France pays homage Saturday to French rock icon Johnny Hallyday, who died this week of lung cancer at 74. French President Emmanuel Macron will pay a brief tribute to the singer, who will be honoured with a procession down the Champs-Élysées.
President Macron will be among those paying tribute to the singer at his funeral at the grandiose Madeleine church in the centre of the French capital.
Known as the French Elvis, Hallyday is being honoured with a nationwide "popular homage".
The RATP transport authority temporarily changed the name of Paris's Duroc station this week to "DuRock Johnny" in his honour. The Eiffel Tower also lit up with the message, "Merci Johnny".
Adored by young and old, hard-living Hallyday was almost a national monument, selling more than 110 million records despite being almost unknown outside the French-speaking world.
Television channels cleared their schedules this week to broadcast tribute shows to Hallyday, who first came to fame in the late 1950s yet always managed to adapt to ever-changing musical tastes.
Last goodbye for fans
Fans chanting "Johnny! Johnny!" amassed in Paris as the funeral cortège headed past his home in a Paris suburb near Versailles to Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe monument.
Mark Owen gives us the latest from Hallyday's elaborate funeral
"The family and friends of Johnny Hallyday and the President have agreed that as a part of the popular homage, his funeral cortège will leave from the Arc de Triomphe and go down the Champs-Élysées" before continuing to the religious ceremony at Madeleine church, a statement from the presidential palace said.
As the huge cortège paused on the Champs-Élysées, Hallyday's band members began playing his greatest hits from a specially built stage.
"All my life I listened to him morning, noon and night," said lifelong fan Claude Broos, who travelled from Belgium to watch the procession.
"Even now I can't believe that he is dead, I shed a tear," said 36-year-old Johnny Bernard, who camped overnight on the Champs-Élysées with his wife and daughter.
Some fans cried as Hallyday's body, in a white coffin, was driven down the grand ceremonial avenue towards La Madeleine. A huge portrait of the singer hung from the façade and fans – hundreds of whom had spent the night in the streets – sang his songs and did the twist to keep warm on a sunny but freezing cold morning.
The ceremony will end with a concert by Hallyday's band in front of La Madeleine, which was also the site of Chopin's funeral in 1849.
Fans mourn Johnny Hallyday: 'I can't say why I loved him – I just did'
"Because he loved France he would have loved this," Macron declared as the coffin was laid on the steps of the church before the crowd.
"He was part of us, part of France ... its prodigal son who suffered terribly, furiously on stage for us. Johnny was ours ... because Johnny was a lot more than a singer, he was life," the president said.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy said Hallyday "was someone who really counted in French people's lives".
"For lots of people Johnny represents the idea of happiness. He leaves a huge hole," he added.
Sarkozy is a huge Hallyday fan who tried to lure him back to France from tax exile. He officiated at Hallyday's marriage to his fifth wife Laeticia, 42, while his predecessor Jacques Chirac made him a knight of the Légion d'Honneur in 1998.
On a tous en nous quelque chose de Johnny Hallyday. Le public de fans et de fidÃ¨les qu'il s'Ã©tait acquis est en larmes. Nous n'oublierons ni son nom, ni sa gueule, ni sa voix. Le voici au panthÃ©on de la chanson oÃ¹ il rejoint les lÃ©gendes du rock et du blues qu'il aimait tant.Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 6, 2017
Yet the French establishment has not always been so warm to the flamboyant performer who, as he grew older, cultivated an air of a benign leather-clad pirate.
When he started belting out American rock more than five decades ago Hallyday was seen as a threat to a conservative France led by the stiff General Charles de Gaulle, with one radio announcer even smashing one of his records on air.
But he drove his young fans wild, attracting 100,000 to a Paris square in 1963 and prompting scenes of hysteria wherever he went.
Over the years he kept his bad-boy image alive with a colourful private life, ticking off many rock 'n' roll rites of passage, and was rarely off the front pages of celebrity magazines.
He was still filling stadiums as late as this summer when he teamed up with other veteran French rockers for the "Old Scoundrels" tour.
Hallyday had always dreamed of making it big in the US but never did, settling instead for living in Los Angeles, where he had a home in Pacific Palisades near Hollywood stars Tom Hanks and Ben Affleck.
"It's better to be king in one's own country than a prince elsewhere," he once told AFP.
Hallyday will be buried in the French Caribbean island of Saint Barts, where he had a home. His body will be flown to the island on Sunday morning and buried on Monday.
Johnny Hallyday on stage at the Olympia in Paris on December 13, 1962. He would go on to perform a record 266 times at the iconic concert hall over a career spanning six decades. © AFP file photo
The young Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Smet on June 15, 1943 in Paris, enjoys a break from rehearsing at the Olympia in October 1962. © AFP file photo
Hallyday, seen here in October 1962 with US pianist Fats Domino (left) and boxing champion Ray Sugar Robinson, is known in the English-speaking world as the “French Elvis” for his role in introducing the French to rock ’n’ roll. © AFP file photo
Hallyday and French singer and actress Sylvie Vartan, whom he married in 1965, were the iconic singing couple of the 1960s. © AFP file photo
The French rocker married five times, including twice with the same woman. This picture shows him posing with his second wife, actress Nathalie Baye, and their newly born daughter Laura in December 1983. © AFP file photo
Though best known as a rocker, Hallyday also enjoyed a prolific acting career, starring in more than two dozen films. This file photo taken in 1970 shows him playing a lout on the set of the film "Point de chute" directed by Robert Hossein. © AFP file photo
While General Charles De Gaulle once accused Hallyday of perverting France's youth, the rock star was actually closer to conservative politicians. He once sang his support for President Jacques Chirac, seen here with his wife Bernadette and the "French Elvis" in 1999. © Georges Gobet, AFP
The French rocker, seen here at the Palais des Sports in Paris on September 14, 1982, is believed to have sold more than 110 million albums and drawn a whopping 28 million people to his concerts. © Philippe Bouchon, AFP
Hallyday poses with his fifth and last wife Laeticia, who announced his death on Wednesday.
Throughout his career, France's biggest rock star was known as the "idol of the young", though his popularity spanned several generations, uniting grannies and their grandchildren. © AFP file photo
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2017-12-09