While he was never taken seriously abroad, Johnny Hallyday broke from France's classic 'chanson' tradition in the late 1950s, selling more than 100 million albums and headlining 50 major tours

Paris (AFP) - France’s best-known rock star Johnny Hallyday has died aged 74 after a battle with lung cancer, his wife Laeticia told AFP on Wednesday.

The leather-clad would-be Elvis, known simply as Johnny, announced in March he had been diagnosed with the disease and would undergo treatment.

“Johnny Hallyday has left us. I write these words without believing them. But yet, it’s true. My man is no longer with us,” said Laeticia Hallyday, 42, in a statement made in the early hours.

“He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity.”

While he was never taken seriously abroad, Hallyday broke from France’s classic “chanson” tradition in the late 1950s, selling more than 100 million albums and headlining 50 major tours.

Born on June 15 1943, he attempted suicide in 1966, collapsed on stage in 1986 and married five times, twice to the same woman, the daughter of one of his oldest friends and songwriters.

“There is something of Johnny in all of us,” the French presidency said in a statement on news of his death.

Rumours of Hallyday’s passing had flown online in recent weeks after he was admitted to hospital in Paris with breathing problems.

Hallyday, whose real name was Jean-Philippe Smet, spent six days under medical care before returning to rest at his home in Marnes-la-Coquette, west of the capital.

“Until the very last moment, he held firm against this illness that had afflicted him for months, teaching us all extraordinary life lessons,” said Laeticia Hallyday.

The rocker “lived his entire life wholly for his fans, who loved him and idolised him”, she added.