French rock icon

Born: June 15, 1943;

Died: December 6, 2017

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JOHNNY Hallyday, who has died aged 74, was an icon of French music and a singer heavily influenced by American rock music and Elvis Presley in particular who sold more than 110 million records. He may not have cracked the English-speaking market - something which was a source of frustration to him - but in his homeland, his fame could not have been bigger. He was France's Elvis and for decades the country's biggest rock n roll star.

From the start, Hallyday's act was about the stars he remembered seeing as a child: Elvis of course, but Chuck Berry too and Buddy Holly. Many of his songs were French versions of English-language hits but his style was pure Americana too, right down to the glitter, gravelly voice and his distinctly un-French-sounding stage name.

He was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, during the Second World War with a less glamorous name, Jean-Philippe Smet. His parents had separated by the end of the year and it was not a happy childhood.

By the age of nine, he was already performing and was instantly inspired when he saw Elvis Presley's 1957 film Loving You. He gave his first professional concert in 1960, under the name Johnny, and put out his first album a year later.

By 1962, he had met the woman who would be his wife for years, and remained his friend to the end, singing star Sylvie Vartan. That year, he also made an album in Nashville, Tennessee, and rubbed shoulders with American singing greats.

Hallyday sang some of his songs in English, including Hot Legs and House of the Rising Sun, the melody of which was also used for one of his most famous songs, the 1964 Le Penitencier. And there was a real American connection: American singer Lee Ketchman gave him his first electric guitar.

With his square-jawed good looks and piercing blue eyes, Mr Hallyday was often sought-out for the cinema, playing in French director Jean-Luc Godard's Detective and with other illustrious directors including Costa-Gavras.

More recently, Hallyday had appeared in Johnnie To's Vengeance and had talked about giving film a bigger role in his life.

However, it was the rocker's sentimental life, and his marriage to the model Laeticia Boudou that gave him a mellow edge. He spoke lovingly of his daughters Jade and Joy, who were adopted from Vietnam.

He was made a Chevalier of the Legion D'Honneur by President Jacques Chirac in 1997.

He is survived by Laeticia, their daughters, Jade and Joy, and by his two other children David and Laura.