Sir Elton John is one of the most popular musicians of the 20th century. The Brit’s unique blend of pop and rock styles turned him into one of the biggest music icons. From a young age, “Reginald” excelled in music and released his self-titled American album when he was only 23 years old. He’s even worked with his songwriting partner since 1967, which continues to this very day.
With over fifty 40 Top hits and countless awards, the life of the pianist is a fascinating tale of a rocketman who reached amazing heights. At the height of his career, John suffered somewhat of a fall from grace, but rebounded in a way only the piano man could.
Elton John Was Born As Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Born on March 25, 1947, in the town of Pinner in Middlesex, England, he was the only child to Stanley Dwight and Sheila Eileen. Reginald was afraid of his father who was a ranking officer with the Royal Air Force. His father is described as “very snobbish and sort of stiff.”
On the other hand, his mother was much more caring. She would bring home records that introduced her son to rock music.
Reginald Started To Play Piano At A Young Age
Reginald started playing on his grandmother’s piano when he was four years old. At the age of seven, he began to play at parties and family gatherings, and he took up formal piano lessons. Eventually, his musical aptitude became noticeable at school, especially his ability to compose melodies.
At 11 years old, he was considered to be a piano prodigy. At that age, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.
His Father Tried To Steer Him Away From A Career In Music
When young Reginald figured out what he wanted to do with his life, his father didn’t like the thought of his son pursuing a career in music. Instead, he attempted to convince his only child to pursue a career in banking.
But, his parents were musically involved, mainly since his father was a trumpet player. Also, his mother exposed him to records from artists such as Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets.
He Resented Going To The Academy
Despite enjoying playing Frédéric François Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach and singing in the choir, Elton was not a diligent classical student. In His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John, he says "I was one of those children who could just about get away without practicing and still pass, scrape through the grades."
Sometimes, classes bored him to the point where the teenager skipped class to ride around on the London Underground.
His Parents’ Marriage Didn’t End Well
With his father uninterested in his child and physically absent, John was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother. When his father was home, the Dwight’s would have terrible arguments that greatly distressed their son.
By the time he was a teenager, his parents had finalized their divorce. But, his mother re-married to Fred Farebrother, a painter and supportive stepfather to John. As affectionate as he was, John called him “Derf.”
At 15 Years Old, He Became A Weekend Pianist At A Pub
With the help of his mother and stepfather, the teenager found himself playing at the Northwood Hills Hotel. Known only as “Reggie,” he would play there from Thursday to Sunday nights.
From there on, he showcased a wide range of popular standards, including the songs he wrote, even rounding out a short-lived group at the time. In 1962, Reggie and some of his friends formed the British R&B group Bluesology.
Bluesology Gained A lot Of Attention For A Few Reasons
By day, Reggie did errands for a music publishing company. By night, he split them up between solo gigs and working with the group. By the mid-sixties, Bluesology was back touring American soul and R&B musicians from the Isley Brothers to Patti LaBelle.
By 1966, the group would become the supporting band for Long John Baldry. Plus, they played countless sets at the Marquee Club at Wardour Street in Soho, London.
In 1967, Reggie First Met An Important Person In His Life
The Bluesology founder answered an advertisement in New Musical Express. Placed by the former A&R manager for Liberty Records, Ray Williams, the two set up a meeting.
Williams gave Reggie an unopened envelope with lyrics written by Bernie Taupin, who answered the same ad. The aspiring musician wrote music for the lyrics, then posted it to Taupin. That marked the beginning of a partnership that continues to this very day.
After They Met, Reggie Went By A Different Name
After what happened at NME, they recorded what would become their first song. “Scarecrow” marked the first of many songs the Brits would collaborate on. Six months later, Reggie was going by a much different name.
Eventually, the name “Elton John” was created as a homage to two members of Blueology — saxophonist Elton Dean, and lead singer Long John Baldry. Later in his life, John add the middle name, Hercules.
The Team Of Elton John And Bernie Taupin Joined DJM Records As Writers
Over the next two years, the pair started out writing easy-listening material for Roger Cook and Lulu. But, Taupin would be the one who would write a batch of lyrics in an hour, then give it to John.
He would write music for them in a half hour by disposing of lyrics if he couldn’t come up with anything. Their earliest work was Lulu’s “I Can’t Go On (Living Without You).”
Taupin Started Writing More Complex Songs For John
Taupin wrote John’s first two singles: “I’ve Been Loving You, ” and “Lady Samantha,” and his debut album Empty Sky. Despite the album being a failure, that didn’t stop the duo, and his first American hit, “Your Song,” came from his second studio album, Elton John.
The single would help establish his career during what was considered the “singer-songwriter” era of popular music. In 1971, the album earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
Elton’s First World Tour Became A Massive Success
The first time John went on tour was in 1970 to support his second album. He booked six nights at the Troubadour Hotel, which proved Elton could be a success and brought him to the attention of the American public.
Following the success of the shows at The Troubadour, Elton went on his first major tour in the United States. One show at the A&R Studios in New Yor City was recorded and released as 17-11-70.
There Was An Influence Of John’s Strict Dad While He Performed
Elton believes that his father’s negative feelings gave him the drive to pursue his songwriting career. John became famous for his oversize glasses and outrageous outfits. The musician once said that his wild stage costumes were his way of expressing himself after he was so restricted as a child.
In an interview with W, he explained that he wasn’t eyeing a certain theme some musicians were: “I wasn’t a sex symbol like Bowie or Freddie Mercury.”
Rocketman: The Groundbreaking Film Based On Elton’s Life
Released in May of 2019, the biographical musical Rocketman centers around Elton’s younger years. One reviewer called the film a look into “Elton John’s sad, toxic relationship with his mother,” although it received good critical response.
The project was almost two decades in the making, going through a series of studios, directors, and creative differences before it finally became a reality for Elton. Rocketman hit No. 1 at box offices during the first week of Pride Month. It’s the first major Hollywood movie to depict two men making love on-screen.
Elton Told The Actor Who Plays Him Not To Copy His Singing
Elton’s husband David Furnish told Hollywood Reporter that they’re fans of Taron’s work in the film. “When I played the songs for Elton, he was blown away, really blown away,” Furnish said. “Elton was like, ‘It can’t get any better for me.’”
However, Elton didn’t want Taron just to copy his singing. According to David, Elton had these words for the actor. “Don’t think you have to sing it exactly the way that I sang it. Don’t think you have to perform it the way I performed it. I think it’s the challenge for the actor to embody the spirit and not get into thinking they have to do an impersonation.”
Madman Across the Water Was The Lowest-Charting Album Of His Career But Offered Classic Hits
Madman Across the Water barely reached No. 41 on the UK Albums Chart, spending only two weeks there. But, songs such as “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon” went on to become massive hits.
“Tiny Dancer” fared better in Canada, but it was also a hit in Australia. For “Levon” not only did it chart well in Canada again, but it’s become a classic Elton hit. It’s been covered by several artists including Bon Jovi.
Honky Château Was His First Number One Album In The U.K. And The U.S.
Not only was the album a success on the charts, but it spawned more of Elton’s classics. “Rocket Man” and “Honky Cat” were just a few more songs fans fell in love with. Interestingly enough, “Rocket Man” was inspired by the short story of the same name by Ray Bradbury. It also echoes David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
In May 2017, an official music video for “Rocket Man” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
1973 Was A Big Year For Elton
The year started off with the release of Don’t Shoot Me I’m The Only Piano Player. The album introduced fans to another hit single "Crocodile Rock," which became his first US Billboard Hot 100 number one. The other album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released in October.
It established the musician as a glam rock star containing hits such as "Bennie and the Jets," and "Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting."
Elton Founded The Rocket Record Company
John formed his own label and signed acts such as Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee. Instead of releasing his personal records on Rocket, he opted for an $8 million contract offered by MCA. When the deal was signed in 1974, MCA reportedly took out a $25 million insurance policy on John’s life.
The Rocket Record Company label still exists today, but now there are only three newer artists signed to it.
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart Was A Big First For John
Unlike many of John’s singles from the 1970s, this one was never included on an original album. It was written by John with Bernie Taupin under the pseudonyms “Ann Orson” and “Carte Blanche.” The single was the first No. 1 single in the UK for both John and Kiki Dee, topping the chart for six weeks in mid-1976.
John and Taupin originally intended to record the song with Dusty Springfield but withdrew the offer.
In November 1977, John Announced He Was Retiring From Performing
His popularity then began to decline after a series of less successful albums. But, John started to focus more on the soccer team that he co-owned, Watford F.C. Around this time, John came out publically about something personal.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, he opened up that he was attracted to both men and women, admitting he was bisexual. That further damaged his popularity, and he began abusing alcohol and drugs.
The Retirement Was Short-Lived, But He Cracked The Iron Fist
Elton John arrived in the Soviet Union on May 20, 1979, with four concerts lined up at the Great October Hall in Leningrad. It was notable for its historical significance. He was the first Western rock star to ever perform in the Soviet.
But John insists that he was the first to make the journey behind the Iron Curtain for a simple reason. He asked first and he wanted to go.
Other Artists Were Asked To Go Before John
When talking about his trip to the Soviet Union, Elton told the Associated Press:
“They wanted Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and more. In fact, they told us the only reason more people have not played there is that they simply haven’t asked permission. Usually, most rock ‘n’ roll people go to places where they can make money, but I’ve had enough of doing that. I want to see different people all over the world.”
The Trip Wasn’t Without Its Difficulties
Touching down during an unusually hot summer, John complained mightily about the accommodations. A less-than pleased John ended up chiding journalists who asked him what he considered inane questions. Also, he was apparently shocked to learn few people there had actually heard of his music.
But, the Brit was oblivious to the fact that Western pop music at that point was only obtainable for large sums on the black market.
All That Negativity Disappeared
The audience sat motionless with fingers in ears. But, it wasn’t until some courageous fans – some of whom had paid upwards of $150 for tickets, excitedly took over the front sections that he realized the impact his music was having on the crowd.
With tunes from John’s 1978 studio effort A Single Man and most of his own classics, he closed out each night with “Back In The U.S.S.R.”
While Not Producing Smash Hits In The Eighties, John Went Down Hill
Considering John continued performing during the 1980s, his drug and drinking problems had caused him to lose his magic. In his memoir, Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS, he said: “I was consumed by cocaine, booze, and who knows what else. I apparently never got the memo that the Me generation had ended.”
Despite feeling some guilt about that period in his life, he wanted to make up for it.
John Gets Married
We mentioned before how John came out as bisexual to Rolling Stone. Before that happened, John was engaged to be married to his first lover, secretary Linda Woodrow. She was the one who was mentioned on “Someone Saved Me Tonight.”
However, the engagement never went through. While recording Too Low For Zero in 1983, John met German recording engineer Renate Blauel. On Valentine’s Day in 1984, the pair got married.
The Marriage Lasted For Four Years
The British tabloids attacked both the marriage and John, focusing on his sexual history. After less than five years, the couple agreed to divorce. The musician told the press, “Everyone does experimenting. I do not deny anything I’ve said, but I have a right to make a choice.”
But, after his divorce from Blauel, John spoke to Rolling Stone again. This time, he admitted he was happy he was gay.
John Finally Got Off The Drugs In 1990
In the early nineties, the flamboyant rock star finally got the help he needed. He received help for his alcoholism, drug abuse, and bulimia. John, who suffered an overdose in 1975, had previously revealed that he would turn blue from epileptic seizures after using cocaine, then snort more when he came round.
But, this significant change steered him in a different direction. John wanted to devote his time to help others.
He Became Closely Associated With The AIDS Charities
John became more closely associated with AIDS charities. This came following the deaths of his friends Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury in 1991. The Grammy-winning artist would raise large amounts of money to raise awareness of the disease.
In 1992, John established the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The organization supports its work through proceeds in a variety of ways, from special events to cause-related marketing projects and voluntary contributions.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation Provides To About 150 Organizations
John has funded programs which range across all aspects of the disease and all needs of People With Aids, including prevention, treatment, and education. But, part of the strategy is to effectively support people affected By HIV risk groups or under-attended regions with high prevalences of HIV.
Every year, the foundation throws a viewing party for the Academy Awards, which has become one of the most desired invitations in the entertainment industry.
In 1993, John Began A Relationship With David Furnish
Furnish is a Canadian who was born and raised in Toronto. He eventually became a filmmaker and was previously an advertising executive. In an interview with Parade, the musician spoke of how the two met.
“I wanted to meet new people so I rang up a friend in London and said, ‘Could you please rattle some new people together for dinner here Saturday?” One of the people at the dinner party was his future husband.
Twelve Years After Meeting, Elton Popped The Question
John popped the question when the two were dining in their Windsor home. On December 21, 2005, John and Furnish were among the first couples to form a civil partnership in the United Kingdom. After gay marriage became legal in England in March 2014, the pair married in Windsor, Berkshire, on the ninth anniversary of their partnership.
They have two sons through a surrogate. Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John and Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John.
The Producers Accepted Tim Rice’s Suggestion For Elton For The Lion King
The lyricist was invited to write songs for the movie, on the condition of finding a composing partner. Nevertheless, John expressed the desire to write “ultra-pop songs that kids would like; then adults can go see those movies and get just as much pleasure out of them.”
John and Rice would write five original songs for the film — “Circle of Life,” “I Just Want To Be King,” “Be Prepared,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The Songs Proved To Be A Smashing Sucess
At the 67th Academy Awards, three of the five nominees for Best Song were from The Lion King soundtrack. John took home the award with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” That same song won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 37th Grammy Awards.
In 1994, John reached another new acclaim. This time, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Taupin And John Re-Wrote Candle In The Wind For Princess Diana’s Funeral
The Grammy-Oscar winning artist caused millions to weep as he sang the re-worked version of “Candle In The Wind.” All the lyrics were changed to reflect the Princess’s life following her tragic death. John originally wrote the single in 1973 to honor Marilyn Monroe.
The song was recorded at Townhouse Suites as “Candle In The Wind 1997.” Diana and Elton had been friends since 1981 when he performed at Prince Andrew’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle.
In October 2003, He Signed A Deal To Perform 75 Shows At Caesars Palace
The show, The Red Piano, went on for over three years on the Las Vegas Strip. The show was a multimedia concert which featured massive props and video montages from David LaChapelle.
He and Celine Dion even shared performances at Caesars Palace throughout the year. John and Dion sang together at the venue to raise money for Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. workers after the 2005 hurricanes. They performed “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting.)”
He Performed At The Concert Held For Diana At Wembley Stadium
On July 1, 2007, John appeared at the concert in honor of Diana, who would have been 46. The proceeds from the concert went to Diana’s charities, including the charities of her sons Prince William and Prince Harry, who are patrons.
John opened up his performance with “Your Song” and eventually closed it out with “Tiny Dancer” and “Are Your Ready For Love?” The concert was broadcast in 140 different countries across the world.
On January 24, 2018, John Made A Big Announcement
It was announced that the musician would be retiring from touring and would soon embark on a three-year farewell tour. The Yellow Brick Road tour’s first stop was announced to take place at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania on September 8, 2018. The tour will be split up into four legs.
The fourth leg of the tour will conclude on December 16, 2020, at The O2 Arena in London.
After The Tour Is Over, He’s Looking Forward To One Thing
John has been apart of the music industry for the past 50 years. When he sat down with Good Morning Britain, he was ready to say goodbye to the touring life. Essentially, he’s had enough of it all.
He said: ‘I’m looking forward to saying goodbye. It’s not a publicity stunt because I am saying goodbye to touring, I’ve had enough.” It’s no surprise that he wants to move on and do different things.
He Wants To Spend More Time With His Kids
In an interview with Deadline, the singer admitted he wants to be around his kids more. John even shot down UK tabloid rumors that he was leaving the road because of an illness.
He said, “My priorities have changed in my life. 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 had an amazing life and career.”
Paramount Pictures Is Releasing A Biopic
Rocketman is an upcoming biographical musical film based on John’s life. The musician and his husband will serve as producers for the movie. The film will follow John’s early days as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music.
The biopic was announced in January 2012, with Dexter Fletcher signing on as the director. Welsh actor and singer Taron Egerton, who starred in Eddie the Eagle, was picked to play John. The film will be released in May 2019.