Thursday , December 13 2018

France’s king of rock, Hallyday dead at 74 – D’Ormesson dies

PARIS, Dec 6, (AP): Johnny Hallyday, France’s biggest rock star for more than half a century and an icon who packed sports stadiums and all but lit up the Eiffel Tower with his pumping pelvis and high-voltage tunes, has died. He was 74.

President Emmanuel Macron announced his death in a statement early Wednesday, saying “he brought a part of America into our national pantheon.” Macron’s office said the president spoke with Hallyday’s family but did not provide details about where the rocker died or the circumstances.

Hallyday had had lung cancer and repeated health scares in recent years that dominated national news, yet he continued performing as recently as this summer.

Celine Dion was among stars sharing condolences for a rocker with a famously gravelly voice who sold more than 100 million records, filled concert halls and split his time between Los Angeles and Paris.

Hallyday fashioned his glitzy stage aura from Elvis Presley, drew musical inspiration from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, performed with Jimi Hendrix, and made an album in country music’s capital, Nashville, Tennessee.

His stardom largely ended at the French-speaking world, yet in France itself, he was an institution, with a postage stamp in his honor. He was the country’s top rock ‘n’ roll star through more than five decades and eight presidents, and it was no exaggeration when Macron wrote “the whole country is in mourning.”

“We all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us,” Macron said, praising “a sincerity and authenticity that kept alive the flame that he ignited in the public’s heart.”


The antithesis of a French hero right down to his Elvis-style glitter and un-French name, Hallyday was among the most familiar faces and voices in France, which knew him simply as Johnny, pronounced with a slight French accent and beloved across generations.

He released his last album “Rester Vivant” — or “Staying Alive” — last year, and performed this summer as part of the “Old Crooks” tour with long-time friends and veteran French musicians Eddy Mitchell and Jacques Dutronc.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, as mayor of the rich enclave of Neuilly-sur-Seine on the western edge of Paris, presided in 1996 over the entertainer’s marriage to his fourth wife, Laeticia.

“For each of us, he means something personal. Memories, happy moments, songs and music,” Sarkozy said in 2009, days after Hallyday, then 66, was hospitalized in Los Angeles. Sarkozy called the Hallyday family during an EU summit and gave updates on the singer’s condition during news conferences.

The health problems came amid a national tour that included a Bastille Day mega-concert July 14 at the Eiffel Tower with spectacular fireworks.

Hallyday sang some 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. Hallyday’s stardom, however, was not inevitable.

He was born in Paris on June 15, 1943, during the dark days of World War II with a less glamorous name, Jean-Philippe Smet. His parents had separated by the end of the year. The young Smet followed his father’s sisters to London, where he met Ketchman.

Hallyday 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.

He quickly became a favorite of young people during the “Ye-ye” period, the golden years of French pop music. A respected musician, Hallyday played with Jimmy Hendrix during the 1960s and once recorded a song with Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page.


With his square-jawed good looks and piercing blue eyes, Hallyday was often sought-out for the cinema, playing in French director Jean-Luc Godard’s “Detective” (1984) and with other illustrious directors including Costa-Gavras.

Hallyday appeared in Johnnie To’s “Vengeance” (2009) and had talked about giving film a bigger role in his life.

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

“I’m not a star. I’m just a simple man,” he said in a 2006 interview on France 3.

Hallyday is also survived by two other children, Dave, a singer fathered with Vartan, and Laura Smet, whom he had with noted French actress Nathalie Baye.

Memorial plans weren’t immediately announced.


PARIS: Jean d’Ormesson, a very public face among the usually discreet “immortals” of the prestigious Academie Francaise, whom French President Emmanuel Macron called a “prince of letters,” died on Tuesday. He was 92.

The academy announced the death of d’Ormesson, a writer, philosopher and newspaper commentator. It did not provide a cause of death.

A dapper man known for his charm and wit, he appeared regularly on French TV — unlike most other lifetime members of the academy. He was among the rare Academicians who might be recognizable to the French public.

D’Ormesson wrote some 50 books and essays, starting in 1956. His last work, “Ces moments de bonheur, ces midis d’incendie (These Moments of Happiness, These Fiery Noons) was published last year. Despite his prolific writings, d’Ormesson was not widely translated into other languages.

D’Ormesson was inducted into the academy in 1973, sitting in the 12th of 40 assigned chairs. “Immortals,” considered as intellectual and literary giants, don green and gold embroidered suits and each carries a sword for formal meetings.

“He was the best of the French spirit, a unique mix of intelligence, elegance and maliciousness,” the French president tweeted. “A prince of letters knowing to never take himself seriously. We already miss the eye, the smile, the words of Jean d’Ormesson.”

D’Ormesson worked in journalism early in his career and was the director-general of the conservative daily Le Figaro from 1974-1977, then spent four decades as a commentator at the paper.

In an interview with Le Figaro to mark his 90th birthday, d’Ormesson said he “absolutely had no vocation as a novelist” and wrote his first novel, L’amour est un Plaisir” (Love is a Pleasure) “to please a girl” — it didn’t work.

He said he didn’t mind being catalogued as a writer of the political right, and “detested” the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.

Born in Paris June 16, 1925, the son of an ambassador, d’Ormesson turned his back on a career working for the state or in medicine, despite his father’s nudging, and ended up as a commentator and writer. He was considered highly enough to take part in an informal TV debate in 1992 with President Francois Mitterrand.

He ended up as a must-have guest on numerous TV shows throughout his life, even appearing in 2001 alongside comedian Jamel Debbouze, who helped him out when he was asked to make deliberate grammatical errors, a tough task for the erudite man representing the Academie Francaise, which works laboriously on dictionaries of the French language.

D’Ormesson called marriage a “nightmare,” but did tie the knot with Francoise Beghin, with whom he had a daughter. D’Ormesson won numerous literary prizes, including the prestigious “Pleiade” in 2015.

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