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France’s biggest rock star, Johnny Hallyday, the leather-trousered “French Elvis” who sold more than 110m albums over a career spanning more than half a century, has died aged 74.

His wife, Laeticia Hallyday, said on Wednesday: “Johnny Hallyday has left us. I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us. He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity.”

Hallyday had lung cancer.

The singer, whose hits were little known outside the French-speaking world, went from a young heartthrob with a quiff who introduced US-style rock’n’roll to France in the 1960s to the ageing, bad boy “patriarch of French pop”, a national monument, akin to music royalty, plastered over the cover of celebrity magazines.

Hallyday’s wife called the French president, Emmanuel Macron, at about 2am to inform him of Hallyday’s death.

In a statement, Macron wrote: “We will never forget the name, face, the voice or above all the concerts of Johnny Hallyday.”

Later, Macron tweeted “we’ve all something of Johnny in us”, a musical reference to Hallyday’s 1985 hit Quelque chose de Tennessee (Something of Tennessee).

His more than 55 years of stardom were marked by contradictions. He was musically eclectic, veering from French ballads to blues, and from country and western to prog rock, and was sometimes seen as rebellious, but mostly adored by several generations for his comforting light touch.

His entertainer friend Carlos once said: “Johnny is the Victor Hugo of tunes; if he dies, France stops.”

Hallyday’s passing brought forth a wave of emotion and tributes in France, with journalists calling him the country’s “last idol” and a “French legend”. “The king is dead”, read a headline in L’Obs magazine.

His fellow French rocker Eddy Mitchell said: “I’ve lost more than a friend, I’ve lost my brother.” Read More …