Johnny Hallyday: France's troubled Elvis dies at 74

Johnny Hallyday

While he was never taken seriously overseas, Hallyday broke from France's classic "chanson" tradition in the late 1950s, selling more than 100 million albums and headlining 50 major tours.

Hallyday, who was married four times, is survived by his wife of 21 years, Læticia, and four children: two he adopted with Læticia, one from his first marriage to singer Sylvie Vartan, and one from his four-year relationship with actress Nathalie Baye. He took one of his uncles' stage name and became Johnny Hallyday.

He called Hallyday a "national hero" and France's Elvis Presley.

Hallyday, whose real name was Jean-Philippe Smet, was born in Paris in 1943.

More recently, Hallyday appeared in Johnnie To's "Vengeance" (2009) and had talked about giving film a bigger role in his life.

But even with his gravelly voice, good looks and piercing blue eyes he never managed to break into the lucrative United Kingdom and USA music markets. Though he never sang in English, he was widely influenced by American and British music. One of Hallyday's most iconic hits, "Le Pénitencier", was adapted from The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun".

Johnny Hallyday performing in Brussels in 2006.

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Some global artists paid tribute to Hallyday's career.

Fans came soon after, bundled against the December cold to pay tribute and share memories of France's biggest rock star.

The "My Heart Will Go On" singer took to Twitter and wrote that she is incredibly sad to hear of the passing of this legendary artist.

"He was a giant in show business", she said. "Repose en paix (Rest in peace)".

Mr. Hallyday said in Marc h that he had lung cancer, the latest in a string of health problems that included colon cancer and a hernia operation that led doctors to place him in an artificial coma.

Hallyday gave his last concert on July 5, in the city of Carcassonne, in the south of France.

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