A report by Valentine Autruffe for the Digital Journal.
The body of French rocker Johnny Hallyday was greeted by mournful fans late Sunday on the Caribbean island of St Barts, the paradise bolthole where the millionaire singer owned a cherished home and asked to be buried.
The star, who died of lung cancer on Wednesday aged 74, asked to be laid to rest there in a choice that has disappointed some fans and loved ones who would have preferred his grave to be more accessible on the mainland.
The coffin was flown to St Barts on a Boeing 757 with 62 passengers onboard, including his wife Laeticia and their two children who will lead a private burial ceremony on Monday.
Several hundred fans — some of whom had travelled from mainland France — gathered outside the funeral home where their musical hero’s body was taken on a Caribbean island that was battered by hurricane Irma just two months ago.
One by one they filed past the white, flower-decked coffin to bid good-bye, some posing for photos, others sipping from cans of beer.
Many had dressed in white, a traditional colour of mourning in the Caribbean.
“I used to see him in my store, he was a sweetheart,” one mourner from St Barts told AFP. “To see his coffin, it hurts.”
Jean Pierre and Chantal, both fans dressed in Johnny t-shirts, took an eight hour flight from Paris to see off their idol in the tropical paradise.
“We understand why he wants to be buried here where things were good with his family,” Chantal told AFP. “Even though it cost us, we did not hesitate.”
Veteran fan Fred Bouton, 54, added: “I wanted to be with him right to the end because he always gave everything.”
– ‘So far away’ –
Once condemned as the rock ‘n’ roll “corrupter of youth”, Hallyday went on to become a very French cultural icon.
With an untipped Gitanes cigarette often at his lip, he held France entranced for five decades with his spectacular stage shows and equally colourful private life, reinventing himself for each generation.
He was given a state funeral in all but name on Saturday after a death, which prompted an outpouring of emotion for a singer not seen since the passing of Edith Piaf.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Paris to watch his white coffin, escorted by some 700 bikers, travel down the Champs Elysees.
Hallyday’s final resting place will be a small sea-side cemetery on a part of St Barts popular with surfers.
Local politician Bruno Magras said Hallyday often talked about his burial wishes.
“He told me several times that he wanted to be buried here, that he didn’t want to go to Pere Lachaise,” he said, referencing France’s most famous cemetery where many of its national and artistic titans are buried.
But many have found it hard to imagine the singer resting so far from his fans.
“It is with a broken heart that I must come to terms with the fact that Johnny will be buried today,” his first wife, singer and actress Sylvie Vartan, said in a statement to AFP.
“I’m really sad that Johnny will now be so far away from all of us who love him so much,” she added.