His upbringing was unusual. Hélène was a stage manager for her two dancing daughters, whom she shepherded from one engagement to the next in cities all over Europe, and Jean-Philipp became a kind of onstage mascot, singing while the girls changed costume.
The boy, whom Hélène’s American husband called Johnny, would later make use of the family stage name, the Hallidays.
Besides singing, Jean-Philippe appeared in commercials as a boy and played the role of a schoolboy in the 1955 Henri-Georges Clouzot thriller, “Les Diaboliques.”
Elvis Presley changed everything. “His voice, the way he moved, everything was sexy,” Mr. Hallyday told USA Today in 2000. “The first time I saw him, I was paralyzed.”
Mr. Hallyday began singing American rock songs at the Moulin Rouge and other clubs around Paris, and in 1959 he was signed by Vogue Records, which released his first album, “Hello Johnny,” in 1960, misspelling Halliday on the cover. The misspelling stuck.
His first single, “Laisse les Filles” (“Leave the Girls Alone”) — often described as the first French rock song — was a minor hit. In 1961 he recorded his first million-seller, “Viens Danser le Twist,” a French-language version of the Chubby Checker hit “Let’s Twist Again.”
Like Presley, Mr. Hallyday pursued a second career as an actor. Unlike Presley, he eventually won serious critical respect for his work, especially in such later roles as a world-weary criminal in “The Man on the Train” (2002) and as a man who seeks revenge when his daughter’s family is attacked in “Vengeance” (2009).
He worked with Jean-Luc Godard, playing a fight promoter in “Detective” (1985), and tried his hand at comedy in the Constantin Costa-Gavras film “Conseil de Famille” (“Family Business”), from 1986, and the English-language farce “Crime Spree,” with Gérard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel, in 2003.
Mr. Hallyday took music seriously too. Always current with the latest developments in Anglo-American rock, he made it a point to work with top talent outside France. Early in his career he recorded in Nashville with the vocal group the Jordanaires, who backed Presley on many records. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was his opening act in 1966, and he later brought the British guitarists Jimmy Page and Peter Frampton to France for recording sessions.
But his efforts remained largely unappreciated by English and American audiences.
In 1965, Mr. Hallyday married Ms. Vartan, his co-star in the film “Where Are You From, Johnny?” They divorced in 1980. Two subsequent marriages also ended in divorce.
In addition to his fourth wife, the former Laeticia Boudou, Mr. Hallyday is survived by their two daughters, Jade and Joy; David Hallyday, a son from his marriage to Ms. Vartan; and Laura Smet, a daughter from his relationship with the actress Nathalie Baye.
Mr. Hallyday’s career seemed to be on the wane in the early 1980s, but he rebounded with the album “Rock ’n’ Roll Attitude” (1985), the first in a string of midcareer successes that culminated in “Collection: Johnny Hallyday,” a 42-CD set issued to celebrate his 50th birthday, in 1993, in a limited edition of 8,000 copies. Although priced at more than $1,000, the sets sold out in two days.
President Jacques Chirac made Mr. Hallyday a member of the Legion of Honor in 1997.
Rumors of Mr. Hallyday’s retirement always turned out to be false. Like an opera star, he followed each farewell tour with another.
With time the hard-rock edge softened, and he turned more and more to breathy ballads in the venerable French chanson tradition of Jacques Brel, Édith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. His sales never slowed. In 2002, his double CD “À la Vie, à la Mort!” (“To Life, to Death!”) sold 800,000 copies in its first week, a French record.
He released his 50th studio album, “De l’Amour,” in 2015. In November, months after he had disclosed his cancer diagnosis, an album of his hits as interpreted by other artists was released under the title “On a Tous Quelque Chose de Johnny” (“We’re All a Little Bit Like Johnny”).
“It is hard to explain the Johnny phenomenon to foreigners,” Arnold Turboust, a French songwriter, told The Independent of London in 2000. “He is a good singer, but there are many singers. He is a chameleon, a performer, an actor, rather than a great musical original; a pirate of other people’s styles. But to the French, he is part of our history, our psyche.
“We have all grown up with Johnny,” Mr. Turboust continued. “We remember his first love affair, his first fight, his first marriage, his first motorcycle. He is our family.”