Battle over Johnny Hallyday’s will becomes a ‘sordid vaudeville’
Paris Letter: Over the past decade, the rock legend’s widow progressively took over his finances
Johnny Hallyday on stage at the Bercy venue in Paris, 2006. His biological children have launched a court action ahead of a hearing on Thursday. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images
Young widow shafts spouses and children from deceased husband’s previous beds, keeping the inheritance for herself and her offspring. It’s a classic plotline, as old as human nature.
It is also the real-life soap opera starring the late Johnny Hallyday and his fourth wife, Laeticia, and it has dominated French tabloids since mid-February.
When France’s greatest rock star died last December at the age of 74, some 800 bikers accompanied his casket down the Champs-Élysées. President Émmanuel Macron and the former president Nicolas Sarkozy attended “Johnny’s” funeral in the church of the Madeleine, where Hallyday’s various families stood together, apparently united in grief.
A few spoilsports questioned whether a self-confessed drug addict and tax exile, who was the subject of 23 investigations by French tax authorities and who treated women deplorably, should really be mourned with the fervour accorded to a national hero.
France’s idyll with its idol turned definitively sour when his two elder children, David Hallyday (51) and Laura Smet (34) (who uses her father’s birth name), revealed on February 12th that Johnny, who was known for extreme generosity, had disinherited them.
All eyes turned to Hallyday’s attractive blond widow, Laeticia, aged 42.
Johnny Hallyday’s last will and testament made Laeticia his executor and sole heir. In the event of her death, their adopted Vietnamese daughters, Jade and Joy, would split his fortune. The executor would be Laeticia’s younger brother, Grégory Boudu. If both Laeticia and Grégory were not available, Élyette Boudou, Laeticia’s 82-year-old grandmother, known as “Granny Rock”, would replace them.
Over the past decade, Laeticia progressively took over her husband’s finances. Johnny’s numerous companies were placed under the legal control of “Granny Rock”, whose previous business experience extended to running a pizza restaurant on the Côte d’Azur. Laeticia’s father, André, was not eligible, because he had been sentenced to six months in prison in 2007 for tax fraud, misappropriation of public funds and false accounting in the running of his nightclub, “Amnesia”.
On February 12th, Hallyday’s eldest daughter, Laura, wrote an open letter to her dead father regarding “this will you supposedly wrote”. Smet’s meaning was clear: her stepmother Laeticia, only eight years Smet’s senior, had allegedly forced a dying man to repudiate her and her half brother. The spurned children together filed a lawsuit in the hope of freezing all their father’s assets, including rights to his music and the sale of his mansion west of Paris. Laeticia announced she was “sickened”.
Sylvia Vartan (73), the Bulgarian-born French pop star who was married to Johnny for 15 years, and who is David’s mother, decried the “sordid vaudeville” in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper. The way family documents kept cropping up in the press “reminds me of my childhood behind the iron curtain”, Vartan said.
“The Johnny I love was generous and sensitive,” Vartan continued. “I cannot believe for a single moment that he decided to disinherit [David and Laura] of his own free will.” The words “generous and sensitive” did not square with Vartan’s admission, in the same interview, that Hallyday never paid the 20,000 francs in monthly maintenance he owed for the upkeep of their son.
In one of multiple wills, Johnny explained that he had already given his elder children their inheritance. According to Le Point magazine, Laura Smet received a total of €1.732 million between 2003 and 2017. When his parents divorced, David Hallyday received half the Paris villa that his mother, Vartan, still lives in.
Nathalie Baye, the film star and Smet’s mother, who spent four years with Johnny, spoke out on behalf of David and Laura, also in Le Figaro. “Unfortunately, the older children were the bêtes noires of their stepmother. Johnny suffered a great deal from this, and so did David and Laura.”
In the tabloid photos, everyone looked happy, Baye said. “Reality was far less pretty . . . He was exhausted and very much alone, despite the hangers-on . . . The entire Baudou family figures in the will, including the brother Johnny couldn’t stand . . .”
David and Laura want to prevent Laeticia releasing Johnny’s posthumous album this year, on the grounds that as entertainers in their own right, they have a say in their father’s artistic heritage. Though Hallyday was a legal resident of California, they argue that his US will is invalid under French law.
The court battle will begin in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on March 15th. The following day, Vartan will pay homage to Johnny in a concert at the Grand Rex, if Laeticia doesn’t block her using his songs and image.