Johnny Hallyday, the French rock legend who came to fame in the early 1960s with cover versions of American rock ’n’ roll hits and continued to sell out concerts in France for decades, has died at his home outside Paris. He was 74.
Hallyday, who often was called “the French Elvis,” died Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in a statement. Fans — many in tears or carrying flowers — gathered outside his home to honor the rocker.
Macron said Hallyday “brought a part of America into our national pantheon.” Hallyday, he said, seemed nearly invincible and long ago had been christened a “French hero.”
Although many Americans had never heard of Hallyday, he was considered a godlike figure in France, where a survey once indicated he could likely get enough votes to be elected president.
In 1997, French President Jacques Chirac presented Hallyday with the Legion of Honor.
The Elvis-inspired rocker scored early hits with French cover versions of U.S. records such as “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Long Tall Sally.”
His 1961 version of Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” sold 1 million copies, and his early appearances in France caused riots.
“Johnny Hallyday introduced American rock ’n’ roll to a vast French-speaking audience around the world,” Howard Kramer, curatorial director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, told The Times.
“He had a great reputation as a live performer, and he made records that were massively popular. He never really broke out of Europe, but his success was so massive he didn’t really need to.”
Over the decades, Hallyday reportedly sold more than 100 million records and performed before more than 15 million people in concert. In 1966, he selected Jimi Hendrix as an opening act and used eventual Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page in the recording studio as a session guitarist.
Hallyday, who in recent years had split his time between Paris and Los Angeles, said at the time that he planned to continue recording occasionally. But he said decades on the road had worn him down. He had lung cancer and had repeated health scares over the years, including undergoing back surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“I have had enough playing Johnny Hallyday,” the Times of London reported him as saying a week before the 2009 tour. “I want more and more to be Jean-Philippe Smet.”
The son of a Belgian father and a French mother, he was born Jean-Philippe Smet in Paris on June 15, 1943.