Jean-Philippe Léo Smet (French: [ʒɑ̃ filip leo smɛt]; 15 June 1943 – 5 December 2017), better known by his stage name Johnny Hallyday, was a French rock and roll and pop singer and actor, credited for having brought rock and roll to France.
During a career spanning 57 years, he released 79 albums and sold more than 110 million records worldwide, mainly in the French-speaking world, making him one of the best-selling artists in the world. He had five diamond albums, 40 golden albums, 22 platinum albums and earned ten Victoires de la Musique. He sang an estimated 1,154 songs and performed 540 duets with 187 artists. Credited for his strong voice and his spectacular shows, he sometimes arrived by entering a stadium through the crowd and once by jumping from a helicopter above the Stade de France, where he performed 9 times. Among his 3,257 shows completed in 187 tours, the most memorable were at Parc des Princes in 1993, at the Stade de France in 1998, just after France's win in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, as well as at the Eiffel Tower in 2000, which had record-breaking ticket sales for a French artist. A million spectators gathered to see his performance at the Eiffel Tower, with some 10 million watching on television.
Usually working with the best French artists and musicians of his time, he collaborated with Charles Aznavour, Michel Berger and Jean-Jacques Goldman. Hugely popular in France, he was referred to as simply "Johnny" and seen as a "national monument" and a part of the French cultural legacy. He was a symbol of the Trente Glorieuses when he emerged in 1960 and a familiar figure to four generations. More than 2,500 magazine covers and 190 books were dedicated to him during his lifetime, making him one of the people most widely covered by the media in France. His death from cancer in 2017 was followed by a "popular tribute" during which a million people attended the procession and 15 million others watched the ceremony on TV. He remained relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, where he was dubbed "the biggest rock star you've never heard of" and introduced as the French version of Elvis Presley.
Jean-Philippe Smet was born in the 9th arrondissement of Paris on 15 June 1943 to a Belgian father, Léon Smet, and a French mother, Huguette Eugénie Pierrette Clerc. Léon Smet, who worked as a nightclub performer, left his wife and son a few months later. Clerc started a modeling career, which left her with little time to care for her son. Hallyday grew up with his aunt, Hélène Mar, and took his stage name from a cousin-in-law from Oklahoma (Lemoine Ketcham) who performed as Lee Halliday. The latter called Smet "Johnny" and became a father figure, introducing him to American music.
Influenced by Elvis Presley and the 1950s rock n' roll revolution, the Hallyday became known for singing rock 'n' roll in French. 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 French-language cover of "Let's Twist Again", "Viens Danser Le Twist", 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 staged many appearances in the Paris Olympia under the management of Bruno Coquatrix. For their first concert, The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for Johnny Hallyday in Nancy on 14 October 1966. Film footage from October 1966 exists of Hallyday partying with Hendrix, his manager Chas Chandler and others. He also socialised with Keith Richards and Bob Dylan.
At the end of the 1960s, Hallyday made a string of albums with Foreigner's 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 (also known as Je suis né dans la rue) and Vie. On Je suis né dans la rue, Hallyday hired both Peter Frampton and the Small Faces and they all play on most of the tracks on the album. Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces contributed their compositions "Amen (Bang Bang)", "Reclamation (News Report)", and "Regarde pour moi (What You Will)" to the album. "Amen" is a French-language variation on "That Man", a previously-released 1967 Small Faces song played in a heavy rock style. Tensions between the Small Faces during the recording sessions led to Marriott leaving the band and forming Humble Pie with Frampton, and rearranged English language versions of both "Reclamation (News Report)" and "Regarde pour moi (What You Will)" appeared on Humble Pie's debut LP of 1969. Often forgotten is Hallyday's non-LP single and EP track "Que je t'aime" from the same sessions. By 1969 alone, his record sales exceeded twelve million units.
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 on the French SNEP singles chart since its establishment in 1984, "Mon plus beau Noël" (after "Tous ensemble" and "Marie"), dedicated to his adopted daughter Jade. Shortly before announcing his retirement from touring in 2007, he released a blues-flavored album, Le Cœur d'un homme. In addition to the lead single "Always", Le Cœur d'un homme features "T'aimer si mal", a duet with blues musician Taj Mahal and "I Am the Blues", an English-language song (uncharacteristically for Hallyday) written 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. Hallyday's album Tour 66: Stade de France 2009 was a live set recorded at Stade de France during his farewell tour. In 2011 Hallyday released album Jamais seul, recorded with Matthieu Chedid, and started touring again. In 2012 he gave concerts in different countries, including Russia, and released the album L'Attente. Later Hallyday released two live albums, On Stage and Born Rocker Tour (a recording of his 70th anniversary concerts in Bercy and Theatre de Paris). Albums named Rester Vivant and De L'Amour were released in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In 2015–2016 Hallyday had the Rester Vivant Tour. A concert in Brussels was released as a live album in 2016.