Johnny Hallyday, the Elvis of France Dies at 74

Johnny Hallyday, the French answer to Elvis Presley, who kept audiences enthralled for nearly 60 years with his Gallic interpretations of American rock ’n’ roll and his turbulent offstage life, has died. He was 74.

His wife, Laeticia, confirmed the death to Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.

The 1957 Presley film “Loving You” changed French culture forever when it inspired the 14-year-old Jean-Philippe Smet to pick up a guitar, twist his lips into a sneer and swivel his hips. As Johnny Hallyday, he gave French audiences a bad case of rock fever, touching off riots wherever he appeared to sing hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “C’est le Mashed Potatoes.”

Although he was little known outside France, Mr. Hallyday sold more than 100 million records, acted in more than 30 films and appeared on the cover of Paris Match dozens of times. His career endured so long that when he released an album in 2008 called “Ça Ne Finira Jamais” (“It Will Never End”), the title sounded like a simple statement of fact.

That album and its title song both reached No. 1 on the French charts.

Mr. Hallyday gave his fans more than recycled Elvis. His hard drinking, car crashes, wild partying and tempestuous love life made him a permanent headline in the French popular press. Readers breathlessly followed his on-again, off-again marriage to the glamorous singer and actress Sylvie Vartan, a roller-coaster relationship that led Mr. Hallyday to attempt suicide twice.

Critics scoffed at Mr. Hallyday as derivative, but his countless fans did not care. His outdoor concert at the Eiffel Tower in 2000 drew more than half a million fans, and another 9.5 million watched it on television — about one-sixth of the population of France.

Jean-Philippe Smet was born in Nazi-occupied Paris on June 15, 1943. His mother, a model, and his father, a Belgian circus performer, separated soon after he was born, and he was raised by a paternal aunt.

(Excerpt) Read More in: The New York Times

Johnny Hallyday, the Elvis of France Dies at 74

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