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France’s best-known rock star Johnny Hallyday has died aged 74 after a battle with lung cancer, his wife Laeticia said on Wednesday.
The leather-clad would-be Elvis, known simply as Johnny, announced in March he had been diagnosed with the disease and would undergo treatment.
“Johnny Hallyday has left us. I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us,” said Laeticia Hallyday, 42, in a statement made in the early hours.
“He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity.”
While he was never taken seriously abroad, Hallyday broke from France’s classic “chanson” tradition in the late 1950s, selling more than 100 million albums and headlining 50 major tours.
Born on June 15 1943, he attempted suicide in 1966, collapsed on stage in 1986 and married five times, twice to the same woman, the daughter of one of his oldest friends and songwriters.
President Emmanuel Macron was among the first to react to Hallyday’s death, saying: “There is something of Johnny in all of us.”
On a tous en nous quelque chose de Johnny. https://t.co/1z35AuH4bJ
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 6, 2017
The world of French music and culture lined up to pay tribute to Hallyday.
“I have lost more than a friend. I have lost a brother,” French singer Eddy Mitchell told AFP. ”
Former culture minister Jack Lang said: “He was a part of all of us. It’s difficult to imagine that we won’t ear his voice again.”
News of Hallyday’s death also triggered tributes from Celine Dion and Lenny Kravitz.
“I’m very sad to hear the news that Johnny Hallyday passed away. He was a giant in show business… a true icon!” Dion wrote on Twitter.
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…
— Celine Dion (@celinedion) December 6, 2017
Kravitz also tweeted in response to the news (see below) ending his message with the words, “Repose en paix” (Rest in peace in French).
Farewell Dear @JohnnySjh. Your friendship, sweetness and support are imprinted in my heart. It is an honor to have known you and to have spent time with you and your beautiful family. Your soul is pure Rock and Roll. Repose en paix. 📷: @candyTman pic.twitter.com/1ZAFUewHlo
— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) December 6, 2017
Politicians also paid tribute to the French singing legend.
Mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppe tweeted: “‘How I love you! How I love you!’ That’s what each French person wants to tell Johnny this morning. As he himself said, he was part of our lives.”
«Que je t’aime! Que je t’aime! » C’est ce que chaque Français a envie de déclarer à Johnny ce matin. Comme il le disait lui-même, il faisait partie de notre vie.
— Alain Juppé (@alainjuppe) December 6, 2017
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy — an adoring fan who once tried to tempt him back from tax exile in Switzerland — said he represented “part of our personal history… our memories and emotions”.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen expressed condolences on Twitter to Hallyday’s family, describing him as “a singer who came from the people and who the people loved”.
The French media was awash with tributes, with Le Figaro daily running the headline: “France’s last idol is gone.”
On Twitter, #JohnnyHallyday and #RIPJohnny were trending topics.
From early on in a career that would span over five decades, Hallyday drove his young fans wild, attracting 100,000 to a Paris square in 1963 and prompting scenes of hysteria until then unseen in a conservative France led by the stiff General Charles de Gaulle.
“He embodies the emergence of French youth culture and rock ‘n’ roll,” said Serge Kaganski of the French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles.
Yet throughout Hallyday’s life, fame outside the French-speaking world had eluded him.
“My international career? It’ll happen if it happens,” Hallyday once told AFP. “But I don’t specially want to succeed elsewhere. It’s better to be king in one’s own country than a prince elsewhere.”
Rumours of Hallyday’s passing had flown online in recent weeks after he was admitted to hospital in Paris with breathing problems.
Hallyday, whose real name was Jean-Philippe Smet, spent six days under medical care before returning to rest at his home in Marnes-la-Coquette, west of the capital.
“Until the very last moment, he held firm against this illness that had afflicted him for months, teaching us all extraordinary life lessons,” said Laeticia Hallyday.
The rocker “lived his entire life wholly for his fans, who loved him and idolised him”, she added.Source: AFP