Icon Johnny Hallyday's Health Rivets French Media

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It seems all of France is focused on Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where singer Johnny Hallyday is being treated to correct problems from an earlier back surgery. The 66-year-old Hallyday is the country's biggest pop star and is sometimes called "the French Elvis." Xavier Yvon, a reporter with Radio Television Luxembourg who's part of the French stakeout in Los Angeles, discusses the singer.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Somebody tells you, I love you, and it could change the world. I'm not going all Hallmark on you. I'm just translating.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHNNY HALLYDAY (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: We're playing you this song because it demonstrates one thing that has not changed about France in over 40 years: Johnny Hallyday. If you understand who Johnny Hallyday is, what Johnny Hallyday means to the French, then you can understand why there's a stakeout this week at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.

It's an all-French stakeout. Reporters from the French papers and magazines and radio and television stations are all out there. Reporters like Xavier Yvon of the French radio station RTL. The last time he was sent over here was to cover the death of Michael Jackson.

Mr. XAVIER YVON (Reporter, Radio Television Luxembourg): It was like day and night. When I arrived here for Michael Jackson, I never saw so many satellite trucks. There was the police, television and you had all the American media. And it was crazy. And - I mean, we are the same, but just for the French. I mean you are outside of the hospital. It's only the French media.

It's very funny because all the Americans passing by, they know that this is the hospital for, you know, celebrities. And they ask, who's in on the hospital? Who are you talking about? And we say, do you know Johnny Hallyday? You know him? Say, who? Johnny who?

(Soundbite of song, "I Am the Blues")

Mr. HALLYDAY: (Singing) I talk real sweet, I talk real slow. I'm the voice you've loved on the radio...

SIEGEL: Johnny Hallyday started out singing Elvis Presley songs in French back in the 1960s. He's now 66. And after back surgery in Paris last month, he came to the U.S. and it turned out he needed a second operation. This was last Wednesday and his recovery has been rough. He's been at Cedars ever since. He was even put in a chemically-induced coma.

As Xavier Yvon told me today, in France, this is enormous news.

Mr. YVON: It was the headlines everywhere. It was the headlines when he went to the hospital and it was the headlines when he woke up. Even we have a trade union for journalists, saying that it was too much. There are other very important news anywhere, just forgetting about it because we are focused on Johnny Hallyday.

SIEGEL: Now, it would be noteworthy just that Johnny Hallyday is the biggest rock star in France. But, in fact, he has been the biggest rock star in France for 40 years or more than that.

Mr. YVON: Yeah, it's almost unbelievable. I don't know how he did it. When he was young, he was like handsome guy and very popular with the, you know, young women. And he was married to Sylvie Vartan and she was, you know, really pretty, beautiful, and they were like the perfect couple. They were glamour. And then he had other wives. And, you know, he was always here with new songs.

And I think he has such a popularity, it's because he's like a machine on stage. You know, all the concerts are always fully booked. People loved to see him on stage because he's - I mean, he gives everything. And I think that's why he's so popular.

SIEGEL: And he's popular with - well, he's popular with President Sarkozy, I gather, is a big Johnny Hallyday fan.

Mr. YVON: Yeah. He's one of his first fans. That's funny that you say that because I just read on our Web site, RTL Web site, that the wife of Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, which, you know, she's a singer as well. And she said something. And she said that Johnny was very strong and he would be on foot sooner than we think.

SIEGEL: He'll be on his feet sooner than we think.

Mr. YVON: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Does she know anything - Carla Bruni or is she just speculating, do you think?

Mr. YVON: No, she's just speculating.

SIEGEL: Just speculating. I see.

Mr. YVON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: But this is something that presidents and first ladies and everyone talks about in France.

Mr. YVON: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Well, how long do you think you're going to be covering this story in Beverly Hills? Do you get to go home soon?

Mr. YVON: I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YVON: I have a flight next Saturday. But maybe I'll stay longer. I don't -I mean, it depends on when Johnny Hallyday will go out of the hospital. Because if the doctors said, okay, it'd be two weeks, I think I will be back. But if, you know, it's next Monday or Tuesday, I will stay just to cover the story of Johnny Hallyday coming back home and with his two little daughters and his wife.

SIEGEL: Xavier Yvon of RTL, Radio Television Luxembourg, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. YVON: Thanks.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HALLYDAY: (Singing in foreign language)

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