Born Name: Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Date of Birth: 25 March 1947
Place of Birth: Pinner, Middlesex, England
Spouse(s): Renate Blauel(m. 1984; div. 1988), David Furnish (m. 2014)
Genres: Rock,pop rock,glam rock,soft rock
Instruments: Vocals, piano, keyboards
Sir Elton Hercules John CH CBE (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight; 25 March 1947) is an English singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer. He has worked with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967; they have collaborated on more than 30 albums. John has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists. He has more than fifty Top 40 hits in the UK Singles Chart and US Billboard Hot 100, including seven numbers ones in the UK and nine in the US, as well as seven consecutive number-one albums in the US. His tribute single "Candle in the Wind 1997", rewritten in dedication to Diana, Princess of Wales, sold over 33 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling single in the history of the UK and US singles charts. He has also produced records and occasionally acted in films. John owned Watford F.C. from 1976 to 1987 and from 1997 to 2002. He is an honorary life president of the club.
Raised in the Pinner area of Greater London, John learned to play piano at an early age, and by 1962 had formed Bluesology, an R&B band with whom he played until 1967. He met his longtime musical partner Taupin in 1967, after they both answered an advert for songwriters. For two years, they wrote songs for artists including Lulu, and John worked as a session musician for artists including the Hollies and the Scaffold. In 1969, John's debut album, Empty Sky, was released. In 1970, his first hit single, "Your Song", from his second album, Elton John, reached the top ten in the UK and the US. John has also had success in musical films and theatre, composing for The Lion King and its stage adaptation, Aida and Billy Elliot the Musical.
John has received five Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards, two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award, a Disney Legends award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 49th on its list of 100 influential musicians of the rock and roll era. In 2013, Billboard ranked him the most successful male solo artist on the Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists, and third overall, behind the Beatles and Madonna. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. He was knighted by Elizabeth II for "services to music and charitable services" in 1998. John has performed at a number of royal events, such as the funeral of Princess Diana at Westminster Abbey in 1997, the Party at the Palace in 2002 and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace in 2012.
John has been involved in the fight against AIDS since the late 1980s. In 1992, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and a year later he began hosting his annual Academy Awards Party, which has since become one of the highest-profile Oscar parties in the Hollywood film industry. Since its inception, the foundation has raised over £300 million. John, who announced he was bisexual in 1976 and has been openly gay since 1988, entered into a civil partnership with David Furnish on 21 December 2005; they married after same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014. Presenting John with France's highest civilian award, the Legion d'honneur, in 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron called him a "melodic genius" and praised his work on behalf of the LGBT community. In 2018, John embarked on a three-year farewell tour.
Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex, the eldest child of Stanley Dwight (1925–1991) and only child of Sheila Eileen (née Harris; 1925–2017), and was raised in a council house in Pinner by his maternal grandparents. His parents married in 1945, when the family moved to a nearby semi-detached house. He was educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School and Pinner County Grammar School, until he was 17, when he left just prior to his A-Level examinations to pursue a career in music.
When John began to consider a career in music seriously, his father, who served as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, tried to steer him toward a more conventional career, such as banking. John has said that his wild stage costumes and performances were his way of letting go after such a restrictive childhood. Both his parents were musically inclined, his father having been a trumpet player with the Bob Millar Band, a semi-professional big band that played at military dances. The Dwights were keen record buyers, exposing John to the popular singers and musicians of the day, and he has said he remembers being immediately hooked on rock and roll when his mother brought home records by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets in 1956.
John started playing his grandmother's piano as a young boy, and within a year his mother heard him picking out Winifred Atwell's "The Skater's Waltz" by ear. After performing at parties and family gatherings, at age 7 he began formal piano lessons. He showed musical aptitude at school, including the ability to compose melodies and gained some notoriety by playing like Jerry Lee Lewis at school functions. At age 11, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. According to one of his instructors, John promptly played back, like a "gramophone record", a four-page piece by George Frideric Handel after hearing it for the first time.
For the next five years, John attended Saturday classes at the Academy in central London, and he has said he enjoyed playing Frédéric Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach and singing in the choir during Saturday classes, but that he was not otherwise a diligent classical student. "I kind of resented going to the Academy,” he said. "I was one of those children who could just about get away without practising and still pass, scrape through the grades." He has said that he would sometimes skip classes and ride around on the London Underground. Several instructors have attested that he was a "model student," and during the last few years he took lessons from a private tutor in addition to his classes at the Academy. He left the Academy before taking the final exams.
John's mother, though strict with her son, was more vivacious than her husband, and something of a free spirit. With Stanley Dwight uninterested in his son and often absent, John was raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother. When his father was home, the Dwights had vehement arguments that greatly distressed John. When he was 14, they divorced. His mother then married a local painter, Fred Farebrother, a caring and supportive stepfather whom John affectionately called "Derf" ("Fred" backwards). They moved into flat No. 1A in an eight-unit apartment building called Frome Court, not far from both previous homes. There John wrote the songs that launched his career as a rock star; he lived there until he had four albums simultaneously in the American Top 40.
Pub pianist to staff songwriter (1962–1969)
At age 15, with his mother's and stepfather's help, John was hired as a pianist at a nearby pub, the Northwood Hills Hotel, playing Thursday to Sunday nights. Known simply as "Reggie", he played a range of popular standards, including songs by Jim Reeves and Ray Charles, as well as his own songs. A stint with a short-lived group called the Corvettes rounded out his time. Although normal-sighted as a teenager, John began wearing horn-rimmed glasses to imitate Buddy Holly.
In 1962, John and some friends formed a band called Bluesology. By day, he ran errands for a music publishing company; he divided his nights between solo gigs at a London hotel bar and working with Bluesology. By the mid-1960s, Bluesology was backing touring American soul and R&B musicians like the Isley Brothers, Major Lance and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. In 1966, the band became Long John Baldry's supporting band and played 16 times at the Marquee Club.
In 1967, John answered an advertisement in the British magazine New Musical Express, placed by Ray Williams, then the A&R manager for Liberty Records. At their first meeting, Williams gave John an unopened envelope of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin, who had answered the same ad. John wrote music for the lyrics and then sent it to Taupin, beginning a partnership that still continues. When the two first met in 1967, they recorded the first Elton John/Bernie Taupin song, "Scarecrow". Six months later, John began going by the name Elton John in homage to two members of Bluesology: saxophonist Elton Dean and vocalist Long John Baldry. He legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John on 7 January 1972.
The team of John and Taupin joined Dick James's DJM Records as staff songwriters in 1968, and over the next two years wrote material for various artists, among them Roger Cook and Lulu. Taupin would write a batch of lyrics in under an hour and give it to John, who would write music for them in half an hour, disposing of the lyrics if he could not come up with anything quickly. For two years they wrote easy-listening tunes for James to peddle to singers. Their early output included a contender for the UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 1969, for Lulu, called "I Can't Go On (Living Without You)". It came sixth of six songs. In 1969, John provided piano for Roger Hodgson on his first released single, "Mr. Boyd" by Argosy, a quartet that was completed by Caleb Quaye and Nigel Olsson.
Debut album to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1969–1973)
On the advice of music publisher Steve Brown, John and Taupin began writing more complex songs for John to record for DJM. The first was the single "I've Been Loving You" (1968), produced by Caleb Quaye, Bluesology's former guitarist. In 1969, with Quaye, drummer Roger Pope, and bassist Tony Murray, John recorded another single, "Lady Samantha", and an album, Empty Sky. For their follow-up album, Elton John, John and Taupin enlisted Gus Dudgeon as producer and Paul Buckmaster as musical arranger. Elton John was released in April 1970 on DJM Records/Pye Records in the UK and Uni Records in the US, and established the formula for subsequent albums: gospel-chorded rockers and poignant ballads. The album's first single, "Border Song", peaked at 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second, "Your Song", reached number seven in the UK Singles Chart and number eight in the US, becoming John's first hit single as a singer. The album soon became his first hit album, reaching number four on the US Billboard 200 and number five on the UK Albums Chart.
Backed by former Spencer Davis Group drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray, John's first American concert took place at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on 25 August 1970, and was a success. The concept album Tumbleweed Connection was released in October 1970 and reached number two in the UK and number five in the US. The live album 17-11-70 (titled 11–17–70 in the US) was recorded at a live show aired from A&R Studios on WABC-FM in New York City. Sales of the live album took a blow in the US when an east-coast bootlegger released the performance several weeks before the official album, including all 60 minutes of the aircast, not just the 40 minutes selected by Dick James Music.
John and Taupin then wrote the soundtrack to the 1971 film Friends and then the album Madman Across the Water, which reached number eight in the US and included the hit songs "Levon" and the album's opening track, "Tiny Dancer". In 1972, Davey Johnstone joined the Elton John Band on guitar and backing vocals. Released in 1972, Honky Château became John's first US number one album, spending five weeks at the top of the Billboard 200, and began a streak of seven consecutive US number-one albums. The album reached number two in the UK, and spawned the hit singles "Rocket Man" and "Honky Cat".
The pop album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player came out at the start of 1973 and reached number one in the UK, the US and Australia, among other countries. The album produced the hits "Crocodile Rock", his first US Billboard Hot 100 number one, and "Daniel", which reached number two in the US and number four in the UK. The album and "Crocodile Rock" were respectively the first album and single on the consolidated MCA Records label in the US, replacing MCA's other labels, including Uni.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, released in October 1973, gained instant critical acclaim and topped the chart on both sides of the Atlantic, remaining at number one for two months. It also temporarily established John as a glam rock star. It contained the US number 1 "Bennie and the Jets", along with the hits "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Candle in the Wind", "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding". Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is included in the VH1 Classic Albums series, in which the making, recording, and popularity of the album are discussed, with concert and home video footage, including interviews.
The Rocket Record Company to 21 at 33 (1974–1980)
John formed his own label, The Rocket Record Company (distributed in the US by MCA and initially by Island in the UK), and signed acts to it—notably Neil Sedaka (John sang background vocals on Sedaka's "Bad Blood") and Kiki Dee, in whom he took a personal interest. Instead of releasing his own records on Rocket, he signed an $8 million contract with MCA. When the contract was signed in 1974, MCA reportedly took out a $25 million insurance policy on John's life. In 1974, MCA released Elton John's Greatest Hits, a UK and US number one that is certified Diamond by the RIAA for US sales of 16 million copies.
In 1974, John collaborated with John Lennon on his cover of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", the B-side of which was Lennon's "One Day at a Time." In return, John was featured on "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" on Lennon's album Walls and Bridges. Later that year, in Lennon's last major live performance, the pair performed these two number-one hits, along with the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There", at Madison Square Garden in New York. Lennon made the rare stage appearance with John and his band to keep the promise he had made that he would appear on stage with him if "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" became a US number one single.
Caribou was released in 1974, becoming John's third number one in the UK and topping the charts in the US, Canada and Australia. Reportedly recorded in two weeks between live appearances, it featured "The Bitch Is Back" and the orchestrated "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me". "Step into Christmas" was released as a stand-alone single in November 1973, and appears in the album's 1995 remastered reissue.
Pete Townshend of the Who asked John to play the "Local Lad" in the 1975 film adaptation of the rock opera Tommy, and to perform the song "Pinball Wizard". Drawing on power chords, John's version was recorded and used in the movie. The song charted at number 7 in the UK.
The 1975 autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy debuted at number one in the US, the first album ever to do so, and stayed there for seven weeks. John revealed his previously ambiguous personality on the album, with Taupin's lyrics describing their early days as struggling songwriters and musicians in London. The lyrics and accompanying photo booklet are infused with a specific sense of place and time that is otherwise rare in his music. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was the hit single from this album and captured an early turning point in John's life. The album's release signalled the end of the Elton John Band, as an unhappy and overworked John dismissed Olsson and Murray, two people who had contributed much of the band's signature sound and helped build his live following.
According to Circus, a spokesman for John Reid said the decision was reached mutually via phone while John was in Australia promoting Tommy. She said there was no way Reid could have fired them "because the band are not employed by John Reid, they're employed by Elton John." She said Olsson would return to solo work and Murray would do session work "and possibly cut a solo album".
Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper were retained, Quaye and Roger Pope returned, and the new bassist was Kenny Passarelli; this rhythm section provided a heavier backbeat. James Newton Howard joined to arrange in the studio and to play keyboards. In June 1975 John introduced the line-up before a crowd of 75,000 at London's Wembley Stadium.
The rock-oriented Rock of the Westies entered the US albums chart at number 1, as had Captain Fantastic, a previously unattained feat. John's stage wardrobe now included ostrich feathers, $5,000 spectacles that spelled his name in lights, and costumes such as the Statue of Liberty, Donald Duck, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In 1975, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
To celebrate five years since he had first appeared at the venue, in 1975, John played a two-night, four-show stand at the Troubadour. With seating limited to under 500 per show, the chance to purchase tickets was determined by a postcard lottery, with each winner allowed two tickets. Everyone who attended the performances received a hardbound "yearbook" of the band's history. That year, he also played piano on Kevin Ayers's Sweet Deceiver and was among the first and few white artists to appear on the African-American television series Soul Train. On 9 August 1975, John was named the outstanding rock personality of the year at the first annual Rock Music Awards in Santa Monica, California.
In May 1976, the live album Here and There was released, followed in October by the album Blue Moves, which contained the single "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word". His biggest success in 1976 was "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", a duet with Kiki Dee that topped a number of charts, including the UK, the US, Australia, France and Canada.
Besides being John's most commercially successful period, 1970–1976 is also held in the highest regard critically. In the three-year span from 1972 to 1975, John saw seven consecutive albums reach number one in the US, something that had not been accomplished before. All six of his albums to make Rolling Stone's 2003 list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" are from this period, with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ranked highest at number 91.
In November 1977, John announced he was retiring from performing; Taupin began collaborating with others. Now producing only one album a year, John issued A Single Man in 1978 with a new lyricist, Gary Osborne; the album produced no singles that made the top 20 in the US, but the two singles from the album released in the UK, "Part-Time Love" and "Song for Guy", both made the top 20 there, with the latter reaching the top 5. In 1979, accompanied by Ray Cooper, John became one of the first Western artists to tour the Soviet Union and Israel. John returned to the US top ten with "Mama Can't Buy You Love" (number 9), a song MCA rejected in 1977, recorded with Philadelphia soul producer Thom Bell. John said Bell was the first person to give him voice lessons and encouraged him to sing in a lower register. A disco-influenced album, Victim of Love, was poorly received. In 1979, John and Taupin reunited, though they did not collaborate on a full album until 1983's Too Low For Zero. 21 at 33, released the following year, was a significant career boost, aided by his biggest hit in four years, "Little Jeannie" (number 3 US), with the lyrics by Gary Osborne.
The Fox to Sleeping with the Past (1981–1989)
John's 1981 album The Fox was recorded during the same sessions as 21 at 33 and included collaborations with Tom Robinson and Judie Tzuke. On 13 September 1980, with Olsson and Murray back in the Elton John Band, John performed a free concert to an estimated 400,000 fans on The Great Lawn in Central Park in New York.
With original band members Johnstone, Murray and Olsson together again, John returned to the charts with the 1983 album Too Low for Zero, which included "I'm Still Standing" (No. 4 UK) and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", the latter of which featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica and reached number four in the US and number five in the UK. In October 1983, John caused controversy when he broke the United Nations' cultural boycott on apartheid-era South Africa by performing at Sun City. He married his close friend and sound engineer, Renate Blauel, on Valentine's Day 1984; the marriage lasted three years.
In 1985, John was one of the many performers at Live Aid, held at Wembley Stadium. He played "Bennie and the Jets" and "Rocket Man"; then "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee for the first time since the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1982; and introduced George Michael, still then of Wham!, to sing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me". In 1984, he released Breaking Hearts, which featured the song "Sad Songs (Say So Much)", number five in the US and number seven in the UK. John also recorded material with Millie Jackson in 1985. In 1986, he played the piano on two tracks on the heavy metal band Saxon's album Rock the Nations.
In 1987, John won a libel case against The Sun, which published false allegations that he had had sex with rent boys. In 1988, he performed five sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, giving him 26 for his career. Netting over $20 million, 2,000 items of John's memorabilia were auctioned off at Sotheby's in London.
John had other hits during the 1980s, including "Nikita", whose music video was directed by Ken Russell. The song reached number three in the UK and number seven in the US. In 1986, a live orchestral version of "Candle in the Wind" reached number six in the US, while "I Don't Wanna Go on with You Like That" reached number two there in 1988. John's highest-charting single was a collaboration with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder called "That's What Friends Are For". It reached number one in the US in 1985; credited as Dionne and Friends, the song raised funds for HIV/AIDS research. His albums continued to sell, but of those released in the latter half of the 1980s, only Reg Strikes Back (number 16, 1988) placed in the top 20 in the US.
"Sacrifice" to Aida (1990–1999)
In 1990, John achieved his first solo UK number one hit single, with "Sacrifice" (coupled with "Healing Hands") from the previous year's album Sleeping with the Past; it stayed at the top spot for six weeks. The following year, "Basque" won the Grammy for Best Instrumental, and a guest concert appearance at Wembley Arena John made on George Michael's cover of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was released as a single and topped the charts in both the UK and the US. At the 1991 Brit Awards in London, John won Best British Male.
In 1992, John released the US number 8 album The One, featuring the hit song "The One". He also released "Runaway Train", a duet he recorded with his longtime friend Eric Clapton, with whom he played on Clapton's World Tour. John and Taupin then signed a music publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music for an estimated $39 million over 12 years, including the largest cash advance in music publishing history. In April 1992, John appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, performing "The Show Must Go On" with the remaining members of Queen, and "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses and Queen's remaining members. In September, John performed "The One" at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards and closed the ceremony performing "November Rain" with Guns N' Roses. The following year, he released Duets, which featured collaborations with 15 artists, including Tammy Wynette and RuPaul. This included a new collaboration with Kiki Dee, "True Love", which reached the Top 10 of the UK charts. In the same year, The Bunbury Tails, a multi-artist charity album, was released, which was the soundtrack to the British animated television series of the same name. "Up The Revolution" was John's track, alongside contributions from George Harrison, the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. The album was issued briefly, and only in the UK.
—Axl Rose speech inducting Elton John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Along with Tim Rice, John wrote the songs for the 1994 Disney animated film The Lion King. At the 67th Academy Awards, three of the five nominees for the Academy Award for Best Original Song were from The Lion King soundtrack. John won the award for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight". Both that and "Circle of Life" became hits. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" also won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 37th Annual Grammy Awards. After the release of The Lion King soundtrack, the album remained at the top of Billboard 200 for nine weeks. On 10 November 1999, the RIAA certified The Lion King "Diamond" for selling 15 million copies.
In 1994, John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Guns N' Roses' frontman Axl Rose. In 1995, he released the album Made in England (number 3). The title track is an autobiographical recounting of parts of his life. The album also featured the single "Believe". John performed "Believe" at the 1995 Brit Awards and won the Outstanding Contribution to Music prize.
A duet with Luciano Pavarotti, "Live Like Horses", reached number nine in the UK in December 1996. A compilation album, Love Songs, was released in 1996. Early in 1997, John held a 50th birthday party, costumed as Louis XIV of France, with 500 friends. He performed with the surviving members of Queen in Paris at the opening night (17 January 1997) of Le Presbytère N'a Rien Perdu De Son Charme Ni Le Jardin De Son Éclat, a work by French ballet legend Maurice Béjart that draws upon the AIDS crisis and the deaths of Freddie Mercury and the company's principal dancer, Jorge Donn. Later in 1997, two close friends died: designer Gianni Versace was murdered on 15 July, and Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Paris car crash on 31 August.
In early September, John asked Taupin to revise the lyrics of their 1973 song "Candle in the Wind" to honour Diana, and Taupin agreed. On 6 September 1997, John performed "Candle in the Wind 1997" live for the only time at Diana's funeral in Westminster Abbey. The song became the fastest- and biggest-selling single of all time, eventually selling over 33 million copies worldwide, the best-selling single in UK chart history, the best-selling single in Billboard history and the first single certified Diamond in the US, where it sold over 11 million copies. The 2009 Guinness World Records states that the song is "the biggest-selling single since UK and US singles charts began in the 1950s, having accumulated worldwide sales of 33 million copies". The song's proceeds of approximately £55 million were donated to Diana's charities via the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. It won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards in 1998. The song "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" was released as a double A-side.
On 15 September 1997, John appeared at the Music for Montserrat charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall, performing "Your Song", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Live Like Horses" solo before finishing with "Hey Jude" alongside Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler and Sting. In November 1997, John performed in the BBC's Children in Need charity single "Perfect Day", which reached number one in the UK. John appeared in the Spice Girls film Spice World, released in December 1997.
The Lion King musical debuted on Broadway in 1997 and the West End in 1999. In 2014, it had grossed over $6 billion and became the top-earning title in box-office history for both stage productions and films, surpassing the record previously held by Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera. In addition to The Lion King, John composed music for a Disney's musical production Aida in 1999 with lyricist Tim Rice, for which they received the Tony Award for Best Original Score at the 54th Tony Awards, and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards. The musical had its world premiere at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and went on to Chicago and eventually Broadway. John released a live compilation album, Elton John One Night Only – The Greatest Hits, featuring songs from the show he did at Madison Square Garden in New York City that same year. A concept album of songs from the musical Aida, Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida, was also released and featured the John duets "Written in the Stars" with LeAnn Rimes, and "I Know the Truth" with Janet Jackson.
Billy Elliot the Musical and 60th birthday (2000–2009)
By this time, John disliked appearing in his own music videos; the video for "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" featured Justin Timberlake portraying a young John, and the video for "I Want Love" featured Robert Downey, Jr. lip-syncing the song. At the 2001 Grammy Awards, John performed "Stan" with Eminem. One month after the 11 September attacks, John appeared at the Concert for New York City, performing "I Want Love" as well as "Your Song" as a duet with Billy Joel.
In August 2003, John's fifth UK number one single, "Are You Ready for Love", topped the charts. Returning to musical theatre, John composed music for a West End production of Billy Elliot the Musical in 2005 with playwright Lee Hall. Opening to strong reviews, the show won four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. The 11th-longest-running musical in West End history, the London production ran through April 2016, with 4,566 performances. As of December 2015, Billy Elliot has been seen by over 5.25 million people in London and nearly 11 million people worldwide (on Broadway, in Sydney, Melbourne, Chicago, Toronto, Seoul, the Netherlands and São Paulo, Brazil etc.), grossed over $800 million worldwide and won over 80 theatre awards internationally. John's only theatrical project with Taupin is Lestat: The Musical, based on Anne Rice's vampire novels. It received negative reviews from critics and closed in May 2006 after 39 performances. John featured on rapper Tupac Shakur's posthumous single "Ghetto Gospel", which topped the UK charts in July 2005.
In September 2003, John headlined the final night of the 100th birthday celebration of motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson, much to the disappointment of the 'biker' crowd, as he has neither ridden nor sung about motorcycles. In October 2003, he announced that he had signed an exclusive agreement to perform 75 shows over three years at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip. The show, The Red Piano, was a multimedia concert featuring massive props and video montages created by David LaChapelle. Effectively, he and Celine Dion shared performances at Caesars Palace throughout the year; while one performed, the other rested. The first of these shows took place on 13 February 2004. In February 2006, John and Dion sang together at the venue to raise money for Harrah's Entertainment Inc. workers affected by the 2005 hurricanes, performing "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" and "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)."
The Walt Disney Company named John a Disney Legend for his contributions to Disney's films and theatrical works on 9 October 2006. Also in 2006, he told Rolling Stone that he planned for his next record to be in R&B and hip hop. "I want to work with Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, Snoop [Dogg], Kanye [West], Eminem and just see what happens", he said. West sampled John's “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” on his 2007 song “Good Morning” and in 2010 invited him to his Hawaii studio to play piano and sing on “All of the Lights.”
In March 2007, John performed at Madison Square Garden for a record-breaking 60th time for his 60th birthday; the concert was broadcast live and a DVD recording was released as Elton 60—Live at Madison Square Garden; a greatest-hits compilation CD, Rocket Man—Number Ones, was released in 17 different versions worldwide, including a CD/DVD combo; and his back catalogue—almost 500 songs from 32 albums—became available for legal paid download.
On 1 July 2007, John appeared at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in honour of Diana, Princess of Wales on what would have been her 46th birthday, with the concert's proceeds going to Diana's charities as well as to charities of which her sons Prince William and Prince Harry are patrons. John opened the concert with "Your Song" and closed it with "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", "Tiny Dancer", and "Are You Ready For Love".
On 21 June 2008, John performed his 200th show at Caesars Palace. A DVD/CD package of The Red Piano was released through Best Buy in November 2008. In a September 2008 GQ interview John said, "I'm going on the road again with Billy Joel again next year", referring to "Face to Face", a series of concerts featuring the two. The tour began in March.
In 2009, John accepted Jerry Cantrell's invitation to collaborate with his band Alice in Chains. John played the piano in the song "Black Gives Way to Blue", a tribute to the band's late lead singer, Layne Staley, which was the title track and closing song of the album Black Gives Way to Blue, released in September 2009. The first concert Staley attended was one of John's, and his mother said he was blown away by it. Cantrell added. "Elton is a very important musical influence to all of us in varying degrees, and especially to me. My first album was Elton John’s Greatest Hits. And actually, we were reminded by Layne's stepfather that Elton was his first concert, so it was all really appropriate. So I wrote [Elton] an e-mail and explained what his music meant to us, and that this song was for Layne. We sent him a demo, and he said it was beautiful and he’d love to play on it. In the studio he was really relaxed and gracious, and he's got a great sense of humor. We were just trying to be cool: 'Oh, yeah, no big deal.' But we were excited. [Drummer Sean Kinney] and I had to walk out a couple of times to smoke cigarettes, like, 'Holy shit, this is killer.' It's one of those highlights you can't expect in life, and you're lucky to get them once in a while. And that is one." John said he had long admired Cantrell and couldn't resist the offer. "I was kind of surprised that Alice in Chains would ask me to do anything. I never thought I’d play on an Alice in Chains record. When I heard the song I really wanted to do it. I liked the fact that it was so beautiful and very simple. They had a great idea of what they wanted me to do on it and it turned out great", John said.
The Union to Wonderful Crazy Night (2010–2018)
John performed a piano duet with Lady Gaga at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. On 6 June 2010, he performed at the fourth wedding of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh for a reported $1 million. Eleven days later, and 17 years to the day after his previous performance in Israel, he performed at the Ramat Gan Stadium; this was significant because of other then-recent cancellations by other performers in the fallout surrounding an Israeli raid on Gaza Flotilla the month before. In his introduction to that concert, John said that he and other musicians should not "cherry-pick our conscience", in reference to Elvis Costello, who was to have performed in Israel two weeks after John did but cancelled in the wake of the aforementioned raid, citing his conscience.
John released The Union on 19 October 2010. He has said the album, a collaboration with American singer, songwriter and sideman Leon Russell, marked a new chapter in his recording career, saying: "I don't have to make pop records any more." He began his new show The Million Dollar Piano at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, on 28 September 2011, and performed it there for the next three years. He performed his 3000th concert on 8 October 2011 at Caesars. Also in 2011, John performed vocals on "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" with Kate Bush for her album 50 Words for Snow. On 3 February 2012, he visited Costa Rica for the first time, performing at the recently built National Stadium.
On 4 June 2012, John performed at the Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace, including "Your Song", "Crocodile Rock" and "I'm Still Standing". On 30 June, he performed in Kiev, Ukraine, at a joint concert with Queen + Adam Lambert for the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation. An album containing remixes of songs that he recorded in the 1970s, Good Morning to the Night, was released in July 2012. The remixes were conducted by Australian group Pnau, and the album reached number one in the UK. At the 2012 Pride of Britain Awards on 30 October, along with Michael Caine, Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Stephen Fry, John recited Rudyard Kipling's poem "If—" in tribute to the 2012 British Olympic and Paralympics athletes.
In February 2013, John performed a duet with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards. Later in 2013, he collaborated with rock band Queens of the Stone Age on their sixth studio album, ...Like Clockwork, contributing piano and vocals on the song "Fairweather Friends". He said he was a fan of frontman Josh Homme's side project, Them Crooked Vultures, and had phoned Homme to ask if he could perform on the album. In September 2013, John received the first Brits Icon Award for his "lasting impact" on the culture of the United Kingdom. Rod Stewart presented him with the award on stage at the London Palladium before the two performed a duet of "Sad Songs (Say So Much)". John's 31st album, The Diving Board, produced by T-Bone Burnett, was released in September 2013 and reached number three in the UK and number four in the US. In October 2015, it was announced he would release his 32nd studio album, Wonderful Crazy Night, on 5 February 2016. It too was produced by Burnett. The album's first single, "Looking Up", was released in the same month. This album marked John's first full album recorded with his touring band since 2006's The Captain & the Kid. He also had a major role, as himself, in the action sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which was released in September 2017.
On 26 January 2017, it was announced that John would compose the score for the Broadway musical version of the novel The Devil Wears Prada and its film adaptation, with Kevin McCollum as producer and Paul Rudnick writing the lyrics and story. The timeline for the musical is yet to be announced. In June 2017, John appeared in the award-winning documentary The American Epic Sessions, directed by Bernard MacMahon. In the film, he recorded live on the restored first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s. John composed and arranged a lyric by Taupin, “Two Fingers of Whiskey”, written specially for the film, live on camera with the help of Burnett and Jack White. Danny Eccleston in Mojo pointed out that “in one of the series’ most extraordinary moments, Elton John arrives toting a box-fresh lyric by Bernie Taupin and works it up in an instant, the song materializing in front of the viewers eyes before John and Jack White go for the take. There's the magic right there.” “Two Fingers of Whiskey” was released on 9 June 2017 on Music from The American Epic Sessions: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Rocketman biopic and retirement tour (2018–present)
On 24 January 2018, it was announced that John was retiring from touring and would soon embark on a three-year farewell tour. The first concert took place in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on 8 September 2018. John cited spending time with his children as the reason for his retirement: "Ten years ago if you asked me if I would stop touring I would have said no. But we had children and that changed our lives. I have had an amazing life and career but my life has changed. My priorities are now my children and my husband and my family." Consisting of more than 300 concerts worldwide, the tour is expected to end in England in December 2020. In September 2018, John reportedly signed an agreement with Universal Music Group (UMG) to represent his new music "for the rest of his career" in addition to his work from the last 50 years.
A biopic about John's life from his childhood to the 1980s, Rocketman, was produced by Paramount Pictures and released in May 2019. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher, who directed Bohemian Rhapsody after principal director Bryan Singer was fired, a biopic about John's close friend Freddie Mercury, and stars Taron Egerton as John. John and Egerton performed a new song written for Rocketman, "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again", which premiered on BBC Radio 2 in 2019. The song would see John win the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the second time. In October 2019, John released what he described as his "first and only autobiography," Me. The audiobook of Me was narrated by Egerton, with John reading the Prologue and Epilogue.
As part of his farewell tour, in June 2019, John was presented with France's highest civilian award, the Legion d'honneur, by President Emmanuel Macron during a ceremony at the Élysée Palace in Paris. Macron called John a "melodic genius" and one of the first gay artists to give a voice to the LGBT community. On 25 June 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed John as one of hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire.
On 16 February 2020, his first show at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand was cut short as he lost his voice because he was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier that day. He was cleared to perform the next show on 19 February.
Elton John has written with Bernie Taupin since 1967, when he answered an advertisement for talent placed in the popular UK music publication, New Musical Express, by Liberty records A&R man Ray Williams. The pair have collaborated on more than 30 albums to date. Their method involves Taupin writing the lyrics on his own, and John then putting them to music, with the two never in the same room during the process. Taupin writes a set of lyrics, then sends them to John, who then writes the music and records the song. In November 2017, John said of their 50-year partnership, "we've never ever had an argument professionally or personally, which is extraordinary because most songwriters sometimes split up because they get jealous of each other. And it's exciting because it's never changed from the first day we wrote songs. I still write the song when he's not there and then I go and play it to him. So the excitement is still the same as it was from day one and that's kept it fresh and it's kept it exciting."
In 1992, along with Taupin, John was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. He is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA). His voice was once classed as a tenor; it is now a baritone. His piano playing is influenced by classical music and gospel music. He used Paul Buckmaster to arrange the music on his studio albums during the 1970s.
Sexuality and family
In the late 1960s, John was engaged to be married to his first lover, secretary Linda Woodrow, who is mentioned in the song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight". In 1970, right after his first US shows in Los Angeles, he lost his virginity to and started his first gay relationship with John Reid, the Tamla Motown label manager for the UK, who later became John's manager until 1998. The relationship ended five years later. He married German recording engineer Renate Blauel on 14 February 1984, in Darling Point. John had come out as bisexual in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, but, after his divorce from Blauel in 1988, he told the magazine in 1992 that he was "quite comfortable about being gay".
In 1993, John began a relationship with David Furnish, a former advertising executive and now filmmaker originally from Toronto. On 21 December 2005 (the day the Civil Partnership Act came into force), John and Furnish were among the first couples to form a civil partnership in the United Kingdom, which was held at the Windsor Guildhall. After gay marriage became legal in the United Kingdom in March 2014, John and Furnish married in Windsor, Berkshire, on 21 December 2014, the ninth anniversary of their civil partnership.
They have two sons. The elder, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, was born to a surrogate mother on 25 December 2010 in California. The younger, Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John, was born on 11 January 2013 to the same woman. John also has 10 godchildren, including Sean Lennon, David and Victoria Beckham's sons Brooklyn and Romeo, Elizabeth Hurley's son Damian Hurley, and Seymour Stein's daughter.
In 2010, some Christian groups in the US criticised John after he described Jesus as a "compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems". Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and opponent of gay marriage, responded: "To call Jesus a homosexual is to label him a sexual deviant. But what else would we expect from a man who previously said, 'From my point of view, I would ban religion completely.'" John stated, in his 2019 Me: Elton John Official Autobiography, that he had received many death threats as a result of his statements. Neal Horsley, a Christian Reconstructionist from Bremen, Georgia, was arrested for making terrorist threats, after posting a YouTube video stating: "We’re here today to remind Elton John that he has to die".
In 2008, John said he preferred civil partnerships to marriage for gay people, but by 2012 he had changed his position and become a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom. "There is a world of difference between calling someone your 'partner' and calling them your 'husband'. 'Partner' is a word that should be preserved for people you play tennis with, or work alongside in business. It doesn't come close to describing the love that I have for David, and he for me. In contrast, 'husband' does", John said. In 2014, he claimed Jesus would have been in favour of same-sex marriage.
In 2013, John resisted calls to boycott Russia in protest at the Russian gay propaganda law, but told fans at a Moscow concert that the laws were "inhumane and isolating", and he was "deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation". In a January 2014 interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of John in an attempt to show that there was no discrimination against gays in Russia, saying, "Elton John – he's an extraordinary person, a distinguished musician, and millions of our people sincerely love him, regardless of his sexual orientation." John responded by offering to introduce Putin to Russians abused under Russian legislation banning "homosexual propaganda". On 24 September 2015, the Associated Press reported that Putin called John and invited him to meet in the future to discuss LGBT rights in Russia. Putin's call came just a few days after two pranksters phoned John, pretending to be Putin and his spokesman, and causing John to erroneously thank Putin for the call on John's Instagram account.
In April 2009, the Sunday Times Rich List estimated John's wealth at £175 million (US$265 million) and ranked him the 322nd wealthiest person in Britain. A decade later, John was estimated to have a fortune of £320 million in the 2019 Sunday Times Rich List, making him one of the 10 wealthiest people in the British music industry. Aside from his main home, Woodside, in Old Windsor, Berkshire, John owns residences in Atlanta, London, Los Angeles, Nice and Venice. His property in Nice is on Mont Boron. John is an art collector and is believed to have one of the largest private photography collections in the world.
In 2000, John admitted to spending £30 million in just under two years—an average of £1.5 million a month. Between January 1996 and September 1997, he spent more than £9.6m on property and £293,000 on flowers. In June 2001, John sold 20 of his cars at Christie's, saying he never had the chance to drive them because he was out of the country so often. The sale, which included a 1993 Jaguar XJ220, the most expensive at £234,750, and several Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and Bentleys, raised nearly £2 million. In 2003, John sold the contents of his Holland Park home—expected to fetch £800,000 at Sotheby's—to modernise the decoration and to display some of his contemporary art collection. Every year since 2004, John has opened a shop called "Elton's Closet", in which he sells his secondhand clothes.
By 1975, the pressures of stardom had begun to take a serious toll on John. During "Elton Week" in Los Angeles that year, he had a cocaine overdose. He also developed the eating disorder bulimia. In a 2002 CNN interview with Larry King, King asked if John knew of Diana, Princess of Wales's eating disorder. John replied, "Yes, I did. We were both bulimic." In a 29 July 2019 Instagram post, John stated he had been sober for 29 years.
A longtime tennis enthusiast, he wrote the song "Philadelphia Freedom" in tribute to his friend Billie Jean King's World Team Tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. King was a player-coach for the team at the time. John and King remain friends and co-host an annual pro-am event to benefit AIDS charities, most notably the Elton John AIDS Foundation, of which King is a chairperson. John, who maintains a part-time residence in Atlanta, Georgia, became a fan of the Atlanta Braves baseball team when he moved there in 1991.
An admirer of Monty Python (John would present the comedy troupe the Empire Inspiration Award in 1997), in 1975 he was among a group of musicians who helped finance their film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
On 22 April 2017, John was discharged from hospital after two nights of intensive care for contracting "a harmful and unusual" bacterial infection during his return flight home from a South American tour in Santiago, Chile, and was forced to cancel all his shows scheduled for April and May 2017.
—Elton John on his emotions during the FA Cup Final's traditional pre-match hymn.
Having supported Watford since growing up locally, Elton John became the club's chairman and director in 1976, appointing Graham Taylor as manager and investing large sums of money as the club rose three divisions into the English First Division. The pinnacle of the club's success was finishing runners up in the First Division to Liverpool in 1983 and reaching the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in 1984. John sold the club to Jack Petchey in 1987, but remained president.
In 1997, John repurchased the club from Petchey and once again became chairman. He stepped down in 2002 when the club needed a full-time chairman, but continued as president. Although no longer the majority shareholder, John still holds a significant financial interest. He held a concert at Watford's home stadium, Vicarage Road, in June 2005, donating the funds to the club, and another in May 2010. He has remained friends with a number of high-profile players in football, including Pelé and David Beckham. From late 1975 to 1976, he was a part-owner of the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League. On 13 December 2014, he appeared at Watford's Vicarage Road with his husband and sons for the opening of the "Sir Elton John stand". He called the occasion "one of the greatest days of my life".
His paternal cousin Roy Dwight was a professional footballer, who scored for Nottingham Forest in the 1959 FA Cup Final before breaking his leg later in the same match.
John announced his intention to vote Remain during the UK's 2016 EU referendum on Instagram, sharing an image with the words “build bridges not walls”, along with the caption "I'm voting to remain. #StrongerInEurope". In 2019, he said the Brexit vote and the way it had been handled had made him ashamed.
John has said that he took risks with unprotected sex during the 1980s and considers himself lucky to have avoided contracting HIV. In 1986, he joined with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder to record the single "That's What Friends Are For", with profits donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. The song won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. In April 1990, John performed his 1968 ballad "Skyline Pigeon" at the funeral of Ryan White, a teenage haemophiliac he had befriended.
John became more closely associated with AIDS charities following the deaths of his friends Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury in 1991, raising large amounts of money and using his public profile to raise awareness of the disease. He founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992 as a charity to fund programmes for HIV/AIDS prevention, for the elimination of prejudice and discrimination against HIV/AIDS-affected individuals, and to provide services to people living with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. This continues to be one of his passions. In 1993, he began hosting his annual Academy Award Party, which has become one of the highest-profile Oscar parties in the Hollywood film industry and has raised over US$200 million.
To raise money for his AIDS charity, John annually hosts a White Tie & Tiara Ball on the grounds of his home in Old Windsor in Berkshire, to which many celebrities are invited. The ninth annual White Tie & Tiara Ball took place on 28 June 2007. The menu consisted of a truffle soufflé followed by surf and turf and a giant knickerbocker glory ice cream. An auction followed, emceed by Stephen Fry. A Rolls Royce "Phantom" drophead coupe and a piece of Tracey Emin's artwork both raised £800,000 for the charity fund, with the total amount raised reaching £3.5 million. Later John sang "Delilah" with Tom Jones and "Big Spender" with Shirley Bassey. The 2011 guests included Sarah, Duchess of York, Elizabeth Hurley and George Michael (who performed "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" with John), and the auction raised £5 million, adding to the £45 million the balls have raised for John's foundation.
Honours and awards
John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1994. He and Taupin had already been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992. John was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1995. For his charitable, work he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on 24 February 1998. In the 2020 New Year Honours, he was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) for services to music and to charity. In October 1975, John became the 1,662nd person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
John was awarded Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2004 and a Disney Legends Award in 2006. In 2000, he was named the MusiCares Person of the Year for his artistic achievement in the music industry and dedication to philanthropy. In 2010, he received the PRS for Music Heritage Award, which was erected on The Namaste Lounge Pub in Northwood, London, where John performed his first gig. In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron appointed John a chevalier of the Legion of Honour.
Music awards include the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King, the 1994 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King, and the 2000 Tony Award for Best Original Score for Aida, all of which he shared with Tim Rice. The 2019 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song went to John for "I'm Gonna Love Me Again", shared with Bernie Taupin. He has also received five Brit Awards, including the 1991 award for Best British Male, and awards for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 1986 and 1995. In 2013, John received the first Brits Icon award in recognition of his "lasting impact" on UK culture, which was presented to him by his close friend Rod Stewart.
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