Johnny Hallyday, Singer Known as the 'French Elvis,' Dies at 74


This file photo taken on October 20, 1962 shows US pianist and singer-songwriter Fats Domino (L) being congratulated by French singer Johnny Hallyday (C) and US boxing champion Ray Sugar Robinson following his performance at the Palais des Sports in Paris.

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He appeared in “The Pink Panther 2,” with Steve Martin, in 2009, and starred in the Johnnie To-directed crime thriller “Vengeance” the same year.

Jean-Philippe Smet was born in Malesherbes, Paris, the son of a French mother and Belgian father. When he was an infant his parents split up, and he moved in with his paternal aunt, Helene Mar, a former silent-screen actress. He would later take his stage name from his aunt’s husband, an American entertainer called Lee Halliday, who had a defining influence on his life.

From the age of 11 Hallyday took to the road as an entertainer with Les Hallidays, a family troupe consisting of his uncle Lee and Mar’s daughters Menen and Desta. When Hallyday returned to Paris in 1957, he signed up for acting and singing lessons after watching Elvis for the first time in “Loving You.”

France’s first and only fully fledged rock star lived through a failed suicide attempt, a trail of broken marriages, cocaine use, chronic tax problems, a life-threatening motorcycle accident and, near the end of his life, a ghastly botched operation on a herniated disc. T

he fact that he always bounced back without complaint made him a folk hero for many French people.

Hallyday is survived by his wife, Laeticia, and their two adopted children, Jade and Joy; son David Hallyday from his first marriage with Vartan; and daughter Laura Smet from his relationship with actress Nathalie Baye.