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France in mourning as king of rock Johnny Hallyday dies aged 74

France's best-known rock star Johnny Hallyday has died aged 74 after a battle with lung cancer, his wife Laeticia said on Wednesday.

France in mourning as king of rock Johnny Hallyday dies aged 74
AFP

The leather-clad would-be Elvis, known simply as Johnny, announced in March he had been diagnosed with the disease and would undergo treatment.

“Johnny Hallyday has left us. I write these words without believing them. But yet, it's true. My man is no longer with us,” said Laeticia Hallyday, 42, in a statement made in the early hours.

“He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity.”

While he was never taken seriously abroad, Hallyday broke from France's classic “chanson” tradition in the late 1950s, selling more than 100 million albums and headlining 50 major tours.

Born on June 15 1943, he attempted suicide in 1966, collapsed on stage in 1986 and married five times, twice to the same woman, the daughter of one of his oldest friends and songwriters.

President Emmanuel Macron was among the first to react to Hallyday's death, saying: “There is something of Johnny in all of us.”

The world of French music and culture lined up to pay tribute to Hallyday.

“I have lost more than a friend. I have lost a brother,” French singer Eddy Mitchell told AFP. “

Former culture minister Jack Lang said: “He was a part of all of us. It's difficult to imagine that we won't ear his voice again.”

News of Hallyday's death also triggered tributes from Celine Dion and Lenny Kravitz.
 
“I'm very sad to hear the news that Johnny Hallyday passed away. He was a giant in show business… a true icon!” Dion wrote on Twitter.
 

Kravitz also tweeted in response to the news (see below) ending his message with the words, “Repose en paix” (Rest in peace in French). 

 

Politicians also paid tribute to the French singing legend. 

Mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppe tweeted: “'How I love you! How I love you!' That's what each French person wants to tell Johnny this morning. As he himself said, he was part of our lives.”
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy — an adoring fan who once tried to tempt him back from tax exile in Switzerland — said he represented “part of our personal history… our memories and emotions”.
 
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen expressed condolences on Twitter to Hallyday's family, describing him as “a singer who came from the people and who the people loved”.
 
The French media was awash with tributes, with Le Figaro daily running the headline: “France's last idol is gone.”
   
On Twitter, #JohnnyHallyday and #RIPJohnny were trending topics.
 
From early on in a career that would span over five decades, Hallyday drove his young fans wild, attracting 100,000 to a Paris square in 1963 and prompting scenes of hysteria until then unseen in a conservative France led by the stiff General Charles de Gaulle.
 
“He embodies the emergence of French youth culture and rock 'n' roll,” said Serge Kaganski of the French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles.
 
Yet throughout Hallyday's life, fame outside the French-speaking world had eluded him.
   
“My international career? It'll happen if it happens,” Hallyday once told AFP. “But I don't specially want to succeed elsewhere. It's better to be king in one's own country than a prince elsewhere.”

Rumours of Hallyday's passing had flown online in recent weeks after he was admitted to hospital in Paris with breathing problems.

Hallyday, whose real name was Jean-Philippe Smet, spent six days under medical care before returning to rest at his home in Marnes-la-Coquette, west of the capital.

“Until the very last moment, he held firm against this illness that had afflicted him for months, teaching us all extraordinary life lessons,” said Laeticia Hallyday.

The rocker “lived his entire life wholly for his fans, who loved him and idolised him”, she added.

MUSIC

8 of French duo Daft Punk’s most memorable moments

One of the era's defining dancefloor acts hung up their helmets on Monday, as French electronic music stars Daft Punk announced their retirement in a typically enigmatic fashion with a video showing one of them exploding in a desert.

8 of French duo Daft Punk's most memorable moments
Photo: AFP

From Da Funk in 1995 to Get Lucky in 2013, Daft Punk became the torch-bearers for French house music across the globe, winning six Grammy awards and pioneering the monumental sound-and-light shows that came to characterise the electronic dance movement (EDM) of recent years.

They did so while almost never revealing their faces — the ubiquitous helmets became another much-copied trope of EDM stars, but also afforded Thomas Bangalter, 46, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 47, a freedom from the fame that quickly encircled them.

“We have daily lives that are a lot more normal than the lives of artists who have the same level of fame as us, but who might be attached to being physically recognised,” Bangalter said in a rare authorised documentary by the BBC in 2015.

Here are some of the highlights of their career – although for our money nothing will beat the French army band’s performance of a Daft Punk medley at the Bastille Day celebrations in 2017, in front of president Emmanuel Macron and a plainly bemused Donald Trump.

1. “Daft punky thrash”

Bangalter and Homem-Christo met at school in Paris before an inauspicious start in music with the rock band Darlin’, which also featured a future member of the French indie band Phoenix.

One review in the British music press dismissed the band as “daft punky thrash” — which struck a chord with them.

Reemerging as an electronic outfit, they met with instant success.

This interview from 1995 is one of the few images of their faces:

2. Their signature look in “Around the World”

Early singles “Da Funk” and “Around the World” became club fixtures, and led to massive sales for their debut album “Homework” in 1997.

It was in the video for “Around the World” that they first donned the helmets that would become their signature look. It mirrored the tight control they exercised over every part of their career, which included ownership of their master recordings.

3. “One More Time”

They followed up with the even more successful “Discovery” in 2001, which spawned the hits “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

There were some distinctively left-field choices in the years that followed, including producing the 2003 film “Interstella 5555” by Japanese anime master Leiji Matsumoto, which featured music from “Discovery”.

4. Human After All

While their next album in 2005, a more sombre “Human After All”, received mixed reviews, these were quickly forgotten amid the euphoria of their live shows over the next two years.

This included a headline appearance at US festival Coachella in 2006, performed inside a giant LED pyramid. EDM fans still speak about it with an almost religious reverence.

5. Tron soundtrack

In 2010, they released a soundtrack to the Disney reboot of Tron, which picked up a Grammy nomination.

6. “Random Access Memories”

But no one predicted the massive success of their last album, 2013’s “Random Access Memories”, for which they gave up their usual makeshift home rig for a full commercial studio– and used entirely live instruments.

The resulting work dominated album-of-the-year lists and helped lift their total worldwide sales to 12 million. It won four Grammies the following year including record of the year for “Get Lucky”, the millions-selling lead single featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers.

Their appearance at the Grammy Awards show was their last public appearance for three years.

7. “I Feel It Coming”

They showed up one more time for the Grammy ceremony in 2017, alongside The Weeknd, after collaborating on the Canadian artist’s most recent album.

Despite the Twittersphere erupting in excitement last month amid rumours they would rejoin The Weeknd for the Super Bowl half-time show, that did not in the end materialise. 

8. “Epilogue”

The video titled “Epilogue” announcing their split used footage from their cult 2006 film “Electroma” in which one of the robots sets the auto-destruct of the other.

A cutaway then reads “1993-2021” with two robot hands making a circle around a sunset.

Their publicist, Kathryn Frazier, confirmed the news to AFP by email, without giving a reason for the split.

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