Johnny Hallyday (born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet), “the French Elvis” who sold over 110 million records and acted in 34 films over the span of his career, died overnight Wednesday after being diagnosed with lung cancer in March. He was 74.
Influenced by Elvis Presley and the 1950s rock n' roll revolution, Hallyday became known for singing rock 'n' roll in French. His debut single, "Laisse les filles," was released on the Vogue label in March 1960, followed shortly by the release of his first album, Hello Johnny.
In 1961 his cover of "Let's Twist Again" sold over one million copies, for which he was awarded a gold disc. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show with Connie Francis in a show that was taped at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris. He also staged many appearances in the Paris Olympia.
One of Hallyday's later concerts, 100% Johnny: Live à la tour Eiffel in 2000, attracted an audience of 500,000 and 9.5 million television viewers (the show was broadcast live on French TV).
He was made a Chevalier of the Legion D'Honneur by President Jacques Chirac in 1997.
The French simply called him "Our Johnny". However, outside the Francophone zone, Hallyday was virtually unknown.
He also lived a wild life filled with hard drinking, car crashes, extravagant parties and tempestuous love affairs that made him a permanent headline in the French popular press. An on-again, off-again marriage to the glamorous singer and actress Sylvie Vartan, was described as a roller-coaster relationship that led him to attempt suicide twice. It came to an end when he declared his love for American blues singer and Montreal resident Nanette Workman. Their relationship lasted a couple of years, after which they remained good friends. In total, Hallyday had four wives, the last is Laeticia who announced his death to news media on Wednesday.
Reacting to the news, French President Emmanuel Macron referenced the title of a recent tribute album by saying: "There is a little bit of Johnny in all of us."
He added: "Across generations, he carved himself into the lives of French people. He charmed them through the generosity you saw in his concerts: so epic, so intimate, in huge venues, in small spots."
Other French politicians followed suit, including former presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé.
– Obituary drawn from various sources including the BBC, The New York Times, Montreal Gazette and Wikipedia