Johnny Hallyday funeral at the Eglise de la Madeleine Thibault Camus/Getty Images

Goodbye, Johnny

The beguiling feature of the funeral of French music icon Johnny Hallyday was his ability to stage-manage his destiny, right up to the final hour, and the star power that his being retained even in death. There he was – and there was France.

Editors’ Note:
French music icon Johnny Hallyday, credited with having brought rock ’n’ roll to France in the early 1960s, died in Paris on December 6 at age 74. His funeral on December 9 brought nearly a million people into the streets of the French capital. The first of his 57 albums was entitled “Hello, Johnny.”

PARIS – What better send-off for a rocker than Saturday’s vast, silent concert on the steps of a church? And what better farewell to a great performer than the one delivered by the immense crowd chanting around a body that seemed to have arranged, from the great beyond, this last demonstration of enthusiasm and love?

Herein lies the beguiling feature of the funeral of Johnny Hallyday, France’s national singer: his ability to stage-manage his destiny, right up the final hour, and the star power that his being retained even in death.

The costume he chose for his last performance was oblong and white. Nothing remained of his swaying hips and his howls, or of the pale eyes perpetually on the verge of laughing or crying (you never knew which). And yet there he was, charisma and presence, the spell of a shaman inviting you one last time to dance the eternal chorus in the aura of his mystery and his smile. And there was the spirit of France: young and old, the French president and two of his predecessors, the novelists Philippe Labro and Daniel Rondeau, celebrities, artists, fans from 50 years ago wearing Apache fringe, a remembrance of the striking miners of Lorraine, the words of Jacques Prévert, tears shed by ordinary people.

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