I have often asked myself, what would Elvis have been like had he lived beyond his 42 years to the age of 67, Johnny Hallyday’s present age? Of course, we’ll never know, but if Johnny is any indication of a possible entertainment career course, Elvis could have had a good run. Johnny is a legend in France and has been performing since 1960 with some of the great musical talents through the decades, singing rock and roll in French, and even performing with Connie Francis in 1962 on the Ed Sullivan Show. It may be hard to believe, but he is credited with the discovery of Jimi Hendrix in London and then brought Jimi along to open for him in Évreux in northern France in October 1966.
In his 50-plus-year career, he has completed 100 tours, has had 18 platinum albums, and has sold more than 100 million records. He announced his retirement from concert performances December 2007 at the age of 64 after he completed a farewell tour. As is often the case, retirement does not mean out of the public eye and that’s exactly why I decided to introduce him to you. Johnny is no longer doing singing tours, but he still seems to be everywhere. I first noticed a local brasserie, Bienvenue Aux Artistes, dedicated to Johnny. I haven’t visited it inside, but from the street, I can see that the interior is a true Johnny shrine with photos of him through his ages.
I’ve also found him on posters, panneaux d’affichage (billboards) and TV commercials for Optic 2000 sunglasses, featuring him as the tamer of a stallion. And just the other day, the entire evening’s programming on one TV channel was devoted to Johnny—a two-hour broadcast of an old concert followed by an hour documentary on ce Roi (this King).
So what’s up with this guy? Former French president Jacques Chirac awarded him the Legion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor award) in 1997 for “resisting just copying the Anglo-Saxons while bringing French songs to the rock offensive.” (Huh?) Back in 2003, when Johnny was a spry 60-year-old heartthrob, there was Johnny Hallyday Fever, and women were still throwing their hotel keys up to him on stage. Most Americans have never heard of him, and this has fiercely added to his French mystique—some regard him as a deity.
When you look at the age progression of Johnny, you see he has reaped the rewards of hard living in the fast lane. Chain-smoking Johnny has battled colon cancer and a botched herniated disc operation. If you have an opportunity to look at a photo of him, you can be the judge of the results of his plastic surgery. (Is that Joan Rivers’ twin?) He keeps young for his 36-year-old wife and his two adopted Vietnamese daughters. Before I noted it, Johnny, too, had already recognized the parallels between himself and Elvis, and he found the Las Vegas squeezed-into-a-jumpsuit Elvis not a pretty sight. It prompted him to start exercising and change his diet but not his tobacco habits. (He is French, non?)
After asking some of my French friends about Johnny, I’ve found that either they love him or hate him—much like the reaction that Elvis once elicited. But from what I can tell, I don’t think Johnny really cares!
You can enter into his realm at: http://www.johnnyhallyday.com/
To make your own comparisons to Elvis, watch some of the concert video: Johnny Hallyday video: Vivre pour le meilleur!