Johnny Hallyday to get spectacular 'people's tribute' send-off in Paris

Kim Willsher
Tributes left by fans of Johnny Hallyday outside his home near Paris. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Fans of the French rocker Johnny Hallyday will be given a chance to say a final adieu to their hero with a “people’s tribute” in Paris on Saturday.

With all the showbiz theatrics for which his live concerts were legendary, the body of France’s answer to Elvis Presley will be driven slowly down the Champs Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe, accompanied by his band playing some of his best-known hits.

Thousands of devotees of the man described by the president, Emmanuel Macron, as a “national hero” are expected to line the route as the funeral cortege makes its way to Place de la Concorde. It will then proceed to the grand Madeleine church where Macron will make a “brief address” before a special mass.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, announced that the Eiffel Tower and a concert hall on the right bank of the river Seine would be lit up on the eve of the funeral with the message “Merci Johnny” until Sunday. The Duroc station on the metro, named after an 18th-century empire general and aide de camp to Napoléon Bonaparte, has already been renamed DuRock Johnny.

Duroc metro station is renamed. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

A wave of national mourning has descended on France following the death of Hallyday, 74, in the early hours of Wednesday morning at his luxury home in a Paris suburb. The star, a lifelong smoker of filterless Gitanes, had been treated for lung cancer for several months, but had been planning to release another album – his 80th – next year.

Television schedules have been cleared for special tribute programmes and airings of his films and his concerts, known as much for his spectacular entrances – Hallyday winched to the stage from a helicopter or riding across the stage in a Harley-Davidson, for example – as the music.

Johnny Hallyday in 2009. Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock

Friends, associates, fellow celebrities and even television presenters have battled to contain their tears while delivering their homilies and French newspapers and magazines have thrown out almost every other news story to fill page after page with photographs and eulogies.

Announcing the “people’s tribute”, the government spokesman Christophe Castaner told journalists: “There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of strong emotion, an emotion that brings people together … I believe the French wish to share that emotion.”

Details of the funeral were released by the Elysée palace on Thursday. Officials said the president – who was the first person outside the family to be informed of Hallyday’s death – would attend the funeral with his wife Brigitte. The procession down the Champs Elysées was organised according to the wishes of Hallyday’s family, especially his wife Laeticia. Afterwards, the singer’s body will be flown for burial to St Barts, the French West Indian island where the couple has a home.

In a broadcast interview in 2006, Hallyday, whose musical career spanned 57 years and 79 albums, with sales of more than 110m, was seemingly unimpressed with the suggestion he would be given a state send-off. “It’s not that great an idea. I’m not an absolute star … I’m just a simple man,” he told France 3 television.

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