France Says Goodbye to Johnny Hallyday

Johnny Hallyday

On Saturday tens of thousands of French people lined the Champs-Elysees to pay tribute to the man many called the French Elvis: Johnny Hallyday.

The famed French rocker died Wednesday at the age of 74 from lung cancer, which set off waves of grief across the country and the French-speaking world. Among those grieving was French president Emmanuel Macron, a fan himself, who was responsible for ordering the kind of funeral procession that is usually reserved for heads of states, or even royalty.

"Johnny was his country," the president told the large Paris crowd, in a speech that was met with both applause and tears.

Hallyday, who was born Jean-Phillipe Smet, rose to fame in 1960, and he received the kind of adoration in France that Elvis received in the English-speaking world. He sold more than a 100 million records in a career that spanned more than 5 decades. He further had a successful career as actor, working with some of the world's greatest directors, such as Goddard and Costa-Gavras. His one failing was never having success in the country he idolized: the United States.

Hallyday is survived by a wife, four children and three grandchildren. He was also married numerous other times.

A who's who of French society attended the funeral ceremony at the Madeleine Church. This included former French presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, as well as actors Marion Cotillard and Jean Reno, and singer Patrick Bruel.

But it was also a day for the average French person to pay their respects.

Catherine Frichot-Janin came all the way from Geneva, Switzerland with her husband to say goodbye to Hallyday, and to celebrate his life.

"He's not a god," she said, "but he's always been there for me since I was a girl."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Laura Dublot, who was actually named after one of Hallyday's children.

"[H]e's united three generations of French," she said.

These were a just a few of the people lining a procession that included 700 bikers. Many of the crowd screamed "Johnny!" while others sang his songs. Some even threw flowers at his coffin. It was a procession that caused Paris to come to a virtual standstill.

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