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The other Hallyday effect: Traffic jams, scant donations and nasty tweets

Patrick Kovarik, AFP | Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in central Paris on Saturday, December 9, 2017, to pay homage to late French rocker Johnny Hallyday.

France came to a standstill on Saturday as it paid tribute to late rock star Johnny Hallyday. But the homage also led to a steep drop in donations for France’s most popular fundraiser and sparked a string of bitter comments on social media.


A Parisian taxi driver told FRANCE 24 that he took an unusual four-hour break in the middle of the day on Saturday. The reason: A cortège and commemoration service for Hallyday that wound its way through the city centre, making it nearly impossible to avoid lengthy traffic jams. In addition to a number of major Parisian thoroughfares being shut down, at least three metro stations were closed – all under the watchful eye of some 1,500 police officers and gendarmes who had been mobilised to secure the event.

Hallyday’s death on December 6 at the age of 74 has had a huge impact on France, with some in the media even comparing it to the passing of important national figures like Victor Hugo. In the aftermath of Hallyday’s death, the country’s main news networks quickly switched from their regular programming to a TV schedule packed with retrospectives, documentaries and panel discussions on “Johnny”. Paris’s iconic Eiffel Tower was lit up with the words, “Merci Johnny” (Thanks Johnny) and metro operator RATP temporarily changed the name of one Paris metro station from "Duroc" to “Durock Johnny” (which roughly translates to “Rock'n’roll Johnny”).

While the rocker certainly seemed to have left his mark on France’s cultural and musical soul, gathering hundreds of thousands of fans for his “popular homage” in Paris on Saturday, some felt the grandiose tributes – including a speech by President Emmanuel Macron and a funeral cortège down Paris’s famed Champs-Élysées avenue – may have blown Hallyday’s “greatness” somewhat out of proportion.

Many took to social media to vent these frustrations.

“Frankly, I understand your love for Johnny Hallyday… but the next person who compare’s [Hallyday’s song] “Que Je T’aime” with the “Les Misérables” I will have eat Victor Hugo’s entire collection of works,” Twitter user Po-p-ésie wrote in an enraged post.

Others protested the way the Hallyday tributes were stealing attention from more important issues.

“Everyone is tweeting about Johnny Hallyday’s death [and] it affects you, but when there are thousands of children who die every day due to starvation or war no one says anything. Review your priorities,” another Twitter using the name Igor lamented.

Even France’s Fifth Republic values were brought into question: “Today is the anniversary of France’s law on secularism. And to celebrate that, we have decided to put our government in a church and broadcast two hours of Mass [live] on all of the country’s six news channels …,” Twitter user Vincent Castella wrote, hashtagging his post with #HommageAJohnny.

Christian Delporte, a contemporary history professor at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, predicted a backlash, saying: “Well, we’ve ticked all the boxes of the media circus. Logically, next week we’ll have: #Johnny: did the #media go overboard?”

He added: “I propose journalists remove the word ‘historic’ from their vocabulary to describe an event which they, like me, have no clue as to whether it will go down in history or not.”

>> In pictures : France bids farewell to Johnny Hallyday

Others poked fun at the hysteria surrounding the star’s funeral, saying that only a mass protest against tax-dodging could be expected to draw such crowds – a clear nod at Hallyday’s own troubles with the French tax man. Between 2007 and 2012, the singer reportedly spent six months and one day each year in Switzerland to avoid having to pay French taxes. He later moved his residence to the United States in what was widely thought to be self-imposed “tax exile”.

Hallyday’s death had other unintended effects. France’s 31st Téléthon, a hugely popular televised fundraising event for research into rare genetic diseases, not only saw its normal programming schedule change – moving from one channel to another due to the many Hallyday broadcasts – but also saw a precipitous drop in donations. The fundraiser, at which Hallyday himself often performed, garnered a total of €75.6 million in donations when it ended in the early hours of Sunday, compared with €80.3 million at the same time in 2016. Although it will still be possible for people to donate to the fundraiser over the next few days, Laurence Tiennot-Herment, the president of the AFM association that organises the event, told AFP news agency that the telethon had aired in “a particularly difficult context”.

“France is in mourning. We know that a large part of the French who cry over Johnny Hallyday largely consists of those who also donate to the Téléthon,” she said, adding: “You can understand that the French weren’t really in the mood for it.”

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