Photo: Funeral Service for Johnny Halladay in Paris, France AP PhotoThibault Camus, Pool
Fri Dec 08, 2017

France is bidding farewell to its biggest rock star, honoring Johnny Hallyday with an exceptional funeral procession down the Champs-Elysees, a presidential speech and a parade of motorcyclists -- all under intense security.

Few figures in French history have earned a send-off as elaborate as the one Saturday for the man sometimes dubbed the French Elvis. It was ordered by President Emmanuel Macron -- a Hallyday fan himself, like generations of others across the French-speaking world.

Hallyday's death Wednesday at age 74 after fighting lung cancer unleashed emotion across the country, where the man known to the public simply as Johnny had been an icon for more than half a century.

Johnny HalladayFans chanting "Johnny! Johnny!" massed in Paris as the funeral cortege headed past his home in a Paris suburb near Versailles to Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe monument. The procession will then head down the Champs-Elysees, through the Place de la Concorde plaza on the Seine River, and then to the columned Madeleine Church.

Johnny HalladayAdding a rock touch to the pomp-filled event, hundreds of motorcyclists came to Paris to join the procession.

Unusually, the president himself will read a eulogy on the steps of the church. A star lineup of speakers will follow, including actors Marion Cotillard and Jean Reno, and singer Patrick Bruel. Guests include former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, who officiated at Hallyday's last marriage.

The singer's band and the church choir will alternate songs during the religious ceremony.

About 1,500 police officers had secured the area.

Some media reported that organizers even considered having warplanes fly over the event.

The words "Thank you Johnny" are being displayed on the Eiffel Tower over the weekend, and soccer stadiums are playing Hallyday's songs before kick-off.

Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Smet, is expected to be buried in the French Caribbean island of St. Barts where he owned a house.