Johnny Hallyday, whose death at 74 was announced by his wife and the French president on Wednesday, was a rock ‘n’ roll giant in his native France and survived drug use, family strife and near-death episodes to strut the stage for more than fifty years.
Hallyday, with his cowboy swagger and gravelly voice, was a “French Elvis” for hundreds of millions of followers, mostly in his native country, where he sold more records than any other singer.
He had been fighting lung cancer, and also preparing yet another album recording and stage tour.
News of his death after weeks of frenzied speculation about his health, set social networks alight with tributes from fans, politicians and celebrities.
“For more than 50 years, he was a vibrant icon,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement.
Hallyday is credited with sales of more than 100 million albums over the decades.
While never earning stardom in the United States, where he lived in Los Angeles in later years, he won a legion of followers in France and elsewhere in the French-speaking world.
“Johnny Hallyday has left us,” the singer’s wife, Laeticia, said in a statement to Agence France Presse. “I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us.”
It was not immediately clear where he died.
Céline Dion saddened
Hallyday, who issued his first recording in 1959, had been preparing a new album and tour when news of his admission with respiratory difficulties at a Paris hospital was announced last month.
French-Canadian singer Céline Dion posted a Twitter message saying she was very saddened to hear of his death. “He was a giant in show business … a true icon,” she said.
I’m very sad to hear the news that Johnny Hallyday passed away. He was a giant in show business…a true icon! My thoughts go out to his family, his loved ones, and to the millions of fans who adored him for many decades.He will be sadly missed, but never forgotten.- Céline xx…
American newspaper USA Today once dubbed Hallyday “the greatest rock star you never heard of,” but in France he was known simply as “Johnny.”
A walking monument, he had the star power to fill the 80,000-seat Stade de France and drew a crowd of more than 750,000 when he once held a free concert near the Eiffel Tower on France’s Bastille Day national holiday.