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 have all mobilized to pay tribute to the man known as the French Elvis. Social media is filled with reactions from fans, friends, other entertainers and a fair few politicians. President Emanuel 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.
Outside of perhaps the November 2015 terrorist attacks and the death of Princess Diana in 1997, 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
A post shared by Guillaume Canet (@guillaumecanetofficiel) on
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.”
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:
Ce matin c'est un peu comme si Paris perdait sa Tour Eiffel. Avec la disparition de Johnny Hallyday, la France perd un monument national de la chanson, du rock et de la culture populaire. Mes pensées vont à sa famille et ses proches. pic.twitter.com/vQBWlsNtg1
— Benoît Hamon (@benoithamon) December 6, 2017
Here are more reactions:
I'm very sad to hear the news that Johnny Hallyday passed away. He was a giant in show business…a true icon! My thoughts go out to his family, his loved ones, and to the millions of fans who adored him for many decades.He will be sadly missed, but never forgotten.- Céline xx…
— Celine Dion (@celinedion) December 6, 2017
Nathalie Baye was Hallyday’s first wife:
Farewell Dear @JohnnySjh. Your friendship, sweetness and support are imprinted in my heart. It is an honor to have known you and to have spent time with you and your beautiful family. Your soul is pure Rock and Roll. Repose en paix. : @candyTmanpic.twitter.com/1ZAFUewHlo
— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) December 6, 2017
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:
Quelle chance immense de t’avoir connu…un HOMME inoubliable, exceptionnel , aux valeurs et conseils si précieux.
MERCI pour tout.
Tu vas tant nous manquer Johnny…
Nos pensées & Notre affection à Laeticia, Jade, Joy, Laura, David et tous ses proches. pic.twitter.com/7HhME8uSGX
— Omar Sy (@OmarSy) December 6, 2017
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.”
Un artiste d'exception, une légende du rock et de la chanson, un visage de la culture en France nous quitte. Johnny Hallyday a su faire chanter, danser, pleurer notre pays tout entier. Il a su parler à toutes les générations. Il nous laisse une flamme qui brillera longtemps.
— Francoise Nyssen (@FrancoiseNyssen) December 6, 2017
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:
En hommage à Johnny Hallyday, aujourd'hui, nous diffuserons ses plus grands titres dans le métro.
Ter ere van Johnny Hallyday spelen we vandaag zijn grootste hits in de metro. pic.twitter.com/Cqk9x1NDTf
— STIB-MIVB (@STIBMIVB) December 6, 2017
The police also honored a man whose concerts they protected:
And the Minister of the Army reminded that in 1965, Hallyday was Sergeant Smet: