Johnny Hallyday (1943) is the father of French Rock and Roll. The flamboyant singer and actor was a European teen idol in the early 1960’s with record-breaking crowds and mass hysteria, but he never became popular in the English-speaking market. In recent years he successfully focused on film acting and appeared in more than 35 films.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 171. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 186. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 163. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by E.D.U.G. (Edition du Globe), no. 162. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Big card. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by E.D.U.G. (Edition du Globe), no. 158. Photo: André Nisak/Vogue.
Johnny Hallyday was born as Jean-Philippe Smet in Paris in 1943. His French mother Huguette Clerc and Belgian father Léon Smet separated not long after his birth, and he was raised by his paternal aunt, Hélène Mar. Iamkaym at Everything2 writes that she was "a dancer and frequenter of the Parisian world of performing artists. In 1944 she took him on tour with her two young daughters, also dancers. During the following decade the little troupe led an itinerant existence, shuttling between theaters and cheap hotels in London and in various continental cities of Europe. His first stage performance, in Copenhagen, was as a 9-year-old singer, presenting a between-the-acts rendition of 'la Ballade de Davy Crockett' while his cousin Desta and her dancer boyfriend, Lee Halliday, changed costumes." Jean-Philippe made his film debut at age 12 with a bit role in the classic noir thriller Les Diaboliques/Diabolique(1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot) with Simone Signoret. In 1957 he saw the film Lovin' You (1957, Hal Kanter), starring Elvis Presley, and decided to become a rock and roll singer. By the end of the 1950's, Jean-Phillippe was a regular at the Golf Drouot, a Parisian club frequented by young rock and roll fans. He sang Presley songs for his friends, began going to auditions and got some singing engagements. According to Everything2, he had no style of his own, but borrowed heavily from Presley, the French singer/poet Georges Brassens, and American country music. In 1959 he appeared on a TV program and was spotted by the artistic director of Vogue records, which signed him immediately. In March 1960, his debut single was released with the songs Laisse les filles (Let the Girls) and T'aimer follement (I love you like crazy), a take-off on an album by popular singer Dalida. His pseudonym was borrowed from his cousin's friend, the American artist Lee Halliday; the surname turned into Hallyday when it was misprinted on the record label. Johnny Hallyday was still only 16 at the time.
German postcard by Krüger. Photo: Winkler.
Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. 5643. Photo: Meteor Film. Publicity still for Johnny waar kom je vandaan?/D'où viens-tu, Johnny?/Where Are You From, Johnny? (1964).
Dutch postcard by Syba, no. 364-7.
Dutch postcard by Syba, no. 564-20.
French postcard by Publistar, no. 2002, presented by Corvisart, Epinal. Photo: Philippe D'Argence.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/307. Photo: Pierre Spitzer.
Rock and Roll Heartthrob
Johnny Hallyday's first album, Hello Johnny, was released in 1960. He rolled on stage, something that had never been done in France. In 1961, he introduced the Twist with his cover of Let's Twist Again. One side of the single was English, the flip side was French: Viens danser le Twist (Come dance the Twist). It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It topped almost every European chart. He became a teenager idol with record-breaking crowds and mass hysteria. Huge European hits followed like Tes tendres années (1963) and Pour moi la vie va commencer (1963). The YéYé generation was born and lasted almost five years. Hallyday's fame as a rock and roll heartthrob landed him parts in films like Les Parisiennes/Beds and Broads (1962, Marc Allégret, Michel Boisrond, a.o.) with Catherine Deneuve, and D'où viens-tu, Johnny?/Where Are You From, Johnny? (1964, Noel Howard). In these films he mostly played singers. Iamkayme describes his style: "His stage style is a blend of hip-swivelling Elvis and supreme French arrogance. There are those who say he also adds a bit of James Dean rebelliousness and more than a soupçon of melodramatic Liberace vulgarity. While Hallyday never had the golden tenor tones of Elvis Presley, his voice has always been deep and powerful. Unkind critics claim he simply 'bellows' his songs. Unlike Presley, he often appears in a costume that shows his biceps to best advantage."
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg, no. 5871. Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1962.
Dutch postcard by De Muinck en Co., Amsterdam, no. 662.
Big French card. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by E.D.U.G. (Edition du Globe), no. 241. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Dutch Postcard, no. 151.
German postcard by ISV, no. H 85.
French promotion card by Philips.
After the British invasion and the rise of politically motivated folk music Johnny Hallyday’s rock and roll career began to flounder. He attemped suicide and after his recovery, he issued the despairing single Noir, C'est Noir (Black is Black) as a commentary on his near-tragedy. In 1965 he married French singer Sylvie Vartan, the first of five wives. His son David Michael Benjamin Smet was born the following year. David would also become a well known singer as David Hallyday. Johnny and Sylvie formed a popular singing duo and they recorded a smash duet, J'ai un Problème, that became one of France's biggest hits in the early 1970’s. The 'golden couple' of the French music scene divorced in 1980. After his teen films in the 1960’s Johnny Hallyday stopped for several years as an actor and then started to work again in films by directors like Jean-Luc Godard in Détective (1985) and Costa Gravas in Conseil de famille/Family Business (1986). His later films include the gay comedy Pourquoi pas moi?/Why Not Me? (1999, Stéphane Giusti), and Crime Spree (2003, Brian Mirman), a bi-lingual farce with Gérard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel about inadept French criminals on assignment in Chicago. His best film was the well received thriller L’Homme du train/The Man on the Train (2002, Patrice Leconte). In his review Todd Kristel writes at AllMovie: "This appealing film could be considered a conversational chamber piece that's based on the accumulation of small, revealing character moments. Not much happens in terms of plot or action, but there's little wasted time here; the filmmaking is remarkably efficient for a talky, low key movie. Director Patrice Leconte does manage to find time to slip some relatively unobtrusive humor into his movie, such as spoofing Once Upon a Time in the West at the beginning. But the movie's main appeal lies in the performances of the two leads. Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday are both iconic figures in France, so seeing them together onscreen might not seem as significant to audiences outside their native country. Nonetheless, they have a great rapport, and Rochefort in particular is a delight to watch as he reveals the impish side to his character." In December 2005, Johnny Hallyday had his third number-one single in France, Mon Plus Beau Noël (My most beautiful Christmas) - after Tous ensemble (All Together) the official French song for the 2002 World Cup, and Marie. The song was dedicated to daughter Jade, a young girl from Vietnam, who he had adopted with his partner at the time, actress Nathalie Baye. Johnny starred alongside Fabrice Luchini in the comedy Jean-Philippe (2006, Laurent Tuel) in which he played himself. According to the IMDb it’s one of his greatest films.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 354, presented by Corvisart, Epinal. Photo: R. Kasparian.
French postcard by Ed. Lyna, Paris, no. 2002, presented by Corvisart, Epinal.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/228. Photo: Gérard Decaux.
German postcard by Kruger, no. 902/227.
French postcard by MC Reportages, Villeurbanne, no. 219. Presented by the Fan Club Johnny Halliday, Paris. Photo: Marc Castagnet, 1986.
French postcard by Fan Avenue, 2006. Photo: Patrick Carpentier, Bercy, 1990.
The Biggest Rock Star You've Never Heard Of
In December 2007 Johnny Hallyday anounced his retirement from performing, but 2009 brought a new tour called Route 66, and two new films: The Pink Panther 2 (2009, Harald Zwart) with Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau, and the thriller Fuk sau/Vengeance (2009, Johnnie To) in which Johnny as a French assassin-turned-chef travels to Hong Kong in order to avenge a murder. Sam van der Meer at IMDb: "Johnny Hallyday is Costello, an ex-hit-man who is now a chef in France whose daughter's family has just been killed by unknown gunman. The plot moves from there with Costello swearing revenge for his daughter. He then meets a trio of Triad hit men in the middle of a job-in-progress. Hallyday coolly walks away as if nothing has happened. And I have to say, I was impressed with his acting. I'm a To fan, but I wasn't so sure when I heard Hallyday was taking the lead. But he fits the character well, even physically. Because, no offense to the man, but he looks dark. His eyes are bored into his skull, and he walks like a man on a mission. " Then, in July 2009, Hallyday was diagnosed with colon cancer, for which he was operated on. In November 2009 Hallyday underwent surgery in Paris to repair a herniated disc, but he suffered complications and was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It was announced that Hallyday had been put into a medically induced coma in order to repair lesions that had formed as a result of the surgery and to relieve his pain. In December, it was announced that Hallyday would recover and that he and his wife Laetitia had started legal proceedings against Dr. Stephane Delajoux, who had performed the original surgery. Laetitia is the young daughter of Hallyday's best friend and business partner, Andre Boudou. Hallyday and his father-in-law own nightclubs in Paris and Nice, France and in Miami, Florida. He still remains largely unknown in English-speaking countries, thus earning him the nickname 'the biggest rock star you've never heard of', but he could cry all the way to the bank. His music career has spanned a half-century: he has completed 100 tours, had 18 platinum albums, and sold more than 100 million records. Still, in October 2012 Johnny Hallyday returned to the US for his first performance in New York in 50 years and later that month made his British stage debut when he performed in the Royal Albert Hall in London. In The Guardian, Jessica Reed wrote: "So it comes down to this: even for those French people who, like me, aren't crazy about his oeuvre, Hallyday will never die. He just can't. Having been a fixture of French pop culture for so long – his multiple marriages, political tantrums and health scares are a national saga not unlike the most gripping of South American telenovelas – his death would be devastating, marking the end of an era." But Johnny is alive. Recently his new album came out and he will remain in France until the end of December to promote it. Then he will shoot a new film in January with director Claude Lelouche. Go, Johnny, go!
Johnny sings Retiens la nuit in Les Parisiennes/Beds and Broads (1962) with Catherine Deneuve. Source: Beliza75 (YouTube).
Early clip of Noir, C'est Noir. Source: Eric Simas (YouTube).
Clip for the song Quelque chose de Tennessee. Source: C1wang (YouTube).
Sources: Todd Kristel (AllMovie), Brigitte Dusseau (The Daily Star), Jessica Reed (The Guardian), Sam van der Meer (IMDb), Everything2, Wikipedia and IMDb.