Johnny Hallyday was a French music icon. He was often called “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of” and known as the “French Elvis”. He was largely unknown outside of France. Within France he was a major music icon where upon his death he was given a state funeral where nearly 1 million people lined the streets to pay tribute. His career spanned nearly 60 years, nearly 200 tours, 18 platinum albums and sold over 100 million records making him one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Jean-Philippe Smet as born in 1943 and ultimately grew up with his aunt. His name “Johnny” was given to him by a cousin from Oklahoma (a good American version of the name). The cousins stage name was “Lee Halliday” thus the final stage name of Johnny Halliday. This cousin also was the one to introduce Johnny to good old American rock and roll music. From there Johnny became famous for singing rock ‘n’ roll in French.
His initial album “Hello Johnny” was released in 1960 and produced his first major hit the cover of “Let’s Twist Again”. His fame led him into the American conscious and the Ed Sullivan Show which was taped at the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris. His ascension to the world of rock and roll was pretty heady and included performing and partying with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Connie Francis, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan. There was no stopping the French Elvis who continued to release albums with a mix of his own music and singing popular English rock ‘n’ roll hits in French.
Fun and exhilarating performance were are part of Johnny’s attraction. He would sometimes enter a show via the crowd and even via helicopter. His performances were a major component of his enduring popularity and attracted large audiences. Johnny became so famous that in 2000 he held a concert at the Eiffel Tower that attracted a live audience of 500,000 nearly 10 million TV viewers. He continued to release new music with and creating hits. He even did an English language song written by U2s Bono.
The last years of his life were spent in California to avoid the exorbitantly high taxes in France. Johnny was married four times and had four children, two of which were adopted. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009 and ultimately died of lung cancer in 2017. The French Elvis 57-year career included 70 albums, 80 million records sold, 40 gold albums, 22 platinum albums and multiple top 10 hits.