Johnny Hallyday: French rock icon dead at 74

Lenny Kravitz and Celine Dion pay tributes to ‘giant of showbusiness’

Johnny Hallyday
Hallyday in 2012
(Image credit: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

Rock-and-roll star Johnny Hallyday, known as the “French Elvis”, has died at the age of 74.

The singer, born Jean-Philippe Smet, died on Tuesday night after a prolonged battle with lung cancer.

In the 1960s, he was the undisputed star of the homegrown French rock and roll scene, with a string of hits which put a Gallic spin on the style pioneered by singers like Elvis and Chuck Berry.

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Unlike many less fortunate singers, Hallyday’s star did not fade with the passing of the rock-and-roll era. As the years passed, he won new generations of fans with a more mature sound and a reputation for spectacular live performances.

Journalist Philippe Le Corre once described Hallyday as an “animal” on stage, the BBC reports. "He's quite incredible. People of all ages like him,” he added.

“Stadium sell-outs, record-breaking sales and top-flight collaborations with other musicians saw Johnnymania reach its peak in France in the late 1990,” says Vogue.

He is estimated to have sold more than 100 million records in total, despite never cracking the English-speaking market.

Throughout his nearly 60 years in showbusiness, Hallyday’s hard-partying image and turbulent personal life kept him in the headlines almost as much as his music. “He attempted suicide in 1966, collapsed on stage in 1986 and married five times, twice to the same woman,” The Local reports.

The news of his passing was met with sorrow not only in France, but also among the musical community worldwide. Lenny Kravitz was among the musicians to pay tribute to the beloved icon:

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French-Canadian singer Celine Dion called Hallyday a “giant in showbusiness” and a “true icon”.

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French President Emmanuel Macron led the mourning in Hallyday’s homeland, tweeting a link to a clip of the singer with the caption "We all have something of Johnny inside us".

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