France Mourns Its Favorite Rock Star, Johnny Hallyday

France Mourns Its Beloved Rock Star, Johnny Hallyday

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In France today, nothing else matters. Johnny Hallyday can be dead.

The French rock star, who died at 74 of lung cancer at his house outside Paris Wednesday, had a career spanning 57 years. He sold a lot more than 100 million albums, but was little known outside his very own nation. USA Today once known as him “the best rock star you by no means heard of.”

Retrospectives and tributes experience poured in, and France’s Primary Minister Edouard Philippe paid tribute to Hallyday in Parliament.

“Johnny Hallyday had a special place in our nation,” he said. “We all have been emotional today. Every French person includes a song that involves brain when they think about Johnny Hallyday.”

Born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet in 1943 in Paris, Hallyday was abandoned simply by his alcoholic dad and raised simply by his paternal aunt, a former dancer and silent film actress.

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He found his calling the day he found an Elvis Presley motion picture. As a teenager, he launched his profession by imitating The King, gyrating and crooning to early hits like “Souvenirs Souvenirs.”

Hallyday electrified a good French postwar baby boom generation desperate for freedom and fun. He brought them American rock ‘n’ roll sung in French, says Francis Ciel of France’s rock radio station Oui FM.

“He brought this music back to France,” Ciel says, “nonetheless it was even now the same strength, the same music, and it made it easier to be valued in France by changing the lyrics to French.”

Ciel says because Hallyday always surrounded himself with talented writers and musicians, he could hook up to each new era while keeping his older target audience.

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Throughout the 1970s, the hits kept coming. Music critic Bertrand Dicale says over the years, Hallyday was definitely in the game.

“He was unique in our popular lifestyle because he was not always No. 1, but No. 2 or 3 3 in sales, for 57 years. And always in different styles. Rock, twist, variety, sentimental songs. He covered all genres, styles and eras as well.”

Hallyday – who wedded five occasions and had four kids – led a sometimes turbulent existence, and as he aged, his craggy face reflected years of hard partying, drugs and alcohol.

In a 1998 interview with Le Monde, Hallyday noted, “The impression to be a survivor is nearly always with me. There’s simply me and Mick Jagger.”

While most of the people in the U.S. have no idea who he was, Hallyday was definitely inspired by America. He lived part-time in LA, and crossed the U.S. on his Harley-Davidson motorbike. One French news site described him as infused with Path 66 nostalgia and a mid-century American working-course spirit.

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One of his music videos displays Hallyday as a good trucker, driving down a great American highway in the 1950s and singing a good ballad called “Quelque Chose de Tennessee.”

“We all have something inside us from Tennessee,” he sings.

President Emmanuel Macron called Hallyday a good “bad boy” and a good sentimental rocker who sung of conquest and broken hearts.

“We have all suffered and treasured,” he said, “along with Johnny Hallyday.”

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