'French Elvis' Johnny Hallyday dies at 74

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Hello Johnny

His full lips and melancholy gaze certainly contributed to turning the young Johnny into a star. Already as a young boy, he was part of his aunt's dance group; later he'd perform in the most popular Parisian dance clubs around Place Pigalle. His breakthrough came in 1960 with his first album "Hello Johnny." He'd often perform his French covers of US hits on TV shows.

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The teen idol

He adopted the looks and the moves of a style that was still new for French musicians: Rock'n'Roll. Hallyday embodied the freedoms of the 1960s and instantly appealed to young working-class teenagers. This image shows him surrounded by fans in 1962 at Orly airport in Paris upon his return from a US tour.

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The songwriter

At the beginning of his career, Hallyday was snubbed by the establishment and music critics. That changed, however, as he was soon recognized as France's answer to English-language rock and pop. Building on the image of international stars at the time, Hallyday developed his own personal style with a clearly French touch. At the end of the 1970s, he started writing his own songs as well.

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Several wives

Johnny and women: that's a story with several chapters. The singer married five times — technically. His third wife, Adeline Blondiau, aged 19 when they celebrated their union in 1990, is also his fourth wife, as they married a second time after separating once. In 1996, Hallyday married the then 21-year-old Laetitia Boudou (picture), and they stayed together until the end of his life.

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The actor

Hallyday also started acting in the 1950s. It began with commercials, while he later starred in movies to promote his image as a teen idol. He was given more challenging roles throughout his career, for example in 1985 in Claude Chabrol's "Detective." He's shown here in "Man on the Train" (2002) alongside Jean Rochefort, the renowned French actor who died in October 2017.

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The comforter

Hallyday gave an emotional performance in January 2016 during a rally to mark the first anniversary of the terror attacks on satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket. He sang "Un dimanche de janvier" (A Sunday in January). The song, written by Jeanne Cherhal, pays tribute to the 1.5 million people who gathered on the streets after the attacks.

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Born Rocker

Hallyday literally felt at home on stage. Altogether, he went on over 180 tours. He had to interrupt his official farewell tour in 2009 after being diagnosed with colon cancer and suffering complications from a herniated disc surgery. That didn't feel like a proper adieu for the rock'n'roller: He undertook another concert tour three years later, released as the "Born Rocker Tour" album in 2013.

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The legend

He's been called the "the French Elvis," however his success abroad was limited, earning him the nickname "the biggest rock star you've never heard of" in English-speaking countries. In France, he's celebrated as part of the country's cultural heritage. The star who sold more than 110 million albums over a five-decade career has now died of cancer at the age of 74.

Johnny Hallyday was credited with bringing American rock music to France. He was the most famous rock star in the French speaking world.

Johnny Hallyday, France's best-known rock star for more than a half-century, has died at the age of 74. His wife Laeticia announced the lung cancer sufferer's death early on Wednesday. 

Known as the "French Elvis" for his pumping pelvis and gravelly voice on stage, Hallyday was widely credited for popularizing rock and roll in France.

"For more than 50 years, he was a vibrant icon," President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement. "He brought a part of America into our national pantheon."

Singer Celine Dion also paid tribute to Hallyday, calling him a "giant in show business" and "a true icon" on Twitter. 

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Little known outside France or the French-speaking world, Hallyday sold more than 100 million records and continued producing music and touring up until this year despite fighting lung cancer.

In France, he was simply known as Johnny.

Born in Paris in 1943 as Jean-Philippe Leo Smet, he was brought up by his aunt after his parents separated.

As a young boy he spent time on the road and in London with his cousin's acrobatic dance troupe, eventually taking to the stage at 12 to sing himself.

Johnny Hallyday

Hallyday brought American style rock to France in the 1960s.

He produced his first professional concert under the name Johnny Hallyday in 1960, and released his first album a year later.

Hallyday recycled many American rock classics such as The Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun" or Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe," bringing them to French audiences at a time when there were legal limits on the amount of English music played on local radio.

Having been married five times, Hallyday leaves behind two biological children and two adopted children.

cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)