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How Instagram Impacted The Fight Over Johnny Hallyday's Estate


Is this Instagram justice?


JOHNNY HALLYDAY: (Singing in French).

SIMON: Johnny Hallyday was a French rock legend who got a funeral along the Champs-Elysees when he died in 2017. A will he left written in Los Angeles named his fourth wife, Laeticia, as sole inheritor. This effectively disinherits David Hallyday and Laura Smet - his two grown children from previous marriages. They sued insisting that though Johnny Hallyday had a home in Los Angeles and sent his two young daughters to school there, his Instagram posts proved he spent more time in France where inheritance laws are different. Pamela Druckerman writes a monthly column about France for The New York Times and, of course, the author of books that include "There Are No Grown-Ups." She joins us from Paris.

Thanks so much for being with us.

PAMELA DRUCKERMAN: It's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And how do French inheritance laws make room for what I gather are called children from another bed?

DRUCKERMAN: (Laughter) Well, basically you're not allowed to disinherit any of your children, which means you have to give equal shares to all of your kids. You - a certain percentage of your estate is reserved and must be divided up equally. So you can't favor any child and you can't exclude any child.

SIMON: And this is part of the Napoleonic Code, dates back to the French Revolution.

DRUCKERMAN: Exactly. Because in the Revolution, you would have in - with the aristocrats, the oldest son inheriting the entire estate. So you had these concentration of wealth. So forcing people to break up their estates by dividing up among their many children was a way of fighting inequality (laughter) - old style.

SIMON: Now, Johnny Hallyday was an icon of France, but he chose to live in Southern California. He got a green card in 2014. He was the French Elvis, which doesn't that also make him an American in many important ways?

DRUCKERMAN: So Johnny Hallyday was always fascinated by America. He became a singer after he heard Elvis Presley sing and after he saw James Dean in the movies. He really brought American-style rock ’n’ roll to France. But as he himself kind of explains, he tried to be James Dean. He tried to be Elvis Presley, but he ended up just being himself. And he had this very French style. And he often did covers of American songs but in French. So he maintained this interest in America. He met his last wife there. And they did move there in 2007. And interestingly, he kind of admits that he moved to America, in part, because people there didn't know him. He wasn't bothered constantly on the streets. I mean, this is a guy who was famous in France for 60 years. I mean, he put out 80 albums. Everyone had a relationship to him. Everyone had a favorite Johnny song. But in Los Angeles, he was pretty anonymous.

SIMON: I can't help but feel that there's a sad human story here about a divided family. His eldest daughter points out that under California law she couldn't even keep the signed cover of this song...


HALLYDAY: (Singing in French).

SIMON: "Laura," which is dedicated to her.

DRUCKERMAN: Yeah. And the thing is that not only do people know the song "Laura," they remember when Laura Smet - his daughter - was born. When she came out of the nursery, it was covered in all the newspapers. They know the whole saga. So for her to sort of come forward now and say to the French public, look; I'm not even getting a signed copy of the "Laura" album, getting - not getting a T-shirt from my dad. To the French public, that is shocking.

SIMON: I have heard, on the other hand, from French family members who say, look; Johnny Hallyday's oldest children are rich and successful on their own. He was generous with them during his life. He ought to be able to say where his estate should go.

DRUCKERMAN: You can make a legal argument like that in France, but it wouldn't hold up in French courts. So according to French law, no matter how rich the children are - and the widow herself you could argue is rather well-off - you have to leave equal amounts to all your kids.

SIMON: I guess their point was they like American law. And they point out the French authorities do have, what I'll refer to as, a financial incentive to make this ruling, don't they?

DRUCKERMAN: Yeah, absolutely because they would collect taxes on his estate. And he's - apparently, many new albums are being put out now that he's passed away, including his one posthumous album, which already has sold 1.5 million copies. So there are future revenues to think about, as well. And apparently, there has been some debate now in France about whether the American-style inheritance is a good idea. Some French sort of officials have said, well, if you have this deadbeat kid who doesn't visit you or he doesn't love you, why should you have to leave him a certain part of your estate? And - but you don't have these conversations in France the way you do in America. Well, if you don't come visit me, I'm going to disinherit you. You know, there's sort of no risk.

SIMON: How did Johnny's Instagram account undercut his lawyers?

DRUCKERMAN: So basically it came down to a week-by-week or even day-by-day account of where Johnny lived in the final years of his life. And fortunately for the older children who were trying to have the case be in France, Johnny had - and his wife had posted many pictures of themselves almost, I think, on a daily basis of where they were. They spent a lot of time in St. Barts, which is a French-Caribbean island, so they were able to show that he actually spent a lot of time on French territory.

SIMON: This case is going to be appealed, isn't it? It could take a while.

DRUCKERMAN: Yeah, both sides are saying it could last for 10 years if - so the judge in the case is recommending that they go into mediation and that they work things out.

SIMON: I'd like to think that's possible. It's none of my business, but this - as you point out, I mean, people not only know Johnny as a name, one word in France, but they also know his children.

DRUCKERMAN: They know his children, and they're following this saga. And they're buying (laughter) his music still. People feel such an attachment to this man and to his story. So, I think, everyone feels they have a stake in this story and they'd like to see it worked out.

SIMON: Pamela Druckerman in Paris, thanks so much.

DRUCKERMAN: Thanks so much for talking to me, Scott.


HALLYDAY: (Singing) Laura, Laura, Laura, Laura, Laura. Oh, Laura. Laura, Laura. Laura. Oh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.