French-Elvis rock icon Johnny Hallyday dies aged 74

'He brought a part of America into our national pantheon,' said Macron

French musician Johnny Hallyday during Miss France 2008 election in Dunkirk, northern France
French musician Johnny Hallyday during Miss France 2008 election in Dunkirk, northern France

France’s biggest rock star and icon, Johnny Hallyday, has died at the age of 74.

His death was announced in a statement early Wednesday by president Emmanuel Macron’s office, saying: “He brought a part of America into our national pantheon.”

Hallyday had long suffered from lung cancer and had repeated health scares as of late, which dominated national news.

The rock star’s stage aura was fashioned around stars like Elvis Presley and his musical inspiration came from the likes of Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.


Several stars, including Celin Dion shared their condolences, with Macron saying “we all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us.”

The antithesis of a French hero, right down to his voice and his use of Elvis-style glitter, Hallyday was the top rock and roll star through more than five decades.

In his hometown, Hallyday was simply known as Johnny.

“For each of us, he means something personal. Memories, happy moments, songs and music,” said former president Nicolas Sarkozy in December 2009, just days after Hallyday, then 66, was hospitalised in Los Angeles.

Sarkozy called the Hallyday family during an EU summit, to give them updates on the singer’s condition during news conferences.

His health issues came amidst a national tour, which included a Bastille Day concert, July 14, at the Eiffel Tower.

Hallyday sang some songs in English including “Hot Legs” and “house of the Rising Sun”, the melody of which was also used for one of his most famous songs – the 1964 “Le Penitencier.”

He was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, during the dark days of World War II with a less glamorous name, Jean-Philippe Smet. His parents had separated by the end of the year. The young Smet followed his father’s sisters to London, where he met Ketchman.

Hallyday gave his first professional concert in 1960, under the name Johnny, and put out his first album a year later. By 1962, he had met the woman who would be his wife for years, and remained his friend to the end, singing star Sylvie Vartan. That year, he also made an album in Nashville, Tennessee, and rubbed shoulders with American singing greats.

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.