"French Elvis" Johnny Hallyday Dies

Johnny Hallyday

Johnny Hallyday, a star sometimes referred to as the "French Elvis," died of lung cancer on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. He was 74 years old.

Born in Paris on 15 June 1943, his birth name was Jean-Philippe Smet; he had a troubled childhood, and was abandoned by his own father at a young age. As a teen he took his new name from Lee Halliday, an American relative who filled the paternal void in his life and introduced him to rock music. The extra "y" comes from a misspelling on his first record, which he was then forced to live with; "Johnny" was Lee's nickname for him, as the American had a hard time pronouncing his real name.

Jean-Phillipe "wasn't a very rock 'n' roll name" anyway, the artist would quip.

Like many French people in the postwar period, Halliday broke from the older generations by idolizing everything American. He repeatedly tried to make it big in the States; his third album, "Johnny Hallyday Sings America's Rockin' Hits," was even released entirely in English. Despite some tours and an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, however, it was not to be; he did retire to Los Angeles, however, and once had a sold-out Las Vegas concert made up largely of French fans who flew over.

He quipped that what he liked about Los Angeles was the peace that he got: "There are stars everywhere, but when I go for a walk no one bothers me."

Hallyday had a long career that adjusted to many new styles and personae, with his trademark untipped Gitanes cigarettes as the only constant. Also, like many rockers, he had a troubled life: by his own admission there was a period where he could not get out of bed without cocaine, and he had five marriages over the years, including twice with Adeline Blondieau, the daughter of his friend. (He remained married to his final wife, Laeticia Boudou, from 1996 until his death.)

France has been preparing for the star's death for a while. He has had many near-misses, including a failed suicide attempt and a 2009 incident when he reportedly died on the operating table, only to be put in a medically induced coma.

"The first time I died I didn't like it, so I came back," he later joked.

Unfortunately for fans and loved ones, though, he had to return eventually.

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