a moving tribute to the icon

a moving tribute to the icon

Fans dreamed of it. The rocker is celebrated in a major exhibition that has just opened in Brussels. Guided tour.

A few meters from the Atomium, a long queue has formed. Leather jackets, cowboy boots and cheap blonde dye on lacquered hair seem to be the imposed dress code. Johnny’s fans wouldn’t have missed this event for the world: the first major retrospective devoted to their late idol.

The tour is designed as a journey through Johnny’s life

Inside, each visitor is equipped with an audio guide. The silhouette of the rocker will serve as a beacon to find the number to type on the precious case. The first room lights up under the flashes, while on the walls are displayed the legendary appearances of Johnny Hallyday. “When I’m on stage, at some point I can’t see anything, I can’t feel anything”, resounds the gravelly voice of the artist. The visit is designed as a journey of a lifetime. And of course, it starts in the cradle.

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A few family photos, snapshots of him as a child, and even a reconstruction of his teenage bedroom invaded by photos of Elvis Presley. Already, the passion for music and, already, the desire to conquer America. It is also there, from the height of his 17 years, that he dropped Jean-Philippe for Johnny, nickname given to him by his mentor, Lee Halliday. It is also there that he prepared his shows for the Golf-Drouot, this discotheque which allowed him to appear on the Paris Cocktail radio and to be spotted by the Vogue record company.

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We discover a cinema identical to the one he had at home

On the right, a filming chair invites you to get lost in the windows filled with claps, outfits, posters, accessories and other scripts from the films in which he played. There are around forty in all, from westerns to comedy and thrillers, all directed by great directors: Claude Zidi, Jean-Luc Godard, Costa-Gavras… At the back, a cinema with comfortable armchairs, identical to the one he had at home. We see Claude Lelouch, who made him turn in “L’aventure c’est l’aventure” and “Bastard, we love you”: “His dream was to be an actor. He had grown up with American cinema. »

His exhibited costumes compose a chronological frieze

But it is the music that will remain. Moreover, a handful of visitors crowded in front of the Victories and other trophies shining like new pennies. In front of them, a slew of gold records adorns a box filled with vinyl from floor to ceiling. A sample only of all those that the rocker was able to release. We understand the modernity of the character who, whatever the decade, knew how to respond to his time. Evidenced by the dozens of costumes lined up in the middle of the room, like a timeline.

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From a black tuxedo with satin lapels, in 1961 for his first Olympia, on September 20, to rhinestone boleros, bell bottoms and cowboy boots in the 1970s, to hippie fringes in the 1980s, to reach the first leathers in 1990. Each outfit is signed Saint Laurent, Gaultier, Dior or Chanel. And Johnny was involved in the design of each of them. Until the last, a black suit embroidered with Dior bees, worn during the Vieilles Canailles tour in 2017.

Johnny’s love for the bike

Behind us, three gleaming Harleys and biker outfits, designer leather jackets, helmets and cowboy boots, proof of Johnny’s love for the bike. The rocker also liked charms, there are dozens of them pinned in glass boxes. All of great value, all silver, all bearing crosses or skulls. And, basically, like a relic enthroned alone in the middle of the room, the famous Harry Winston pendant representing a guitarist Jesus on the cross, which the singer never left.

Shocking. In the headphones, we hear his loneliness, the fault of an alcoholic father, deserter, who only cared about his son once he had money and notoriety. “The singers are very surrounded, says Johnny. But by dint of being so, we are also all very alone. The black and white photos of him staring into space bear witness to this.

The tour ends at… Marnes-la-Coquette

After a passage in the central room, where the images of concerts are projected, here we are in Marnes-la-Coquette. And this ending atmosphere can be read on the faces, which are tense. The hall opens its arms, huge staircase, family photos posed here and there, impressive collection of knives in a showcase. The doormat reads “Savannah”, the name of the house, a few kilometers from the capital, that Johnny hated. As he walks around the reconstructed house through the huge tree-lined garden, the visitor sees the owner’s office through the window. And gets lost in the details, looking at the dozens of books that adorn the shelves – on cinema, Harleys, McQueens –, knick-knacks of all kinds, hundreds of photos and awards scattered in space.

Reproduction of the rocker’s office in Marne-la-Coquette


On the floor, many guitars, a rack overflowing with scarves, a coffee table cluttered with books. It is here that he took his last breath, but it is also here that the rocker seems more alive than ever. The last room offers a poignant tribute with images of his funeral, in Paris and Saint-Barthélemy, where he now rests.

“It was sad, huh”, slips a young girl to her father, obviously a big fan, on leaving. It’s hard not to be touched. But this exhibition is the proof: Johnny was and will remain a mythical figure. Immortal.

a moving tribute to the icon

“Johnny Hallyday, the exhibition”, until June 15, 2023 at Brussels Expo, Brussels, and from January 2024 in Paris.


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