Tuesday, December 12, 2017


I didn't realize this, but old, leathery Johnny Hallyday, France's biggest rocker (and an Americaphile to boot, with his love of leather jackets, Harleys, long roads, and the big sky), passed away this past December 6, at the tender age of 74, from complications related to metastatic lung cancer.

Somewhat in vain, Johnny tried reassuring his fans about his health this past March 8, when he released the following message on Facebook:

Translation of what Johnny wrote and what two commenters added:

Hello, all—

The throng of lies swirling around the state of my health shocks me deeply. The alarmist news being spread around by certain media and social networks is erroneous, troubling, and unworthy.

Modesty and discretion ought to be the order of the day in these matters, if only out of respect for those close to me.

So I assure you I'm doing very well and am in good physical health. Several months ago, some cancer cells were detected, for which I'm currently being treated. I'm being looked after by excellent doctors in whom I have total confidence. As of today, my life is in no danger.

This is a fight that I proudly engage in with my wife Laeticia and my loved ones. I'll go all-out for those who love me.

See you soon on stage.

COMMENT 1: A good recovery to you, Johnny, we love you, and we're waiting to see you on stage in June at Nîmes. You're a phoenix, and the doomsayers will get theirs.

COMMENT 2: There's medicine... and there's love!! —the two ingredients together are a middle finger to sickness. Johnny, you have both, so everything's rollin'! WE LOVE YOU ALL! Kisses to the whole family.

I read some French articles that talked about what a furiously dedicated smoker Hallyday was, so I suppose his death was written in his habits.

My own encounter with Hallyday's music began when I was in France in the mid-1980s, then continued when I lived in Switzerland from 1989 to 1990. Once I was back in the States, I followed his career only sporadically, but I've always enjoyed his music, which is a sort of French-tinged American rock combining grit and romance, deeply rooted in the old school. As with many musicians who enjoy a long career, Hallyday dabbled in different genres, but rock and roll was his mainstay, the thing he always came back to. American journalists who have written on Hallyday almost always call him "the most famous rock singer you never knew": he was huge in France and in a few other countries, but despite his love for America and Americana, he never made it big in the States. That's unfortunate.

As is also true with big-time musicians, Hallyday tried his hand at acting and actually did quite well for himself, starring in one of my favorite modern French movies, "L'homme du train," a thoughtful metaphysical drama about two old men—one a hardened bank robber, the other a contemplative teacher of poetry—who imagine what it's like to live each other's lives, developing a strange-but-warm friendship through this exercise in empathy.

So it saddens me to know Johnny Hallyday is dead. The world's a bit darker, but I suppose that, given the upheavals we've had this year, it's only condign for 2017 to end on a somber note. I'll leave you with a video of a live performance of Hallyday's "Seul," which I've written about here before:

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