Johnny Hallyday, the Elvis Presley of France, Is Dead at 74

His upbringing was unusual. Aunt Hélène, a former silent-film actress, was a stage manager for her two dancing daughters, whom she shepherded from one engagement to the next in cities all over Europe.

Jean-Philippe, whom her American husband called Johnny, became a kind of onstage mascot, singing while the girls changed costume. The boy would later make use of the family stage name, the Hallidays.

Besides singing, Jean-Philippe appeared in commercials as a boy and played the role of a schoolboy in the 1955 Henri-Georges Clouzot thriller, “Les Diaboliques.”

Elvis changed everything. “His voice, the way he moved, everything was sexy,” Mr. Hallyday told USA Today in 2000. “The first time I saw him, I was paralyzed.”

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Mr. Hallyday in 2011.

Credit
Ed Alcock for The New York Times

He began singing American rock songs at the Moulin Rouge and other clubs around Paris, and in 1959 he was signed by Vogue Records, which released his first album, “Hello Johnny,” in 1960, misspelling Halliday on the cover. The misspelling stuck.

His first single, “Laisse les Filles” (“Leave the Girls Alone”), often described as the first French rock song, was a minor hit. In 1961 he recorded his first million-seller, “Viens Danser le Twist,” a French-language version of the Chubby Checker hit “Let’s Twist Again.”

Like Elvis Presley, Mr. Hallyday pursued a second career as an actor. Unlike Presley, he eventually won serious critical respect for his work, especially in such later roles as a world-weary criminal in “The Man on the Train” (2002) and a man who seeks revenge when his daughter’s family is attacked in “Vengeance”

He took music seriously too. Always current with the latest developments in Anglo-American rock, he made it a point to work with top talent outside France. Early in his career he recorded in Nashville with the vocal group the Jordanaires, who backed Presley on many records. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was his opening act in 1966, and he later brought the British guitarists Jimmy Page and Peter Frampton to France for recording sessions.

His efforts remained unappreciated by English and American audiences.

In 1965 Mr. Hallyday married Ms. Vartan, his co-star in the film “Where Are You From, Johnny?” They divorced in 1980. Two subsequent marriages also ended in divorce.

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