UPDATE, WRITETRU with additional reaction: France is in mourning after waking up today to the news that its most beloved rock star, Johnny Hallyday, died overnight. Broadcast and cable networks, radio stations and newspapers all mobilized to pay tribute to the man known as the French Elvis. Social media is filled with reactions from fans, friends, entertainers and a fair few politicians. President Emmanuel Macron is understood to be favorable to planning an official day of homage. Paris’ famed Grand Rex Cinema has draped its marquee with the singer and actor’s image. Even in neighboring Brussels, the public transport system has said it’s playing Johnny’s hits in the metro throughout today.
Outside of perhaps the November 2015 Paris, and other terrorist attacks in the country, and the 1997 death of Princess Diana in our capital city, today’s is the sort of coming together of this country that I’ve not witnessed in 24 years living in France. Here, Hallyday has always somehow seemed ubiquitous and timeless, and today a nation is responding.
All of the major networks, including TF1, France 2, France 3 and M6 interrupted their regularly scheduled programming from the early hours following the first reports of his death from lung cancer at age 74. Panel discussions, retrospectives and reports from outside Hallyday’s home in Marnes-la-Coquette near Paris blanketed the broadcasters and the 24-hour news nets. Newspapers and their websites are also weighing in with Hallyday tributes – even financial daily Les Echos.
France 2 has canceled a report on Syria in favor of a Johnny Hallyday special tonight, and a documentary about him tomorrow. M6 has taken singing competition Nouvelle Star from the schedule and replaced it with Retiens Ta Nuit, Hallyday’s 1993 concert in Paris’ Parc des Princes.
Hallyday was the first French star to popularize early rock-n-roll in France, selling more than 110M records over his 50-year career. He performed French-language covers of American pop, starting with his 1960 debut album and his popularity paved the way for American rock acts to break into the French market.
Said Macron today, “We’ll never forget his name or his face or his voice or especially his singing which, with its brute and sensitive lyricism, today belongs fully to the history of French songs. He brought a part of America into our national Pantheon.”
Among Hallyday’s acting credits are Jean-Luc Godard’s Detective and Patrice Leconte’s 2002 The Man On The Train. He also appeared in The Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martin in 2009 and the Johnnie To film Vengeance that same year.
Social media is ablaze with thoughts for the musician and actor who most recently appeared as himself in Rock’n Roll from director and star Guillaume Canet and his wife Marion Cotillard. Canet wrote today of Hallyday’s “kindness, curiosity, desire, humility, passion, love, friendship, strength and courage”:
La gentillesse, la bienveillance, la curiosité, l'envie, l'humilité, la passion, l'amour, l'amitié, la force, le courage…. Et tant d'autres sentiments que j'ai ressenti chez toi Johnny ! Tu vas nous manquer terriblement. Mais ta voix, tes yeux et ton sourire resterons avec nous à tout jamais. Repose en paix mon ami ! Je t'aime
Hallyday also appeared this year in Claude Lelouch’s ensemble comedy Chacun Sa Vie with Jean Dujardin, Christopher Lambert, Béatrice Dalle, Mathilde Seigner and more. Lelouche said today, “I shot his last solo concert in Vienna for the film. Then I shot his last scene with Jean Dujardin and Antoine Duléry. And I shot his first scopitone, his first song. I was there from the beginning to the end. My thoughts are with his family… For the rest of us, we must optimize all of this; we must transform it into a big party because Johnny was a kid his whole life. His life was a party, he lived 1,000 lives, he had the chance to taste everything.”
France’s Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma, which hands out the Oscar-equivalent César Awards, also released a statement calling Hallyday an “absolute French legend the world over and an idol for everyone… He was venerated in the world of music and an actor without comparison” who “enchanted French cinema with the same panache that allowed him to conquer music…The Academy today mourns one of the greatest legends of all time and wants to bear witness of its infinite sadness to his family… His friend and spiritual father, Charles Aznavour, wrote ‘Retiens La Nuit,’ one of his first and most beautiful songs. Dear Johnny, we would so have loved to keep you. Today France weeps, France is in mourning.”
Elsewhere in the world, British, Spanish and Italian newspapers are covering the death. Italy’s Corriere Della Sera lead with the headline, “It’s like Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” a line perhaps borrowed from a tweet by politician Benoît Hamon:
Here are more reactions:
Nathalie Baye and Hallyday had a daughter, actress Laura Smet, together:
Cannes Film Festival President, and American rock aficionado, Pierre Lescure said Hallyday might have kept the NYT tweet from this morning that called him the “French Elvis”:
Intouchables star Omar Sy called Hallyday an unforgettable and exceptional man:
Culture Minister François Nyssen said Hallyday, “knew how to make sing, dance and cry our entire country. He knew how to speak to all generations.”
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote of Hallyday’s impact on a young generation and said, “This morning, I know that in every family, in every household in our country, the announcement of the disappearance of this song giant who we thought was eternal given how many times he had tricked death, will provoke a great sadness.”
Here’s the Brussels transport authority promising Hallyday’s hits today:
The police also honored a man whose concerts they protected:
And the Minister of the Army reminded that in 1965, Hallyday was Sergeant Smet: