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All of France Mourns Its Very Own 'Elvis'

Rock star Johnny Hallyday has died at age 74
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 6, 2017 1:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Johnny Hallyday, France's biggest rock star for more than half a century and an icon who packed sports stadiums with his pumping pelvis and high-voltage tunes, has died. He was 74. President Emmanuel Macron announced his death in a statement early Wednesday, saying "he brought a part of America into our national pantheon," per the AP. Hallyday had had lung cancer and repeated health scares in recent years that dominated national news, yet he continued performing as recently as this summer. Hallyday fashioned his glitzy stage aura from Elvis Presley, drew musical inspiration from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, performed with Jimi Hendrix, and made an album in country music's capital, Nashville, Tenn.

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Hallyday was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, during the dark days of World War II, with a less glamorous name: Jean-Philippe Smet. The young Smet followed his father's sisters to London, where he met American singer Lee Ketchman, who gave him his first electric guitar. Hallyday gave his first professional concert in 1960, under the name Johnny, and put out his first album a year later. He quickly became a favorite of young people during the golden years of French pop music. His stardom largely ended at the French-speaking world, yet in France itself, he was an institution. He was the country's top rock 'n' roll star through more than five decades and eight presidents, and it was no exaggeration when Macron wrote "the whole country is in mourning."

(Read more France stories.)

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