JOHNNY HALLYDAY (By Colin Kilgour)

Born Jean-Philippe Smet, 15 June 1943, Paris, France
Died 5 December 2017, Marnes-la-Coquette, France

Here in the UK (May 2004), we had an interesting TV documentary on ITV's 'South Bank' series. I have long thought him an interesting character so decided to do a little research and write up for 'Le List' here. I'd appreciate input from notre Garcons Francais, with confirmations/corrections/denials/clarifications, particularly to my own take on the Hallyday phenomenon at the end of the piece.

First up, a reference/homage to Alain Dormoy's BTBWY from 15/6/02 which you can read in the SAO Files. Next I'm posting, with a little editing, the write-up from the S Bank website.


In his first interview for British television, Melvyn Bragg talks to Hallyday about his long career, his debut as a child performer, and how seeing and hearing Elvis influenced his musical career. It is something of an irony, particularly in a country that tries so hard to protect its own culture, that its greatest star started out as an unabashed imitator of American rock n' roll.

He first made his name interpreting Anglo-American hits for a French audience, from Love Me Tender (which became Amour d'Eté) to his own French rock n' roll hits such as C'est le Mashed Potatoes. His wild stage performances created controversy amongst the conservative world of 1960s France and a star was born. Hallyday is also credited with discovering Jimi Hendrix in a London club and inviting him to open one of his tours in France.

His talent for reinvention has seen him become a tuxedo-wearing crooner, Elvis look-alike, James Dean-style social reject, teddy boy, Motown swinger, tattoo-ed biker, glam-rocker, Eighties trucker, and serial lover. More recently, however, Johnny - as he is known to his legion of fans - has increasingly turned to French lyricists and composers, whilst continuing to play his favourite rock n' roll hits.

For foreign observers of France, Hallyday, along with whole idea of French rock n' roll, has often seemed a joke. Whilst the more poetic tradition of Chanson epitomised by performers such as Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour has achieved worldwide recognition as a reflection of the French soul, Hallyday remains undeniably a French phenomenon, and one which outsiders do not seem to understand.

But no Anglo-Saxon artist has had such an impact on the population as a whole, appealing to young and old from every background. Hallyday has lived the rock star lifestyle to the full: his professional setbacks, colourful love life and periodic scandals have been devoured by his public - but to date he's always managed to pull himself back from the brink. Indeed when the whole of France, from President Jacques Chirac downward, celebrated his 60th birthday last year, his iconic status was assured. He has sold well over 100 million records.

Ironically, it is as an actor that Hallyday is finally achieving success overseas. Despite appearances in over 30 films, it was only with his role in Patrice Leconte's film L'Homme du Train (2003) that he won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the man Figaro newspaper declared to be "an idol for all of France".>>

now, info from another website:


A rock star, he is one of the few French singers who can fill a 80,000-seat stadium several days in a row with his spectacular performances ; even though many people mock his unsophisticated way of talking and his look of an aging rocker, everybody likes him as a person and follows with indulgence his (many) successive marriages with younger and younger girls>>

Re the above Alain wrote "He sold out the Stade de France several times in 1998 (I think it was 3 consecutive days), at about the same time the Rolling Stones had to cancel one of their dates at the same place because of insufficient demand" + "Johnny has become an institution in France, probably the equivalent of Cliff Richard in the UK. Jacques Chirac made him Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur".

Finally Colin's thoughts:

You have to see the Hallyday phenomenon as uniquely French. In countries like England and Australia our rockin' wannabees did their best to mimic the American stars and had the key benefit of a shared language with the material - the all-important songs.

Time-wise, Johnny came after a long line of much loved entertainers in la belle France ... from their tradition of chansons, music hall and artistes in the mould of Chevalier, Trenet, Piaf, Montand and Aznavour.

South Bank voices stated that J's core fan base was from the provinces, the majority being not from Paris.

They also said to the effect that Johnny was more than a personality, more than his music, he had long been a symbol for the nation. Rock and roll is not France. He represented something special there, given the culture that preceded him, given France's fundamentally anti-American stance entwined with their fascination for Anglo-Saxon rock.

Why has he not been more popular outside of France? The USA certainly didn't need an Elvis clone - they had the original. The UK as time went on, didn't need Johnny as we had our own home-grown legends in your Cliff Richards, Lennons, McCartneys and Jaggers.

JH's versions of the rock and roll hymnbook underwent unusual translations en route to the French market. It's strange - to the riff of 'Somethin' Else', to hear him belting out 'Elle Est Terrible' .. and seeing the translation onscreen as the song unfolds is truly weird given the true lyrics seared into our souls from repeated plays over nearly 50 years(!)

He certainly did live the rock and roll lifestyle ... the army service, near fatal car crash, drugs bust, wives, mistresses. He must be doing something very right with the populace however when somewhere between a quarter to a third have been to see him sing in person.

>From the show's clips, he has a powerful stage act and respect to John for strutting that stage in an absolute deluge following a postponement for rain the previous night. He certainly looked in great shape for sixty but I guess those gals have kept him young, eh?? It seems that just about everyone in France is a Johnny Hallyday fan and we wish him well .. he certainly came across as a helluva likeable dude.

Finally guys:

does anyone know how much he's worth? (recent opening of his Paris Night Club etc.)

there were several references to him actually being Belgian?? howzat??

Just how much did he have the record sales to himself? i.e. please summarise the availability of American and Brit material say from 1956 - 65, by when Johnny's career was well and truly launched.

Allez Johnny .... Vraiment, il est formidable!!

Colin Kilgour

May 2004

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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