PARIS (Reuters) – Johnny Hallyday, whose death at 74 was announced by his wife and the French president on Wednesday, was a rock and roll giant in his native France, surviving drug use, family strife and near-death episodes to strut the stage for more than 50 years.
Known for his cowboy swagger, gravelly voice, abundant tattoos and leather biker jackets, the “French Elvis” had tens of millions of fans, above all in his native France, where he sold more records than any other singer.
Hallyday died after a battle with lung cancer. His wife Laeticia phoned French President Emmanuel Macron at about 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) with news that triggered an outpouring of grief from fans, politicians and celebrities.
“For more than 50 years, he was a vibrant icon,” read a statement by Macron, who this summer attended a concert Hallyday gave days after a dose of chemotherapy.
Later, during a visit to Algeria, Macron said: “Homage will be paid.”
Hallyday sold more than 100 million albums over the decades, mostly in the French-speaking world. He never quite conquered the United States, where he lived in Los Angeles in later years.
“I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us,” his wife said in a statement.
Police were posted outside his house west of Paris.
Broadcasters provided wall-to-wall coverage of the rocker’s life, with reams of black-and-white film and song tapes tracing the history of a man regarded by many, non-fans included, as part of French national heritage.
Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament paid their respects with a standing ovation.
French-Canadian singer Celine Dion took to Twitter to mourn the loss of “a true icon”. American singer Lenny Kravitz posted a tweet saying: “Repose en Paix (Rest in peace). Your soul is pure Rock and Roll.”
In Belgium, his father’s birthplace, the underground railway authority said it would pipe his music into trains, while Brussels City Hall said his biggest hits would be aired over loudspeakers at the famous Grand Place square in an evening tribute.
ROCK STAR LIFE
American newspaper USA Today once dubbed Hallyday “the greatest rock star you never heard of,” but in France he was a monument known simply as “Johnny.”
He drew huge crowds and sang to more…