Of all Edith Piaf’s love affairs, the most daring and intriguing was the one that never happened. Johnny Hallyday, 69, the indestructible French rock star, revealed in a book published on Thursday that Piaf tried to seduce him when he was a 16- or 17-year-old pop sensation and she was a declining international star aged 44.
“I was sitting beside her and, in the middle of the meal, I felt her hand climbing up my thigh,” Hallyday recalled in a book of interviews. “I hesitated. Then I left and ran away from there. I ran away from Piaf. I was almost a virgin at the time. I couldn’t see myself in bed with her. As far as I was concerned, she was an old woman.”
The book – Dans Mes Yeux (In My Eyes) – does not say when the encounter happened. The context suggests that it must have been in 1960, just after Hallyday burst onto the scene as the first successful French imitator of rock ’n’ roll.
Piaf would have been 44 at the time. Hallyday’s first record appeared in March 1960. His 17th birthday was in June that year. “Piaf used to come and see me singing every night. I was flattered but never at ease with her,” Hallyday recalled. Even the notion of the two icons dining together is intriguing.
Hallyday is now regarded as a national treasure – “notre rocker national”. At the time, he was being attacked in the French press as a corrupter of youth. At the start of 1960, Piaf was the undisputed queen of “la chanson française” but down on her luck after car crashes, drug abuse and disastrous love affairs. She was, however, about to make a stunning comeback with Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, recorded that year. She died in 1963.
Piaf’s taste for younger men is well documented but this is the first time that her attempt to seduce the teenaged Hallyday has been revealed. In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, Hallyday gave a different account of the incident.
“I was a minor at the time. I have never spoken about it before but it was rather a tender moment,” he said. “I was sick with shyness and she overawed me. That’s why I ran away.”
The encounter is described in a book of interviews with the novelist Amanda Sthers, which has been poorly received in France.
Born 19 December, 1915
Signature look: Sad eyes, pencilled eyebrows. Old beyond her years, as she was consumed by addictions.
Love life Tragic. Married three times, but the love of her life – boxer Marcel Cerdan – was killed in a plane crash.
National treasure? Undoubtedly.
Born 15 June, 1943
Signature look Leather jacket, T-shirt, jeans – preferably all skintight.
Love life: Abundant. Hallyday married for the fourth time in 1996. One bout of wedlock lasted a meagre three months.
National treasure? Yes, but not so popular when he sought Swiss tax exile.