Goodbye Johnny: France’s fascination with the French Elvis

France is in mourning.
Rest in peace Johnny holiday. The rock star and “French Elvis” died at age 74 from lung cancer yesterday.

I never fully understood the love relationship between France and Johnny Hallyday (also why he had an American sounding name?!) He was born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet.

Picture this; I’d be having a casual conversation with the Inlaws and all of a sudden my mother in law rambles about the new Johnny holiday surgery (he’s been sick for years) and how much she likes this wife better (Laetitia more than Sylvie Vartan, the first of five wives). And I’m like wow, it must be an “old” people topic. But at some point after years of recurring Johnny in various conversations, you get it. He’s a big deal.

Even though I never grew up in a time where the music of Johnny Hallyday was important to me but for the mere fact of how frequently he was covered on magazines, his tv ads, or in tabloids made me realize over the course of last 10 years that this is a recurring topic for the French people because they truly do care and have a strong admiration for Johnny.


I’ve always been boggled: If he’s so big how come I’ve never heard of him in America? But in the minds of millions of people around the world not just in France Johnny Hallyday’s life (and style) is as iconic as the Eiffel tower. For France he was the man that brought rock ‘n’ roll too its summit, he had a 57-year career, sold over 100 million albums and was on the cover of magazines for years open till his passing. Johnny holiday is one of France’s national monuments, a star.

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