Rock icon was known as France’s Elvis Presley
PARIS >> Johnny Hallyday, France’s biggest rock star for more than half a century and an icon who packed sports stadiums and all but lit up the Eiffel Tower with his high-energy concerts at the foot of the Paris landmark, died early Wednesday. He was 74.
President Emmanuel Macron, who knew the star offstage, announced his death in a statement, saying “he brought a part of America into our national pantheon.”
Macron’s office said the president spoke with Hallyday’s family, but didn’t provide details about where the rocker died.
French media reported widely that he died at his home west of Paris, which was quickly surrounded by mourning fans and police providing security.
Hallyday had lung cancer and repeated health scares in recent years that dominated national news. But he continued performing as recently as this summer.
Celine Dion was among stars sharing condolences for a rocker with a famously gravelly voice who sold more than 100 million records, filled concert halls and split his time between Los Angeles and Paris. Brigitte Bardot tweeted: “Johnny is a monument. It is France!”
Some of France’s leading political figures on the left and right joined Macron in mourning the loss of “Johnny,” as he was known. Former President Francois Hollande, the Socialist leader replaced by Macron, said Hallyday “is part of our national patrimony.”
Hallyday fashioned his glitzy stage aura, with an open shirt, jewelry and a pumping pelvis, from Elvis Presley, drew musical inspiration from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, performed with Jimi Hendrix, and made an album in country music’s capital, Nashville, Tenn.
His stardom largely ended at the French-speaking world, yet in France itself, he was an institution, with a postage stamp in his honor. He was the country’s top rock ’n’ roll star through more than five decades and eight presidents, and it was no exaggeration when Macron wrote “the whole country is in mourning.”
“We all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us,” Macron said, praising “a sincerity and authenticity that kept alive the flame that he ignited in the public’s heart.”
He was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, of a Belgian father and French mother during the dark days of World War II with a less glamorous name, Jean-Philippe Smet.
Memorial plans weren’t immediately announced.
French pop singer Johnny Hallyday performs at the Palais des Sports in Paris. Hallyday, who packed sports stadiums for decades, died Wednesday.