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Johnny Hallyday riding his Harley-Davidson in the 1980s
Johnny Hallyday riding his Harley-Davidson in the 1980s
Clémence Guimier

Johnny Hallyday is perhaps the most American icon France has ever produced. Dubbed the "French Elvis', the late rocker put a je-ne-sais-quoi touch on a quintessentially U.S. musical genre, gave himself a Yankee stage name and wore leather and faded Levi's. And bien sûr, his motorcycle of choice was a Harley-Davidson.

Still, Hallyday, who died four years ago at the age of 74, was also sooo French. Born and raised in a rugged corner of the 9th arrondissement of Paris, the megastar singer (whose given name was Jean-Philippe Smet) was beloved by generations of French fans. The honors and street namings and tribute bars have continued around the country since his passing.

But it is in his hometown that the sanctification of the man simply known as "Johnny" has suddenly hit a wall. To coincide with the renaming of the square of the Palais Omnisports arena in Hallyday's honor, renowned gallery owner Kamel Mennour commissioned an artist to design a statue in front of the concert hall. The artwork conceived by French artist Bertrand Lavier, famous for his works of assemblage, features a real Harley-Davidson fixed atop a 15-foot-high guitar handle.

Kammel Mennour's tribute statue: Source: Johnny hallyday une passion une vie Facebook page

Although Hallyday's wife welcomed the statue, the top official in Paris' 12th arrondissement, where the arena is located, has blocked a vote on the statue. "I have my doubts," Emmanuelle Pierre-Marie, a member of the Green party, told Le Monde. "We want a sustainable city and the project puts on the foreground a Harley-Davidson – which symbolizes everything but this."

Other politicians in Paris have rushed to defend the popular singer, including some officials who are typically supportive of the capital's ongoing push to reduce traffic and other environmental measures. One called it "ecological punishment" for a national icon. After all, it was a different time: when Johnny was Johnny … and a Harley was a Harley.

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