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French rock icon Johnny Hallyday dies at 74

 

Johnny Hallyday, the French music icon who packed stadiums and was the country's top rock star for decades, has died aged 74.

The office of French president Emmanuel Macron announced the death in a statement early on Wednesday, saying "he brought a part of America into our national pantheon".

Mr Hallyday had long suffered from lung cancer and has recently suffered repeated health scares.

His glitzy stage aura was clearly fashioned around stars like Elvis Presley and his musical inspiration came from the likes of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

Yet his stardom largely ended at the French-speaking world.

Mr Macron said "we all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us".

The antithesis of a French hero right down to his Elvis-style glitter, his gravelly voice and his name with an un-French ring, Mr Hallyday was nevertheless an institution in France.

He was the top rock 'n' roll star through more than five decades and eight presidents.

He was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, during the dark days of World War II with a less glamorous name, Jean-Philippe Smet.

His parents had separated by the end of the year. The young Smet followed his father's sisters to London, where he met American singer Lee Ketchman.

Mr Hallyday gave his first professional concert in 1960, under the name Johnny, and put out his first album a year later.

By 1962, he had met the woman who would be his wife for years, and remained his friend to the end, singing star Sylvie Vartan.

That year, he also made an album in Nashville, Tennessee, and rubbed shoulders with American singing greats.

With his square-jawed good looks and piercing blue eyes, Mr Hallyday was often sought-out for the cinema, playing in French director Jean-Luc Godard's Detective and with other illustrious directors including Costa-Gavras.

More recently, Mr Hallyday appeared in Johnnie To's Vengeance and had talked about giving film a bigger role in his life.

However, it was the rocker's sentimental life, and his marriage to Laeticia that gave him a mellow edge. He spoke lovingly of daughters Jade and Joy, who were adopted from Vietnam.

"I'm not a star. I'm just a simple man," he said in a 2006 interview on France 3.

Mr Hallyday is also survived by two other children, Dave, a singer fathered with Vartan, and Laura Smet, whom he had with noted French actress Nathalie Baye.

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