Johnny Hallyday was credited with bringing American rock music to France. He was the most famous rock star in the French speaking world.
Johnny Hallyday, France's best-known rock star for more than a half-century, has died at the age of 74. His wife Laeticia announced the lung cancer sufferer's death early on Wednesday.
Known as the "French Elvis" for his pumping pelvis and gravelly voice on stage, Hallyday was widely credited for popularizing rock and roll in France.
"For more than 50 years, he was a vibrant icon," President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement. "He brought a part of America into our national pantheon."
Singer Celine Dion also paid tribute to Hallyday, calling him a "giant in show business" and "a true icon" on Twitter.
Little known outside France or the French-speaking world, Hallyday sold more than 100 million records and continued producing music and touring up until this year despite fighting lung cancer.
In France, he was simply known as Johnny.
Born in Paris in 1943 as Jean-Philippe Leo Smet, he was brought up by his aunt after his parents separated.
As a young boy he spent time on the road and in London with his cousin's acrobatic dance troupe, eventually taking to the stage at 12 to sing himself.
He produced his first professional concert under the name Johnny Hallyday in 1960, and released his first album a year later.
Hallyday recycled many American rock classics such as The Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun" or Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe," bringing them to French audiences at a time when there were legal limits on the amount of English music played on local radio.
Having been married five times, Hallyday leaves behind two biological children and two adopted children.
cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)