Johnny, as he was known, was born in Nazi-occupied Paris on June 15, 1943, with the decidedly unhip name of Jean-Philippe Leo Smet.
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.
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.
Much of his appeal lay in his ability to interpret English rock and roll classics for a French audience, such as the Animals' version of House of the Rising Sun and Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe.
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"My man is no more", his widow said. Mr. Hallyday spent decades in what Britain's Independent newspaper once called "a ghetto of francophone idolatry".
Speculation is rife that Hallyday, who survived a tough childhood after being abandoned by his alcoholic father, will be given a full state funeral, complete with a procession down the Champs Elysees, the grand ceremonial avenue of the French capital - an honour usually reserved for France's greatest heroes. The boy began singing and playing the guitar under the wing of an American, Lee Ketcham, in a family act called the Hallidays.
Hallyday remained a draw late into his career. It was his wife Laeticia, who confirmed the bad news through a press release poignant. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available. If Gainsbourg was the standard-bearer of a kind of louche, decadent, hipster Frenchness, Hallyday was the 110 million albums-selling, five times-marrying, hard-living vivant adored by everyone else.
His last marriage, to 21-year-old Laeticia Boudou in 1996, was his longest.
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