The tributes began on Tuesday morning with a small concert from the last five musicians to play alongside Hallyday, who were accompanied by a number of the bikers who escorted the singer’s coffin down the Champs-Elysée in 2017.
That was followed by the inauguration of Esplanade Johnny Hallyday, in front of the Bercy AccorHotels Arena in Paris. Mayor Anne Hidalgo was present alongside the singer’s widow Laeticia Hallyday as a plaque was revealed marking the forecourt’s new name.
“Our wish was to offer a place in France where all the fans could come and pay their respects without crossing the Atlantic,” Hidalgo said. Hallyday is buried on the French Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy.
“It was Johnny’s choice to be buried on Saint-Barth and I respected it. But the fans felt abandoned and I understood. When you’re in mourning, it’s complicated not having a place to reflect, to lay flowers,” Laeticia told Le Parisien.
A 6-metre high statue representing a guitar and Harley-Davidson motorcycle was unveiled on the esplanade. The statue, from artist Bertrand Lavier, is titled “Quelque chose de… ” (Something from…) in reference to Hallyday’s famous song, “Quelque chose de Tennessee”.
In the nearby Accor Arena, where the “French Elvis” performed 101 times over the course of his career, “Johnny’s Bar” was inaugurated.
Earlier in the day, the Bercy Metro station underwent a temporary name change, becoming “Bercy Johnny”, in reference to the message, “Merci Johnny” (Thank you, Johnny) which represented an outpouring of emotion following his death and was even projected onto the Eiffel Tower.
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A tribute concert
From 9pm on Tuesday, 10,000 fans will attend a concert entitled “Johnny Hallyday, que je t’aime” at Bercy, which will also be broadcast live by France 2. Popular musicians including Patrick Bruel and Julien Doré will perform some of Hallyday’s greatest hits.
Laeticia turned down the idea of a hologram Johnny at the concert, however, telling Le Parisien: “I’m not ready for that.”
The family feud that erupted over the partition of his vast estate means two of his four children – actress Laura Smet and singer David Hallyday – are not expected to attend.
‘The greatest French singer’
Known simply as Johnny, Hallyday was never particularly popular abroad, but was beloved by millions of people in his home country. He sold more than 100 million albums over a career which spanned 57 years.
As well as original songs, Johnny was known for his covers of US rock ‘n’ roll, such as “Blue Suede Shoes”, or “The House of the Rising Sun”, which was rewritten as “Le Pénitencier” with French lyrics.
In December 2017, he died aged 74 after a battle with lung cancer. “There is something of Johnny in all of us,” President Emmanuel Macron said at the time.
A posthumous greatest hits collection sold more than 500,000 copies, and his Spotify followers have rocketed from 70,000 in 2018 to 800,000, almost half of them under the age of 35, according to the streaming platform.
“In the collective subconscious, he is the greatest French singer,” said Nicolas du Roy, a director for Spotify France. “Young people are discovering him just as their parents are joining these platforms.”