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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2000, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Profile: Johnny Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday was dubbed 'the French Elvis' by some fans
Rock star Johnny Hallyday has had phenomenal success in the French speaking world.

The star - real name Jean-Philippe Smet - has sold 100 million records and has starred in a number of films, including one directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

The 64-year-old remains a ubiquitous fixture in France's gossip columns and was made a Chevalier of the Legion D'Honneur by President Chirac in 1997.

To mark 40 years in showbiz the French icon enjoyed a three week residency at Paris's most famous venue, L'Olympia, and he performed before a million people in a mobile musical cavalcade down the Champs Elysee.

The French simply call him "Our Johnny".

However outside the Francophone zone, Hallyday is almost unknown.

Eclectic mixture

Despite 6,000 of his fans chartering a plane from Paris to see him play Las Vegas in 1996, he has failed to crack the American or any English-speaking market.

Even the French struggle to explain Hallyday's extraordinary popularity.

He introduced rock and roll to France.

Philippe Le Corre

His music is blatantly derivative, defiantly American and often consists of French language covers of stateside hits like Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven.

Philippe Le Corre, London correspondent of French periodical Le Point, believes that Hallyday's charisma is the key to his success.

"He introduced rock and roll to France. He's one of the few singers about whom people say that he's an animal on stage," he said.

"He's quite incredible. People of all ages like him," he added.

His personal style is an eclectic mixture, combining the hip-swivelling of Elvis Presley, the rebelliousness of James Dean and the melodramatic vulgarity of Liberace.

Artist exploitation

The singer, who was born in Paris to a French mother and Belgian father, applied for his Belgian citizenship last year.

Until then he assumed he had dual nationality, but learned his father had not been married to his mother at the time of his birth and so his citizenship could not be passed on.

Former French President Jacques Chirac and Johnny Hallyday
Former French President Jacques Chirac honoured him

As a child he was abandoned by both parents and raised by an aunt whose daughter, a ballerina, married an American dancer named Lee Halliday.

Jean-Phillippe became Johnny and hit the road as a singer in 1959, aged 16.

The following year saw his first hit, Laisse les filles.

Once dubbed "the French Elvis", Hallyday's rise to the top was swift and within two years he became France's highest paid music star.

He has married five times - twice to the same woman.

His split from his first wife, pop singer Sylvie Vartan, in 1974.

Since then the paparazzi have snapped Hallyday with a veritable phalanx of women, most notably the actress Natalie Baye, with whom he enjoyed a celebrated romance.

His present wife is 30 years his junior.

Johnny Hallyday
Fans flocked to the US for Hallyday's Las Vegas debut

Though written off by much of the French intellectual establishment as irredeemably naff and Anglo-Saxon, many others see him as a loveable rogue.

He has been forgiven for disturbing the chic atmosphere of St Tropez with his powerful motorbikes and even an admission of extensive and continuing cocaine use provoked little comment.

However his climb to the top has not been totally trouble free.

In 2005 he lost a legal battle with his record label, Universal, over gaining control of some 1,000 master copies of his songs after he accused them of exploiting him.

He was also accused of rape by a former employee in 2003, but no charges were ever brought against the singer.

Despite that, his longevity in the business has been remarkable. Even Hallyday himself has found it quite hard to believe.

"The impression of being a survivor is almost always with me." he said once.

"There's only me and Mick Jagger left".

Delay for Hallyday's citizenship
07 Mar 07 |  Entertainment
Hallyday nationality hearing due
13 Feb 07 |  Entertainment
Hallyday recovering from surgery
11 Jan 07 |  Entertainment
Hallyday exile row gets political
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