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Johnny fans bring rock 'n' roll to Paris' Madeleine, a year after his death

A fan takes a picture during a mass in tribute to French rock singer Johnny Hallyday in Paris on 9 December 2018 one year after Johnny's death.
A fan takes a picture during a mass in tribute to French rock singer Johnny Hallyday in Paris on 9 December 2018 one year after Johnny's death. AFP/Jacques Demarthon

A year after the death of French rock legend Johnny Hallyday, more than a thousand fans flocked to the Eglise de la Madeleine for a final mass and musical tribute to the man who gave them 60 years of rock'n roll. For some, it was a "question of survival".

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Hallyday's memorial service was held at Paris's Eglise de la Madeleine in December last year and the church has continued to celebrate Mass in his honour on the 9th of each month since then.

Today's was the last and Johnny’s most devoted fans were there to mark the occasion.

André says he needs Johnny to survive
André says he needs Johnny to survive RFI/HIRD

"I come on the 9th of each month," said André, brandishing a large screen print of his hero. "Johnny was my youth, the best part of my life and it’ll be like that til I die.

"It’s a question of survival, when I’m alone in the car I listen to "my Johnny" all the time."

Leading the pack were members of the Desperados fan club.

Stephane (left) and Marco, of the Desperados fan club
Stephane (left) and Marco, of the Desperados fan club RFI/HIRD

Oh Desperados!

Founded by Johnny, it was revived by a group of bikers after his death and now has branches in France, but also Brazil and the US.

"We’ve started off with a team of new Desperados," says Jo, who was Hallyday’s bodyguard for five years. "It’s still the same spirit, rock and roll, it’s about partying, about freedom, so we’re not sad."

Seeing sometimes heavily tattooed men and women clad in leather file into the Madeleine made for an unusual sight.

"Johnny would have approved," says Jo. "He’d have found it amusing."

Michel, Desperados, is proud to take bikers culture into church
Michel, Desperados, is proud to take bikers culture into church RFI/HIRD

"For me, Johnny is the boss," says Michel as he queues up to go into church. "I’m proud to be here today, even if it will be a bit difficult, thinking of him."

"He was 'our God' in fact," says Marco, another Desperados. "We still think of him."

Like many fans, Gilles wears the Johnny cross (a guitar on a cross)
Like many fans, Gilles wears the Johnny cross (a guitar on a cross) RFI/HIRD

The bikers stand out, but Hallyday fans are a broad church.

Keeping the last 'til Christmas

Lysiane is Catholic, though by her own admission no longer practicing.

"He mattered to me, I grew up listening to his music on an old turntable," she says."“I was really rock and roll at the time.

"His songs are about love, solidarity, he wasn’t into politics, didn’t give his political opinions, that’s what I liked about him too."

She’s bought his last, posthumous, album but hasn’t listened to it yet.

"I’m keeping it as a Christmas present for myself and will open it and enjoy it on Christmas Day."

Danielle (left) and Christine, waiting to lay their white roses
Danielle (left) and Christine, waiting to lay their white roses RFI/HIRD

Lysiane waited outside in the rain along with others who weren’t able to get a ticket.

Christine and Danielle are clutching their white roses.

"We’re here to honour his memory. We come on 9th of each month and place a rose in his memory. It’s a ritual."

They’re disappointed, but philosophical, about not being able to get inside the church.

"The important thing is to be here, we still feel his presence."

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