France to pay 'national homage' to rocker Johnny Hallyday

Paris (AFP) –


France will pay a "national homage" to the legendary rock star Johnny Hallyday with a procession down the Champs Elysees in Paris on Saturday, officials said Thursday.

President Emmanuel Macron will later pay a "brief" tribute to the singer at his funeral at the grandiose Madeleine church in the centre of the French capital.

The announcement came as speculation mounted that the singer, known as the French Elvis, would be given a state funeral, an honour usually reserved for France's greatest heroes.

But the French presidency stopped short of that, instead granting Hallyday, 74, who lost his long battle with lung cancer on Wednesday, a new kind of ceremony it dubbed a "popular homage".

Paris transport bosses had earlier renamed a Metro station after Hallyday, whose death has plunged France into mourning.

The RATP transport authority temporarily changed the name of the Duroc station, near the Invalides where Napoleon is buried, to "DuRock Johnny".

The Eiffel Tower will also be lit up over the weekend with the message, "Merci Johnny" (Thank you Johnny), said Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

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.

- Last goodbye for fans -

Fans will now be able to throng the Champs Elysees to bid a final farewell to their hero as his cortege passes down the grand ceremonial avenue from the Arc de Triomphe.

"Johnny Hallyday's musicians will accompany him musically" on his final journey, said a statement from the French presidency, without specifying what that would be.

"The family and friends of Johnny Hallyday and the President have agreed that as a part of the popular homage, his funeral cortege will leave from the Arc de Triomphe and go down the Champs Elysees" before continuing to the religious ceremony at Madeleine, the statement added.

It did not say at what time the ceremony would take place.

Macron had led the mourning after the star's passing, declaring that "there is something of Johnny in all of us", and promising that he and his wife Brigitte would attend the funeral.

Television channels cleared their schedules to broadcast tribute shows to Hallyday, who first came to fame in the late 1950s yet who always managed to adapt to ever-changing musical tastes.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy -- an adoring fan who once tried to tempt him back from tax exile in Switzerland -- said he represented "part of our personal history... our memories and emotions".

Sarkozy conducted Hallyday's marriage to his fifth wife Laeticia, 42, while his predecessor Jacques Chirac made him a knight of the Legion d'Honneur in 1998.

- Benign pirate -

Yet the French establishment had 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.

Asked by AFP if that rankled, he replied, "It's better to be king in one's own country than a prince elsewhere".