Johnny Hallyday, the Elvis Presley of France, Is Dead at 74


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.”

Photo

Mr. Hallyday performing in Paris in 1967.

Credit
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.