Fame and celebrity

France bids final farewell to rocker Johnny Hallyday

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 10:21pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 10:32pm

Thousands of people lined the streets of Paris on Saturday as a convoy of 700 Harley-Davidson motorcycles escorted the white coffin of late French rock ‘n’ roll giant Johnny Hallyday to a memorial service attended by French stars and politicians.

Hallyday’s hearse drove the length of the famous Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde, in a rare honour usually reserved for foreign statesmen on July 14 National Day.

As his band played instrumental versions of his biggest hits, the crowds belted out the words, many in leather biker jackets and carrying pictures of Harley-Davidson enthusiast Hallyday, who died of lung cancer on Wednesday.

Speaking on the steps of Paris’ Madeleine Church, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was mourning a “part of France” that departed with Hallyday’s death and called him a prodigal son of the nation.

Tears rolled down cheeks of Hallyday’s fans as Macron told them “Johnny was yours. Johnny was his public. Johnny was his country.”

He referred to Hallyday’s illnesses and extreme lifestyle, telling fans, “He should have fallen 100 times but what held him up and lifted him was your fervour, the love that you brought him.”

Largely unknown abroad, Hallyday was a household name in France, where he had tens of millions of fans and sold more records than any other singer in a career spanning five decades.

“The French Elvis”, as he was known, Hallyday made a name for himself with French versions of American rock and pop songs, including House of the Rising Sun, which many French people only know as Le Pénitencier, one of his biggest hits.

He also acted, starring in Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s 2009 film Vengeance, alongside To’s staple stars Anthony Wong and Simon Yam.

His death on Wednesday sparked days of national mourning, with broadcasters providing wall-to-wall coverage of the rocker’s life, with reams of black-and-white film and song tapes tracing the history of a man regarded by many, non-fans included, as part of French national heritage.

Hallyday will by buried on the French Caribbean island of Saint Barthelemy, where he owned a villa.

Additional reporting by Associated Press