Rocker Hallyday wows France one last time
They came, often from the poorest most forgotten corners of France, to honour a multi-millionaire tax exile they saw as one of their own.
From the formerly industrial north whose factories and coal mines were booming when Johnny Hallyday first brought rock 'n' roll to France in the late 1950s, to the emptying countryside of the centre, they came in their tens of thousands by train, coach and camper van.
"For us Johnny represents the good times when life was beautiful," said Jacky Duchamps, who with his leather jacket and cowboy boots could almost pass for his idol in the right light.
He was one of many poor, white and middle-aged fans -- a majority of them men -- who gathered near the grand, porticoed Madeleine church in Paris for the funeral Saturday "just to be near him".
Unemployed for most of the last 20 years, Jacky, 64, from the Pas de Calais, admitted that in some ways he had lived through Hallyday.
"His music has been very important to me. And he also suffered," he told AFP.
"He will always be part of us," said Anita Fraboulet, 52, from Evreux in Normandy, as she fought off tears.
The showman they called the French Elvis may have had homes in Los Angeles, Switzerland and the Caribbean, but he came from poverty.
And he never forgot that, his friends confirmed one after another during the remarkable "people's tribute" of his funeral, which brought the French capital to a standstill - his last big show.
- 'Cheated of a childhood' -
Born in occupied Paris during World War II and abandoned as a baby, Hallyday was "cheated of a childhood", his friend the songwriter Philippe Labro told mourners.
He didn't write his own songs and his music was often derivative, but his very public struggles with addiction and earlier brushes with death only strengthened the bond with his fans, who identified with his vulnerability.
H great secret, Labro said, was that despite his fame he remained a simple man.
"Through all his falls, comebacks, excesses and extravagances, Johnny remained the same," he said.
Wrapped up against the cold outside the funeral service, Ludovic and Scheherazade Paszkowiak told how Hallyday had invited them for a drink when they were on holiday in Saint Tropez, the chic French Riviera resort that is a million miles from their home in Arras on the Belgium border.
- Four generations of fans -
"We saw (his fifth wife) Laetitia and asked after her him," the Paszkowiaks said. "She replied, 'You can ask him yourself, he is just behind me.'"
Such tales of Hallyday's unstarry "ordinariness" and devotion to his fans are legion.
Which is why his decision to be buried on the Caribbean island of Saint Barts on Monday, where he had a villa, rankles with some.
While most fans did not begrudge him a final resting place in the sun some were clearly saddened. Others vowed to save up to make the pilgrimage.
For the well-to-do Bassi clan, however, Johnny was "the only thing we all agree on". Four generations of the Paris family are fans.
Like many they were struck by the sense of celebration.
Many fans broke into song -- "Ca ne finira jamais" (It Will Never End), one of the many hits of Hallyday's 55-year career -- and others did the twist to keep warm while they waited for his cortege to arrive.
This was unfashionable France having its big moment in the limelight, and like Johnny, it knew how to milk it.
"It's a sad day but still I wanted a show," said 29-year-old Anais Caramello. The fact that his funeral had much of the grand spectacle of his concerts was a "fitting reflection of the man", said her friend Christophe Vella.
© 2017 AFP