France’s biggest rock star Johnny Hallyday has died from lung cancer, his wife says. He was 74.
The singer – real name Jean-Philippe Smet – sold about 100 million records and starred in a number of films.
He was made a Chevalier of the Legion D’Honneur by President Jacques Chirac in 1997.
The French have simply called him “Our Johnny”. However, outside the Francophone zone, Hallyday was almost unknown.
In a statement, his wife Laeticia said: “Johnny Hallyday has left us,” the AFP news agency reports.
“I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us.
“He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity,” she said.
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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”.
“Across generations, he carved himself into the lives of French people,” Mr Macron said. “He charmed them through the generosity you saw in his concerts: so epic, so intimate, in huge venues, in small spots.”
Among those to pay tribute was American guitarist Lenny Kravitz.
Farewell Dear @JohnnySjh. Your friendship, sweetness and support are imprinted in my heart. It is an honor to have known you and to have spent time with you and your beautiful family. Your soul is pure Rock and Roll. Repose en paix. 📷: @candyTman pic.twitter.com/1ZAFUewHlo
— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) December 6, 2017
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In a French-language tweet, singer Celine Dion called him “a legend of showbusiness”.
Je suis très triste d’apprendre le décès de Johnny Hallyday. Il était un géant du show-business … une véritable légende! J’ai une pensée pour sa famille, ses proches et ses millions de fans qui l’adorent. Il nous manquera beaucoup, mais ne jamais oublié. – Céline xx…
— Celine Dion (@celinedion) December 6, 2017
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Influenced by Elvis Presley, Hallyday broke from France’s classic “chanson” tradition in the 1950s, starting singing rock and roll in French.
“He introduced rock and roll to France. He’s one of the few singers about whom people say that he’s an animal on stage,” journalist Philippe Le Corre once said.
“He’s quite incredible. People of all ages like him,” he added.
Despite his success at home, Hallyday failed to crack the lucrative American or any English-speaking market.