Johnny Hallyday (Jean-Philippe Léo Smet, b. 15 June 1943 in Paris – d. 6 December 2017, in Marnes-la-Coquette) was a French singer and actor. Influenced by Elvis Presley and the 1950s rock 'n' roll revolution, Hallyday became famous in the 1960s for singing rock 'n' roll in French.
Hallyday's father, Léon Smet (1908–1989), was Belgian; his mother, Huguette Clerc (1920–2007), was French. Born in Paris, Hallyday took his stage name from his aunt Desta's husband and dance partner Lee Hallyday, a pseudonym for Lee Ketcham, an expatriate Oklahoman, performer, and MC at the Café de Paris where Johnny began his singing career. Johnny was raised by Desta and Lee from a very young age, with Lee being his first manager. Johnny was always very loyal to Lee and secured him a permanent job as a producer and A&R man with his label, Philips Records until Lee's retirement and relocation back to Oklahoma.
His debut single, "Laisse les filles" was released on the Vogue label in March 1960. His first album, Hello Johnny, was released in 1960. In 1961 his cover of "Let's Twist Again" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It topped almost every European chart, although the track did not appear in the UK Singles Chart. He appeared on the American The Ed Sullivan Show with American singing star Connie Francis in a show that was taped at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris. He also staged many appearances in the Paris Olympia under the management of the late Bruno Coquatrix. For their first concert, The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for Johnny Hallyday in Évreux on 13 October 1966. Black-and-white footage, also from October 1966, exists of Hallyday partying with Hendrix, his manager Chas Chandler and others. There also is a widely published monochrome photograph of Hallyday walking somewhere in Paris in late May 1966 with Bob Dylan.
At the end of the 1960s, Hallyday made a string of albums with Mick Jones and Tommy Brown as musical directors, and Big Jim Sullivan, Bobby Graham and Jimmy Page as session musicians. These are Jeune Homme, Rivière... Ouvre ton Lit (a.k.a. Je suis né dans la rue) and Vie. On Je suis né dans la rue, Hallyday also hired both Peter Frampton and the Small Faces. Amongst their contributions are the songs Amen (Bang Bang), Reclamation (News Report), and Regarde Pour Moi (What You Will), which are variations of Small Faces and Humble Pie (Frampton's band) songs—tracks and they all play on the album. Often forgotten is Hallyday's non-LP single and EP track Que Je T'aime from the same sessions. By 1969 alone, his sales of records exceeded twelve million.
One of Hallyday's later concerts, 100% Johnny: Live à La Tour Eiffel in 2000, attracted an audience of 500,000 and 9.5 million television viewers (the show was broadcast live on French TV). In December 2005, Hallyday had his third number-one single in France, "Mon Plus Beau Noël" (after "Tous ensemble" and "Marie"), dedicated to his adopted daughter Jade. Shortly before announcing his retirement from touring, he released a blues-flavored album, Le Cœur d'un homme, on 12 November 2007. The album hit No. 1 in both France and French-speaking Belgium. In addition to the lead single "Always", Le Cœur d'un homme features "T'aimer si mal", a duet with bluesman Taj Mahal and "I Am the Blues", an English-language song written for Hallyday by U2's lead singer Bono. His next album, Ça ne finira jamais, released in 2008, another No. 1 on the French album chart, and its lead single, "Ça n'finira jamais", also reached No. 1. In 2008 he recorded a series of acoustic songs with French musician Drexl Jonez. Hallyday's most recent album, also a No. 1 hit in France, is Tour 66: Stade de France 2009, a live set recorded at Stade de France during his farewell tour with appearances by Drexl Jonez on the guitar.
French movie producers Michèle and Laurent Pétin introduced Johnny Hallyday to Hong Kong film director Johnnie To. Hallyday was cast as the main role of To's Vengeance after meeting with the director in early 2008. The shooting began in November 2008 and concluded in February 2009.
He was married for 15 years to popular Bulgarian-French singer Sylvie Vartan and the two were considered a "golden couple" for 20 years.
Hallyday completed 181 tours, had 18 platinum albums, and sold more than 110 million records worldwide, making him one of the world's best-selling artists of all time.
Hallyday remains largely unknown outside the Francophone world, thus earning the nickname "the biggest rock star you've never heard of" in English-speaking countries.
On December 6, 2017 Hallyday died, at age 74, in Marnes-la-Coquette, France.