The English-speaking world always thought that Johnny Hallyday was a joke.
It's easy to see why. He shamelessly recorded some of our most beloved songs and sang them in French, which made them sound silly. His voice could be ridiculously operatic. His melancholy attitude seemed like a poor Welsh copy of James Dean.
He was an alternative rocker, more of the entertainment world than the genuine article.
All that may be true. But it is also completely irrelevant. Because, for all his Belgian father, his Swiss residence and his American obsession, Hallyday only mattered in one place, and that was France.
So, making fun of Johnny is making fun of France. But equally to understand the Hallyday phenomenon is perhaps to understand something of the modern country.
In his career and in his personal life, Johnny came to embody perfectly that double focus that is the essence of post-war France: on the one hand a desire for all the novelty of the consumerist and hedonistic American lifestyle; on the other hand, thirst for values that go beyond that, which allows France to feel that it is still France.
In his youth in the 1950s in Paris, Johnny was one of the first to feel the excitement of new sounds coming from across the Atlantic. He had a collection of rock & n '# 39; roll 45s that were the envy of his friends. So enamored was he of all things in the United States that he even told an interviewer early that his father was American.
Success and its trappings came quickly, when Johnny became the acknowledged leader of the sixties "yé-yé" (of "yes, yes" "in English) generation of singers, they were all in it, going back to versioning the classic pop and blues songs in French, but Johnny was the best, it was the coolest, the most handsome, the one with the most convincing "rock attitude".
It was then that the bond was forged with the audience The baby boomers who danced with Johnny in the 1960s became the best in France and never let him go.
Surprisingly, successive generations also fell in love with the magic of Hallyday, as their appearance changed as a child from stuffed toy to strutter with sequins to goat tongue old man Just this year there has been a cover album of young artists called: In all of us there is something of Johnny.
In France there is nothing of mockery that in other countries accompanies the displacement of artists from the past. They cling to what they know and, as the years went by, from the Algerian war to the Instagram era, they always knew that Johnny would return for a new tour, with a new album.
But mutual loyalty came from more than just music Because beyond celebrity and fun, the French public detected values in Johnny that they liked to consider as their own: hard work, stoicism in the face of adversity, simplicity, language plain and love for the country.
childhood had been difficult. His father left home and only returned to marry Johnny's mother in order to dispel the rumors that he was the son of a German soldier. This was during the occupation. Later, his father became a total wasteful, cleaning his son and dying in poverty.
"I have done a self-analysis," Johnny said in a famous interview with Le Monde in 1998. "And I can see that my first days diverted me from my path, my fierce desire to have a family, but my repeated inability to maintain one, everything is derived from that "
Hallyday went through divorces, drug taking, motorcycle accidents, financial disasters and medical emergencies. and the French followed everything. It could have been an ordinary celebrity show, except that the French, being the French, always saw it as something more significant.
Alexis Brezet, writing in Le Figaro on what appears to be a national day of mourning in France, has expressed it best.
"Your audience … was France, France was the bad boys and girls of good families of children and grandparents, communists and liberals, Parisians and provincials, wealthy bohemians and the proletariat."
"The France of bars-tabacs and cybercafes, old-style ballrooms and techno temples.
"In the broken mirror that he held for us, a whole nation saw its own history." In Johnny France, he could recognize himself: the good and bad sides, the enthusiasms and depressions, the falls of grace and redemptions.  "It is this France, quarrelsome but generous, crazy but rational, desperate and magnificent, which now hums sadly:" In all of us there is something of Johnny & # 39; "