Johnny Hallyday, France’s biggest rock star, has died after a battle with lung cancer. He was 74.
An iconic rock ‘n’ roller and occasional actor, Hallyday (born Jean-Philippe Smet) was one of Europe’s most popular recording artists, selling an estimated 80 million records over a decades-long career.
Hallyday, who died Tuesday (Dec. 5), struggled with a series of health problems in the past decade and, according to multiple media reports, was hospitalized in Paris last month due to respiratory difficulties associated with lung cancer treatments. Earlier this year, Hallyday announced his cancer diagnosis, but took aim at “certain media outlets” for spreading “alarmist information” about the state of his health.
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
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
Johnny Hallyday (15 June 1943 – 5 December 2017), stage name of Jean-Philippe Smet, was a French singer and actor. He was married for 15 years to popular Bulgarian-French singer Sylvie Vartan and the two were considered a “golden couple” for 20 years. Hallyday completed 181 tours, had 18 platinum albums, and sold more than 110 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time.
Hallyday remains largely unknown outside the Francophone world, thus earning the nickname “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of” in English-speaking countries.
Hallyday’s father, Léon Smet (1908–1989), was Belgian; his mother, Huguette Clerc (1920–2007), was French. Born in Paris, Hallyday took his stage name from his aunt Desta’s husband and dance partner Lee Hallyday, a pseudonym for Lee Ketcham, an expatriate Oklahoman, performer, and MC at the Café de Paris where Johnny began his singing career. Johnny was raised by Desta and Lee from a very young age, with Lee being his first manager. Johnny was always very loyal to Lee and secured him a permanent job as a producer and A&R man with his label, Philips Records until Lee’s retirement and relocation back to Oklahoma.
Influenced by Elvis Presley and the 1950s rock n’ roll revolution, Hallyday became famous in the 1960s for singing Rock ‘n’ Roll in French. His debut single, “Laisse les filles” was released on the Vogue label in March 1960. His first album, Hello Johnny, was released in 1960. In 1961 his cover of “Let’s Twist Again” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It topped almost every European chart, although the track did not appear in the UK Singles Chart. He appeared on the American The Ed Sullivan Show with American singing star Connie Francis in a show that was taped at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris. He also staged many appearances in the Paris Olympia under the management of the late Bruno Coquatrix. For their first concert, The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for Johnny Hallyday in Évreux on 13 October 1966. Black-and-white footage, also from October 1966, exists of Hallyday partying with Hendrix, his manager Chas Chandler and others. There also is a widely published monochrome photograph of Hallyday walking somewhere in Paris in late May 1966 with Bob Dylan.