PARIS • Hundreds of motorcycles roared down the Champs-Elysees and crowds sang in unison as tens of thousands of fans of French rock star Johnny Hallyday lined the streets of Paris last Saturday for his funeral procession.
The fans gathered under vivid blue skies and in the blistering cold to bear witness to the singer, some holding pictures or homemade signs, some crying.
Many had arrived from around the country in the early morning to secure a spot along Paris’ most famous avenue, hoping to catch a glimpse of the hearse carrying Hallyday’s coffin.
In a tribute befitting a man who sold more than 100 million records and filled stadiums around the country and beyond in a career that spanned nearly 60 years, the day was both giant in scale and intimate in sentiment.
Mourning fans described to French television and radio networks their personal connections to the star.
“We lost someone; it’s family,” a choked-up fan identified only as Manu told the BFM-TV news channel as his 13-year-old daughter, Antonia, cried by his side.
“She was brought up with Johnny. She named her first comfort toy Marie,” referring to one of Hallyday’s hits.
The proceedings were broadcast live on several television channels, the culmination of days of breathless coverage by the French news media that started early last Wednesday, when news broke that Hallyday had died at 74 of lung cancer.
The procession started at the Mont-Valerien funeral parlour in Nanterre, a suburb west of Paris, and made its way to the Arc de Triomphe, where it was joined by about 700 motorcyclists. Hallyday had loved cars and motorbikes and collected them.
The procession then made its way past the crowds on the Champs-Elysees to the Place de la Concorde, before reaching the Place de la Madeleine, where musicians who had worked or collaborated with Hallyday had gathered last Saturday morning to play some of his greatest hits to fans there.
The crowd first went silent and then cheered with calls of “Johnny!” when the hearse reached and slowly made its way across the square, while Hallyday’s wife, Laeticia, and their two adopted daughters, Jade, 13, and Joy, nine, walked in tow.
Hallyday’s older children, singer David Hallyday and actress Laura Smet, waited on the steps of the Madeleine church to receive the coffin. (David was born to pop singer Sylvia Vartan, Hallyday’s first wife; Smet was born to actress Nathalie Baye, a former companion.)
A giant black and white portrait of Hallyday had been set up in front of the church, where his funeral was held and attended by dozens of famous singers, actors and top government officials, including President Emmanuel Macron and two of his predecessors, socialist Francois Hollande and conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.
“You had to be here for Johnny because from the beginning, Johnny was there for you,” Mr Macron said from the steps of the Madeleine church before the funeral.
“In each of your lives, there was that moment where one of his songs expressed what you had in your hearts, what we had in our hearts.”
Mr Macron said that Hallyday, who managed the “highly improbable” feat of taking an Anglo-Saxon name and enthralling French audiences with his personal blend of American blues and rock ’n’ roll, was “much more than a singer”.
“He was part of ourselves, he was part of France,” Mr Macron added.
Last Friday night, the words “Merci Johnny” were projected onto the Eiffel Tower, where the rock star attracted hundreds of thousands of concertgoers in 2000 and again in 2009.
He will be buried today on Saint Barthelemy, the French Caribbean island that was recently battered by Hurricane Irma and where he owned a villa.