France's rocker Johnny Hallyday celebrates 70 years

Johnny Hallyday gives a concert in New York City
Johnny Hallyday gives a concert in New York City AFP/Emmanuel Dunand

To francophohnes world-wide, and especially here in France, he’s a legend. Outside of that, few know him. But tonight in Paris, French rocker Johnny Hallyday will celebrate his 70th birthday at a sold-out concert to 20 000 adoring fans.


Tickets for tonight’s show in France’s second largest venue, Bercy, sold out in less than two hours. A second smaller concert is scheduled later on that garnered nearly 50 000 applications for just 800 seats.

If you haven’t heard of him, spend some time here in France and you will definitely be inundated with images and media coverage of the legendary Hallyday. But who is this man?

He’s often been compared to Elvis Presley, bringing a French interpretation of American rock’n roll to France. Born Jean-Philippe Smet, on 15 June1943, his first album entitled Hello Johnny was released in 1960 and kick-started his five-decades long career.

He took his stage name from his aunt Desta’s husband Lee Hallyday, an American expatriate and performer at the Café de Paris, where Johnny later began his own singing career.

His cover of Let’s Twist Again sold over one million copies, and was even awarded a gold disc, topping nearly every European chart, though it didn’t make the UK Singles Chart. He’s even been on the American show The Ed Sullivan Show, singing with Connie Francis at a show taped at Paris’s Moulin Rouge nightclub. But, in spite of his fame both in France and Canada’s francophone province Quebec, he has never cracked either the American or British market, thereby earning the nickname among English-speaking countries: “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of”.

In addition to his musical career, his personal life has been of much interest over the years. Countless headlines in the French media have looked at his many marriages -- five to be exact -- numerous health worries and questionable tax arrangements to avoid France’s high tax scheme on the wealthy.

French music journalist Bertrand Dicale described Hallyday as “ridiculous but sublime” and said his lasting power comes from his uniquely French identity.

Hallyday has made announcements in the past of retiring but, soon after returns to yet another performance. An opinion poll from earlier this month found that 65 percent of French people think he should retire. But that hasn’t stopped him, yet. Just six months since his last 65-date tour, he is due to start another on Sunday to celebrate his 70th birthday and his new album L'Attente.

“A few years ago, I could not imagine singing at 70. But now I think I’ll be on stage at 80” said Hallyday when speaking to the french daily Le Parisien.

“I still think as if I am 20 or 30 years old. I honestly don’t see the difference” he later explained to RTL radio station.

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