The first chapter of a legal drama over the inheritance of French rock star Johnny Hallyday ended on Friday with a French court ruling that gives each side a partial victory in a case that is tearing his family apart.
Hallyday, whose given name was Jean-Philippe Smet, was dubbed the French “Elvis” for his glittery suits, pumping pelvis and repertoire of American hits belted out in French. He died of lung cancer in December at age 74 at his sumptuous home outside Paris.
After Hallyday — known simply as “Johnny” to the French — was laid to rest in December on a Caribbean island, his two oldest children became locked in a bitter dispute over his complex will with his 43-year-old widow and fourth wife, Laeticia Hallyday, who along with their two school-aged children get everything.
A court in Nanterre, outside Paris, put a temporary freeze on several of Hallyday’s estates in France — as his two oldest children who were left out of his will requested. But the court refused a role for them in the preparation of a not-yet-released posthumous album of their father, ruling in favour of his widow and their adopted daughters.
The ruling is the first in what is sure to be a long legal battle over the 2014 will, written in California under US laws that don’t apply in France — where all children get automatic inheritance rights.
Deciding whether French or US law is applicable is at the heart of the case, since Hallyday and his wife lived most recently in Los Angeles.
The drama has been prime fodder for French media, with lawyers and family members of Laeticia and for the children — themselves entertainers with mothers who are stars — sparring publicly.
At one point, Hallyday’s 34-year-old daughter Laura Smet, whose mother is the French movie star Nathalie Baye, touched many with a letter addressed to “cher Papa” saying, “I have chosen to fight. I would have preferred this to stay in the family, unfortunately, our family is like that.” She said she wasn’t even left a guitar.
David Hallyday, 51, whose mother is French singer and actress Sylvie Vartan, has remained mostly silent.
The lawyer for Laeticia said he was content with the ruling because it doesn’t affect the couple’s American holdings, including their home, and respects “the wish of Johnny Hallyday” regarding the album he was working on before his death. Ardavan Amir-Aslani said he was confident “the last wishes of the artist” would be respected.
Days before Friday’s ruling, Laeticia spoke directly for the first time about the family dispute with the newsweekly Le Point.
“They’re stealing my grieving,” she said. “They’re pummelling me.”
Still, she said she was ready to forgive one day because “we’re a family.”
“I only want peace, but respect the memory of my husband,” she declared.