President Emmanuel Macron announced his death in a statement early Wednesday, saying "he brought a part of America into our national pantheon." Macron's office said the president spoke with Hallyday's family but did not provide details about where the rocker died or the circumstances.
Hallyday had had lung cancer and repeated health scares in recent years that dominated national news, yet he continued performing as recently as this summer.
Celine Dion was among stars sharing condolences for a rocker with a famously gravelly voice who sold more than 100 million records, filled concert halls and split his time between Los Angeles and Paris.
Hallyday fashioned his glitzy stage aura from Elvis Presley, drew musical inspiration from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, performed with Jimi Hendrix, and made an album in country music's capital, Nashville, Tennessee.
His stardom largely ended at the French-speaking world, yet in France itself, he was an institution, with a postage stamp in his honor. He was the country's top rock `n' roll star through more than five decades and eight presidents, and it was no exaggeration when Macron wrote "the whole country is in mourning."
"We all have something of Johnny Hallyday in us," Macron said, praising "a sincerity and authenticity that kept alive the flame that he ignited in the public's heart."
The antithesis of a French hero right down to his Elvis-style glitter and un-French name, Hallyday was among the most familiar faces and voices in France, which knew him simply as Johnny, pronounced with a slight French accent and beloved across generations.
He released his last album "Rester Vivant" — or "Staying Alive" — last year, and performed this summer as part of the "Old Crooks" tour with long-time friends and veteran French musicians Eddy Mitchell and Jacques Dutronc.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, as mayor of the rich enclave of Neuilly-sur-Seine on the western edge of Paris, presided in 1996 over the entertainer's marriage to his fourth wife, Laeticia.
"For each of us, he means something personal. Memories, happy moments, songs and music," Sarkozy said in 2009, days after Hallyday, then 66, was hospitalized in Los Angeles. Sarkozy called the Hallyday family during an EU summit and gave updates on the singer's condition during news conferences.
The health problems came amid a national tour that included a Bastille Day mega-concert July 14 at the Eiffel Tower with spectacular fireworks.
Hallyday sang some songs in English, including "Hot Legs" and "House of the Rising Sun," — the melody of which was also used for one of his most famous songs, the 1964 "Le Penitencier."