The singer sold about 100 million records and starred in a number of films in a career that began in 1960.
He was made a Chevalier of the Legion D'Honneur by President Jacques Chirac in 1997.
The French simply called him "Our Johnny". However, outside the Francophone zone, Hallyday was virtually unknown.
In a statement, his wife Laeticia said: "Johnny Hallyday has left us. I write these words without believing them. But yet, it's true. My man is no longer with us.
"He left us tonight as he lived his whole life, with courage and dignity."