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The 'French Elvis' hoping to conquer the US at 70

Sophie Inge · 2 Aug 2013, 15:41

Published: 02 Aug 2013 15:41 GMT+02:00

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Who is Johnny Hallyday?

Ask that same question to any French person, and you’re guaranteed to get an expression of blank amazement.

Suffice to say, he’s a superstar in France and indeed Quebec, but he’s practically unknown elsewhere.

During his career, which spans half a century, the rocker has completed 181 tours, had 18 platinum albums and sold more than 110 million records.

Despite announcing his retirement in December 2007, the star continues to perform to sell-out stadium-sized venues, only in France of course.

“I’m not doing any more tours until 2015 – except at the end of the year in Vietnam, Japan and China,” Le Point quoted him as saying recently.

Why is he in the news this week?

At the grand old age of 70, the French national treasure is finally planning on trying to tap into the English market.

This week, Le Parisien announced that the star will be recording his 50th album “entirely in English” in September. There have even been suggestions that he will sing with Matthew Bellamy, the singer of the British rock group Muse.

It is not yet known whether the songs will be originals or adaptations of songs from his last album, L’Attente (‘The Wait’), released in November last year, which has so far sold 400,000 copies.

“I’m hoping for some duos with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi and others,” Hallyday was quoted as saying. “[It will be] an album targeted at the United States and England.”

According to Le Point, it’s “an old dream that never materialized” for the rocker.

Whether McCartney, Wonder and Bon Jovi will agree to perform alongside Hallyday, we'll just have to wait and see.

Will this be the first time he will sing in English?

No, he has sung before in the language of Shakespeare, as they call it in France, but it wasn’t the smartest move in his career.

In 1962, Hallyday released the album Hallyday Sings America’s Rockin’ Hits, which he recorded in Nashville. But it sank without a trace.

As French news site Le Point put it, the American public just didn’t warm to the Elvis “clone” with a strong French accent.

Two decades later, in 1984, he tried again with ‘V.O’ ; and ten years later, with ‘Rough Town’. Both albums failed to take off overseas.

More recently, in 2012, the 69-year-old gave his first full UK concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, dressed “all in leather like a botoxed Terminator”, as one journalist put it. The crowd, who naturally were predominantly from London's thriving French community, were reportedly “in raptures” as the star belted out classics including ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix.

Didn't he get sentenced to jail recently?

Er.. no, well not exactly.

In June, Johnny Hallyday impersonator Michel Pacchiana was jailed after he got into a vicious fight with Serge Gainsbourg lookalike Denis Colnot.

The two had reportedly been engaged in a turf war since the summer of 2011 when Pacchiana (Johnny Hallyday), moved into Colnot’s (Gainsbourg’s) neighbourhood in Epinal.

Story continues below…

Things turned nasty when Colnot took offence at Pacchiana performing at parties in the area.

In July 2011, Colnot stabbed Pacchiana in the throat, just missing an artery, resulting in his conviction.

What does he have to say for himself?

Quite a lot it would seem, judging from the 216 pages of his autobiography released in February this year in which he recounts the story of his life to novelist Amanda Sthers.

Here's an excerpt: “The first time I went up on stage, I didn’t want to get down again. The first time I made love was in the hall of my building, in a rush with my neighbour on my corridor. The first time I said ‘dad’, was when I was talking about myself. The first time I said ‘mum’, I was 50 years old. The first time I died, I didn’t like it so I came back.”

We’ll let you make your own mind up about his literary ability.

Meanwhile, why not sit back and watch this song from his latest album. After all, he is a singer. Don’t forget to let us know what you think of France’s latest export in the comment’s section below.

Sophie Inge (sophie.inge@thelocal.com)

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