Over the decades, Hallyday reportedly sold more than 100 million records and performed before more than 15 million people in concert. In 1966, he selected Jimi Hendrix as an opening act and used eventual Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page in the recording studio as a session guitarist.
"Johnny is our god. We live and breathe him," a man in his 60s told the Times of London in 2009 when Hallyday launched a six-month sold-out farewell concert series, "Tour 66 -- I'm Stopping Here."
Hallyday, who in recent years had split his time between Paris and Los Angeles, said at the time that he planned to continue recording occasionally. But he said decades on the road had worn him down. He had lung cancer and had repeated health scares over the years, including undergoing back surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
"I have had enough playing Johnny Hallyday," the Times of London reported him as saying a week before the 2009 tour. "I want more and more to be Jean-Philippe Smet."
The son of a Belgian father and a French mother, he was born Jean-Philippe Smet in Paris on June 15, 1943.
His vagabond father, who performed in cabarets and theaters, soon left, and his mother became a model to earn money.
Hallyday was raised by his paternal aunt, who had acted in silent films and had two daughters who became dancers. As a child, he lived with his aunt and cousins in London for several years and traveled with them when they performed in Belgium, Germany and Portugal before returning to Paris.
He also made his film debut as a child -- an uncredited walk-on in Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 thriller "Diabolique."
As a teenager, Hallyday idolized Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean, and his favorite movies were "East of Eden," "On the Waterfront" and "The Wild One."
"I adored all that period in the history of cinema -- everything that spilled forth from the Actors Studio," he told Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel in 2003. "I actually wanted to be an actor before I became a singer. But when I was 12, I discovered rock 'n' roll through Elvis Presley."