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Johnny Hallyday: French rock star dies at 74

France's best-known rocker died aged 74 after a battle with lung cancer, wife Laeticia confirms

  • Johnny Hallyday, France's best-known rockerImage Credit: AFP
  • Hallyday broke from France's classic "chanson" tradition in the 1950s, starting singing rock and roll in FImage Credit: AFP

Paris: France's best-known rock star Johnny Hallyday has died aged 74 after a battle with lung cancer, his wife Laeticia told AFP on Wednesday.

The leather-clad would-be Elvis, known simply as Johnny, announced in March he had been diagnosed with the disease and would undergo treatment.

"Johnny Hallyday has left us. I write these words without believing them. But yet, it's true. My man is no longer with us," said Laeticia Hallyday, 42, in a statement made in the early hours. 

"He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity," she said.

The singer — real name Jean-Philippe Smet — sold about 100 million records and starred in a number of films.

He was made a Chevalier of the Legion D'Honneur by President Jacques Chirac in 1997.

The French simply called him "Our Johnny". However, outside the Francophone zone, Hallyday was virtually unknown.

Reacting to the news, French President Emmanuel Macron referenced the title of a recent tribute album by saying: "There is a little bit of Johnny in all of us."

"Across generations, he carved himself into the lives of French people," Macron said.

"He charmed them through the generosity you saw in his concerts: so epic, so intimate, in huge venues, in small spots." Among those to pay tribute was American guitarist Lenny Kravitz.

In a French-language tweet, singer Celine Dion called him "a legend of showbusiness".

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