ye Ye” generation, Hallyday’s career took off in 1960, where he prompted the same scenes of hysteria in France as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
With his square-jawed good looks and piercing blue eyes, Hallyday was often sought-out for the cinema, playing in French director Jean-Luc Godard’s “Detective” (1984) and with other illustrious directors including Costa-Gavras.
More recently, Hallyday appeared in Johnnie To’s “Vengeance” (2009) and had talked about giving film a bigger role in his life.
However, it was the rocker’s sentimental life, and his marriage to Laeticia that gave him a mellow edge. He spoke lovingly of daughters Jade and Joy, who were adopted from Vietnam. “I’m not a star. I’m just a simple man,” he said in a 2006 interview on France 3.
Hallyday is also survived by two other children, Dave, a singer fathered with Vartan, and Laura Smet, whom he had with noted French actress Nathalie Baye.