A true survivor

At age 69, legendary French singer Johnny Hallyday gives a premiere performance in Israel.

A true survivor (photo credit: courtesy)
A true survivor
(photo credit: courtesy)
Aside from the chiseled face and the more deliberate moves befitting a senior citizen, Johnny Hallyday’s performance last week at London’s Royal Albert Hall could have been a 40- year flashback.
Clad in black leather adorned with prerequisite glitter and sporting an Elvis pompadour and a Tom Jones unbuttoned shirt swagger, the 69-year-old musical legend mesmerized the adoring crowd with his patented French rock and ballads, according to a review in The Telegraph.
Promising “true rock ‘n’ roll” and “a two-hour show, with music from the 1970s up through totoday, with fantastic musicians,” Hallyday is going to follow up his London appearance with this first-ever show in Israel on Tuesday at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
And that’s not a claim to be taken for granted because only a month ago, Hallyday, who has experienced various health ailments in recent years (including colon cancer and a herniated disc), was hospitalized for suspected cardiac problems but what was eventually diagnosed as severe bronchitis.
The health scares prompted Hallyday to announce his retirement from the stage a few years ago. But France’s all-time leader in record sales (with more than 100 million albums sold, spanning his 50-year career) changed his mind and this year launched a world tour, choosing to appear in countries like the US, England and Israel – places he had rarely or never performed in the past.
“Death,” Hallyday told The Jerusalem Post last month, when asked why he changed his mind and returned to the stage. “I started thinking about death, and that as long as I have the chance to keep making music while I’m alive, I’m going to do it. It helps keep me feeling young.”
The three-times divorced singer also gave a nod for his youthful demeanor to his fourth wife, many years his junior, and their two adopted daughters, ages eight and five. With homes in Switzerland and California, as well as Saint Barts, Hallyday says he’s most content riding his motorcycle around Los Angeles.
Whether due to his elder-statesman status or a reawakening of the public to his formidable talents, Hallyday is enjoying a higher profile outside of France than he ever did during his 1960-80s heyday. While a national symbol in his homeland, Hallyday was virtually ignored in the US and other English-speaking countries.
That’s changed, with the veteran performing earlier this month at New York’s Beacon Theater, days after selling out a 15,000-seat arena in Montreal. It was his first show in New York since 1962, when he performed at a charity show on a ship anchored in the New York port, with Jackie Kennedy in the audience.
What makes Hallyday a survivor with a capital S? Perhaps because, like his American counterpart Elvis Presley, Hallyday has never relied on one type of music but dabbled in everything from crooning to psychedelic rock to blues to Las Vegas-style showmanship. Critics who dismiss him for simply being an Elvis clone forget that in the 1960s, he was a bona fide trendsetter, introducing Jimi Hendrix to an unsuspecting French audience.
“I was in London recording an r&b album with Otis Redding, and we went to a club for dinner and saw Jimi play,” says Hallyday. “He wasn’t known at all then, and I invited him after to sit with us. He was such a nice guy. I asked him what his plans were, and he said that he didn’t really have any future shows on tap. I told him I was going to start a big tour of Europe in a couple months and asked him if he wanted to open the shows for me. He said yes, and we went out on the tour and became good friends,” Hallyday recounts.
From Jackie Kennedy to Jimi Hendrix, Hallyday has experienced his share of history. And even as he prepares to enter his 70s, he’s continuing to add new chapters to his own illustrious story.