Johnny Hallyday, Giant of French Rock Music, Dies at 74

Johnny Hallyday - Getty - H 2017
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Dubbed the "French Elvis," Hallyday sold over 100 million records worldwide.

Johnny Hallyday, the French rock icon and occasional actor, has died from lung cancer. He was 74.

Hallyday's wife announced the news of his passing Tuesday in a statement, AFP reported. "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," the statement said.

Born Jean-Philippe Smet in Paris in 1943, Hallyday would go on to sell over 100 million records over his long and illustrious music career. Dubbed the "French Elvis," Hallyday became a hero to France's youth with his music, his style and attitude in the 1950s and '60s, much in the same way Elvis Presley, a huge influence of his, had done in the U.S.

Despite his huge success in France and French-speaking countries, Hallyday never managed to break through in America or other big English-speaking markets and was often tagged with the slightly unfair phrase "the biggest rock star you've never heard of."

Hallyday also had a moderately successful acting career, working with celebrated French directors including Jean-Luc Godard. He earned critical praise playing a thief in the 2002 film L'Homme du Train (The Man on the Train). His last roles were in the 2017 comedies Chacun Sa Vie et Son Intime Conviction and the Guillaume Canet-directed Rock 'n Roll.

Hallyday was for many years married to French singer Sylvie Vartan, and the two were considered a musical power couple. In 1997, Hallyday was made a Chevalier of the Legion D'Honneur.