Johnny Hallyday

Jean-Philippe Léo Smet (15 June 1943 – 5 December 2017), better known by his stage name Johnny Hallyday, was a French rock and roll and pop singer and actor, credited for having brought rock and roll to France.

During a career spanning 57 years, he released 79 albums and sold more than 110 million records worldwide, mainly in the French-speaking world, making him one of the best-selling artists in France and in the world. He won 5 diamond albums, 40 golden albums, 22 platinum albums and 10 Music Victories. He sang nearly 1,154 songs and performed 540 duets with 187 artists. Credited for his strong voice and his spectacular shows, he sometimes arrived by entering a stadium through the crowd and one time by jumping from a helicopter above the Stade de France, where he has performed 9 times.

Among his 3,257 shows completed in 187 tours, the most memorable were at Bercy in 1993, at the Stade de France in 1998 (just after France’s win in the Football World Cup) and at the Eiffel Tower in 2000, which are all regarded as record-breaking performances in terms of ticket sales for a French artist. A million spectators gathered to see his performance at the Eiffel Tower, joined by 9 million more watching on TV.

Usually working with the best French artists and musicians of his time, he most notably collaborated with Charles Aznavour, Michel Sardou, Michel Berger and Jean-Jacques Goldman, while his shows were produced by Jean-Claude Camus, considered to be one of the greatest producers in France.

Hugely popular in France, he was usually referred to as simply “Johnny” and seen as a “national monument” (the only one since Edith Piaf) and a part of the French cultural legacy. His exceptional longevity in public life made him a familiar figure for four generations and a symbol of the Thirty Glorious Years when he emerged in 1960.

More than 2,500 magazine covers and 190 books have been dedicated to him during his lifetime. His personal life has been greatly exposed to the public, making him one of the persons most widely covered by the media in France along with Charles de Gaulle, Dalida and Brigitte Bardot during the 1960s. His death from cancer in 2017 was followed by a “popular tribute” during which a million people attended the procession and 15 million others watched the ceremony on TV. However, he remained largely unknown in the English-speaking world where he was dubbed “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of” and introduced as the French version of Elvis Presley.

Influenced by Elvis Presley and the 1950s rock n’ roll revolution, Hallyday became known for singing rock ‘n’ roll in French. His debut single, “Laisse les filles” was released on the Vogue label in March 1960. His first album, Hello Johnny, was released in 1960. In 1961 his cover of “Let’s Twist Again” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. It topped almost every European chart, although the track did not appear in the UK Singles Chart. He appeared on the American The Ed Sullivan Show with American singing star Connie Francis in a show that was taped at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris. He also staged many appearances in the Paris Olympia under the management of Bruno Coquatrix.

For their first concert, The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for Johnny Hallyday in Nancy on 14 October 1966. Film footage, also from October 1966, exists of Hallyday partying with Hendrix, his manager Chas Chandler and others. He also socialised with Keith Richards and Bob Dylan.

At the end of the 1960s, Hallyday made a string of albums with Mick Jones (who write “Johnny, my dear Friend and Inspiration throughout the years. I will miss you terribly. You will live on in my everlasting memories”) and Tommy Brown as musical directors, and Big Jim Sullivan, Bobby Graham and Jimmy Page as session musicians. These are Jeune homme, Rivière… Ouvre ton lit (aka Je suis né dans la rue) and Vie. On Je suis né dans la rue, Hallyday also hired both Peter Frampton and the Small Faces. Amongst their contributions are the songs “Amen (Bang Bang)”, “Reclamation (News Report)”, and “Regarde pour moi (What You Will)”, which are variations of Small Faces and Humble Pie (Frampton’s band) songs—tracks and they all play on the album. Often forgotten is Hallyday’s non-LP single and EP track “Que je t’aime” from the same sessions. By 1969 alone, his record sales exceeded twelve million units.

One of Hallyday’s later concerts, 100% Johnny: Live à la tour Eiffel in 2000, attracted an audience of 500,000 and 9.5 million television viewers (the show was broadcast live on French TV). In December 2005, Hallyday had his third number-one single on the French SNEP singles chart since its establishement in 1984, “Mon plus beau Noël” (after “Tous ensemble” and “Marie”), dedicated to his adopted daughter Jade. Shortly before announcing his retirement from touring in 2007, he released a blues-flavored album, Le Cœur d’un homme. In addition to the lead single “Always”, Le Cœur d’un homme features “T’aimer si mal”, a duet with blues musician Taj Mahal and “I Am the Blues”, an English-language song (uncharacteristically for Hallyday) written by U2’s lead singer Bono.

His next album, Ça ne finira jamais, released in 2008, another No. 1 on the French album chart, and its lead single, “Ça n’finira jamais”, also reached No. 1. Hallyday’s last album was Tour 66: Stade de France 2009, a live set recorded at Stade de France during his farewell tour. In 2011 Johnny Hallyday released album “Jamais seul”, recorded with Matthieu Chedid, and started touring again. In 2012 he gave concerts in different countries, including Russia, and released album “L’Attente”.

Later Johnny released two live albums – “On Stage” and “Born Rocker Tour” (a recording of his 70th anniversary concerts in Bercy and Theatre de Paris). Albums named “Rester Vivant” and “De L’Amour” were released in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In 2015-2016 Johnny had a big “Rester Vivant Tour”. A concert in Bruxelles was released as a live album in 2016.

Residence

Hallyday, who resided in Los Angeles, owned a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, from 2006 to 2015 to avoid the high tax rate imposed by the French government. Hallyday said that he would have moved his residency back to France if it changed its tax laws. In January 2014, Hallyday said that his current residence was in the United States after an investigation by a Swiss journalist showed that Hallyday did not spend enough time in Gstaad to qualify as a resident. One of his favorite leisure activities was riding his Harley-Davidson on long trips through the California desert, staying in small motels along the way.

Illness and death

Hallyday died of lung cancer shortly after 10 pm on 5 December 2017 in Marnes-la-Coquette, near Paris, at the age of 74. French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute, saying he “transcended generations and is etched in the memory of the French people”. On 9 December, his funeral was held in Paris; 800 000 lined the Champs-Élysées as his body was taken to the Madeleine Church and the service was attended by Macron and two of his predecessors. He was buried on the French Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy on 11 December 2017.

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