In the past few days France has lost two of its most beloved figures — Jean d’Ormesson (born 1926), writer and philosopher, and Johnny Hallyday (born 1943), rock singer and actor.  The former I know only from what I’ve heard on the media  — an author of more than forty books; one who received the highest honours in France and became a household name.

Jean d’Ormesson

The other, Johnny Hallyday, was a singer I heard about in my teenage in South Africa.  He was billed as France’s answer to Elvis Presley and certainly he modelled himself on the American singer — the body movements;  the sideburns and, of course, the style of singing.  A baby-boomer, he had, by the late-1950s, absorbed American rock culture.

Johnny the Rocker

During the 1960s he radicalized French popular music with the primal force of rock, tumbling his audiences into the dionysiac abysses of ecstatic passion and wearing the restless mien of a moody James Dean.  He tore French popular music from its sedate past, bulldozing his audiences with blocks of the blues, or with full-tilt rock ‘n roll.

He sold 110 million albums and performed in 3,257 concerts.  He acted in 38 films and certainly a better actor than Elvis.  Later in his career he returned, at times, to singing French chansons.  Apart from Elvis, the influence of Jacques Brel became apparent.

Johhny – in full cry

Today the France 2 television channel has shelved all programmes and spent the time reviewing Johnny’s at times tragic life.  The television cameras have interviewed people on the streets, even asking them to sing one of Johnny’s hits, which some have been too emotional to do.

There have been tributes from little old ladies, reliving their youth, from two of France’s past presidents and from the current president.  His death was announced in the French parliament. For everyone the loss feels personal.  A complex man who was married several times, he suffered bouts of depression which he banished by rocketing people into the joy of losing inhibitions through music.  The nation grieves.

© Will van der Walt

Les  Semboules, Antibes

6th December, 2017



France 2 television



Jean d’Ormesson –

Johnny Hallyday –






  1. eric says:

    I am glad to be told of these people albeit at there passing both were strangers to me however it is nice to know them now. Johnny is a particularly cool looking gent and Jean a rather intellectual dude with a face for critique and comedy; such a perfect combination…
    You site is truthful and inspiring… thanks for sharing and keep it up!

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