France bid farewell to its biggest rock star Johnny Hallyday with an extravagant funeral procession down Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue, a presidential speech and a televised church ceremony filled with the country’s most famous faces.
Hallyday died at 74 after fighting lung cancer.
In an honour usually reserved for heads of state or literary giants like 19th-century novelist Victor Hugo, Hallyday’s funeral cortege rode past Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe monument and down the Champs-Elysees to the Place de la Concorde plaza on the Seine River.
Hundreds of motorcyclists accompanied the procession in a nod to the lifelong passion that Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Smet, had for motorcycles. His biker image included signature leather jackets and myriad tattoos.
French President Emmanuel Macron — a Hallyday fan himself, like three generations of others across the French-speaking world — delivered an eulogy on the steps of Paris’ Madeleine Church for the star known to the public affectionately by only one name.
“Johnny belonged to you. Johnny belonged to his public. Johnny belonged to his country,” Mr Macron said.
“He should have fallen a hundred times, but what held him up and lifted him was your fervour, the love,” add Mr Macron, referring to the star’s health troubles and famously excessive lifestyle.
Hallyday’s death unleashed a wave of emotion across France, where he had been a symbol of national identity and stability for more than half a century — even though his private life had been far from stable.
Aside from the drinking, smoking and partying chronicled in juicy detail by the French press, Hallyday had been linked to a string of glamorous women and had married five times.
About 1,500 police officers secured the area in Paris, a police helicopter flew overhead and emergency vehicles filled nearby streets as tens of thousands of fans lined the procession route.
Many dressed to emulate Hallyday’s flashy, rebellious style. Some climbed on fences, stoplights, and even the roof of a luxury hotel to get a better view.
Dubbed by some as “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of” — Hallyday’s position as one of the greatest-selling musical artists of all time is unusual as he remained largely unknown outside the Francophone world. But in France, he influenced styles, music and even children’s names.
Laura Dublot, a 30-year-old Parisian, and her brother David are among many who were named after Hallyday’s older children, Laura and David.
“He’s a national icon. This scale of funeral is not surprising — he’s united three generations of French,” Ms Dublot said.
Hallyday likely would have approved of this send-off, having told French media he dreaded the idea of an isolated funeral like the one he attended for his father in 1989.
He is survived by his wife Laeticia, two of his former wives, four children and three grandchildren.