Singer and actor Johnny Hallyday, a titan of the French entertainment industry who enjoyed an incredible run of unparalleled success in the country over the course of a career that spanned more than half a century, has died at the age of 74.
Hallyday, who’d faced a variety of health issues later in life, ultimately succumbed to lung cancer. His death was confirmed by his wife Laeticia Boudou, who reportedly called the French president, Emmanuel Macron, shortly after midnight on Dec. 6 to share the news. Macron, one of many French politicians to offer words of praise and condolence in the wake of Hallyday’s death, issued a statement calling him “a vibrant icon” and surveying the vast cultural impact left by his music and movies over the past 50 years.
“Across generations, he carved himself into the lives of French people,” said Macron. “He charmed them through the generosity you saw in his concerts: so epic, so intimate, in huge venues, in small spots.” “We all had at least one of his songs that came to our mind this morning,” added Belgian prime minister Charles Michel. “A great artist has left us, transcending generations. His work is in our memories and will always stay with us.”
Inspired to pursue a performance career after watching Elvis Presley perform, Hallyday scored his first hit single, “Viens danser le twist,” in 1961 — sending the French cover of Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” to the top of the country’s pop charts for seven weeks while he was still only a teenager. Although he weathered some mild commercial ups and downs in the few years after releasing that recording, but by the end of the decade, he’d firmly entrenched his superstar status: 1968’s chart-topping Jeune homme LP marked the first in a nearly unbroken string of Top 10 records, many of which went to No. 1, lasting through 2016’s Rester vivant tour.
Despite a few attempts to break the international market, Hallyday remained largely unknown in many parts of the world — although it didn’t stop him from reportedly amassing an impressive 100 million-plus albums sold or performing to roughly 750,000 people at a free concert held at the Eiffel Tower in 2009 — all milestones befitting the performer who, as journalist Philippe Le Corre is quoted as saying, “introduced rock ‘n’ roll to France.”
In addition to his wife, Hallyday is survived by his son David Hallyday and daughter Laura Smet, as well as the two daughters he and Boudou adopted in 2008.