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France's Johnny Hallyday rockin' from the grave

This picture shows a flyer of the cover of Johnny Hallyday's posthumous album during a press conference for the release of 800 000 copies, in Paris, on October 15, 2018.
This picture shows a flyer of the cover of Johnny Hallyday's posthumous album during a press conference for the release of 800 000 copies, in Paris, on October 15, 2018. Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP
Text by: Arnab Béranger
3 min

Fans rushed to stores on Friday to buy a posthumous album by France's legendary rock star Johnny Hallyday. The singer, who died of lung cancer in December last year, is often called France's Elvis Presley.


Je parlerai au diable - Hallyday Posthumous release

Johnny Hallyday was probably France's most popular rock star.

For both young and old, from France's countryside or cities, Hallyday's name is a household legend.

His singles like Quelque Chose de Tennessee, Que Je T'aime and Toute la La Musique Que J'aime are as popular in France as Elvis' Love Me Tender or the Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There.

With a career spanning 57 years, Hallyday died of lung cancer in December last year.

He left behind a legacy of 80 albums, dozens of awards and nearly 200 concert tours.

His album sales totalled more than 110 million at the time of his death.

After his death, the French singer was honoured with a national hommage in France, and was buried at his holiday home on the Caribbean island of St Barts.

Highly mediatised posthumous album release

Hallyday's posthumous album Mon Pays C'est L'amour (My Country is Love) was released at midnight on Friday, following many months of media hype and intense marketing.

Even before official sales started, there were more than 100,000 pre-orders, giving the album a pre-release platinum status.

Hundreds of fans lined up outside the Fnac music shop on Paris's famed Champs-Elysées avenue. The store opened on Friday at midnight for the occasion.

Top-secret album production

The manufacture of the physical copies of Mon Pays C'est L'amour was a jealously guarded secret.

Warner, who released the posthumous album, made all the CD's and vinyls in a factory in Italy.

The factory's employees were kept in the dark about the identity of the product they were working on.

The album's factory code was "JPS Elektra" -  the initials signifying Hallyday's real name Jean-Philippe Smet.

Boxes containing the finished albums were stored on ceiling-high shelves, out of the employees' reach.

A Warner representative said this was to protect leaks from "ill-intentioned" employees, many of whom were Hallyday fans themselves.

Family feud over inheritance

However, the aftermath of Hallyday's death was a bittersweet affair for his immediate family.

Through a testament the singer drew up in the US, he named his widow Laeticia Hallyday as his sole inheritor.

Ever since, Hallyday's children Laura Smet and David Hallyday have been in a legal wrangle with Laeticia Hallyday, the singer's fourth wife.

Even the release of Hallyday's posthumous album was uncertain, as Laura Smet and David Hallyday were in a legal wrangle against Warner.

Hallyday's children wanted rights to consult their father's album before its release.

A French court finally ruled in favour of Warner.

Hallyday museum and music school?

A day after the release of Hallyday's posthumous Mon Pays C'est L'amour, the singer's widow Laeticia Hallyday announced that she would like to open a Johnny Hallyday museum.

She also had plans for a Hallyday music school, she announced.

Though details were not given, Laeticia Hallyday said these projects had been dear to her late husband's heart.

"The school was his dream", she said.

France's Elvis Presley may thus have his legacy passed on to young recruits.

As long as they don't turn out to be French Elvis impersonators, we should be fine.

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