Me by Elton John
Many people dream of one day becoming famous. Elton John was certainly one of them until he hit it big with his first single, “Your Song”, and his dreams became a reality. With fame came a lot of surreal experiences: like taking over the runway at Iggy’s fashion show dressed like a giant ape (for starters). But, fame isn’t all fun, and John learned no matter how many records he sold he couldn’t shake feeling shy and uncomfortable after growing up in an abusive household. He eventually turned to alcohol, drugs, and food to cope. Read on to learn about John’s early childhood, why he finally got clean, and which two celebrities fought over princess Diana at one of his dinner parties.
Elton John was born in 1947. He had a complicated relationship with his parents. His father, Stanley, was a strict disciplinarian, and John spent most of his childhood trying to avoid spankings. He got in trouble for a variety of seemingly menial things: from how he took off his school uniform blazer to how he ate celery. He was afraid of his mother. She beat him with a wire brush until he bled in order to help potty train him when he was only 2 years old. Though John felt they should have divorced much earlier, his parents stayed together until he was 11 years old. After his parents divorced, John’s father met someone else and started a new family who he was warm and affectionate towards, while his attitude towards John didn’t change. He refused to see him play live in concert, and never acknowledged being proud of John for his successes. His dad died in 1991, and John did not attend his funeral. At that point, they hadn’t spoken in years. His mom’s attitude towards John also remained consistent: she remained cruel and critical of John throughout his life. When he married long-time boyfriend David Furnish, she made many homophobic comments to the other guests. John speculates that she wasn’t necessarily against gay marriage, but she didn’t want anyone having any influence over his life besides her.
Though his family situation, while he was growing up, was difficult, there was one thing which brought him joy: music. He could pick up the melody of a song and play it on the piano accurately at the age of three. He was deeply obsessed with pop music. John recalls the first time he saw a photo of Elvis Presley: he thought Elvis looked like an alien. When he heard Elvis’ record, “Heartbreak Hotel,” he thought Elvis sounded like an alien… and he loved it. He fell in love with rock and roll. John’s father wasn’t supportive of his love of rock and roll and worried the music would make him into a criminal because it highlighted content at the time that was considered explicit or sinful. The only “negative” impact of the music was that it made John less interested in playing classical songs on the piano. He had lessons every Saturday. He was educated at the royal academy of music, a prestigious school he had to pass a test to get into. On occasion, he would ditch class and ride on the subway, dreaming of playing rock and roll music like his heroes instead of classical songs on the piano.
When John was 15 years old, he scored his first paying gig playing music. He would play songs on the piano at a pub, with a jar on his piano for tips. The bar was so rowdy that the customers would get into fights. In order to avoid being caught in the crossfire, John found a nearby window to climb out of. At 17, he left school and joined his first band. They were called Bluesology. Though they played a few shows, they didn’t have much success with their two songs (written by John) entitled “Come Back Baby” and “Mr. Frantic”. Low on funds, John started working as a session musician. He did covers of popular pop songs, impersonated voices of other celebrities, and even recorded a song entitled “Young, Gifted and Black”, which was quite wrong while being sung by a small white boy.
John has his first solo audition with a music label in 1967 and he failed miserably. However, a chance encounter after the audition changed his life. Bernie Taupin was a songwriter who had been sending his lyrics to the label for a while. When John left his audition, the executive producer gave him an envelope off of his desk. The envelope contained lyrics written by Bernie Taupin. There were tons of envelopes on his desk, he just happened to give John the one that would change his life. John read the lyrics and he was impressed: they were haunting and complex. They met in person and John was even more impressed. Taupin was good looking, handsome, and surprisingly: worked at a chicken farm. In 1968 the two moved in together. Bernie wrote lyrics, and John would add music. After trying and failing repeatedly to write successful songs, the two of them moved in with John’s mother: sleeping in John’s bunk beds. One morning, Taupin came up with the lyrics to “Your Song” at breakfast. John set them to music. After writing the song, they met with a record label who offered them 6,000 pounds to make an album. They had created their first album, which would go to be nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970.
Though John had humble beginnings, his life after becoming famous was anything but humble, or normal. John recounts once being on so much cocaine he didn’t realize that Bob Dylan was at his house party: in fact, he mistook him for a gardener and demanded that he leave. In the 90s, John threw a party so he could introduce his mom to his new boyfriend, David Furnish. He invited a guest who happened to be a psychiatrist, who then (after obtaining approval) brought one of his patients. It turned out to be Michael Jackson, who insisted they sit inside, and spent the entirety of the party sitting in silence. He disappeared towards the end and was found playing with the housekeeper's son. Another bizarre encounter occurred when Elton decided to dress up as a gorilla and get on stage during one of Iggy’s shows. Iggy was so high on drugs he thought John actually was a gorilla. Iggy’s security guard, uncertain of what to do, handled the situation by throwing John off of the stage. John was surprised, after stomping around on the stage, to find himself midair! On another occasion, John decided to throw a dinner party, where he invited Richard Gere, Princess Diana, and Sylvester Stallone amongst his other guests. When they sat down to eat, John noticed three of his guests were missing. He went outside to discover Richard Gere and Sylvester in a fight trying to get princess Diana’s attention: and she was clearly more fond of Richard Gere! Stalone ended up leaving the party in a huff. John had another surreal experience when he was invited to Prince Andrew’s 21st Birthday Party at Windsor Castle. The DJ played the music incredibly low, as he didn’t want to offend the queen, who John found himself dancing with after she approached him on the dancefloor. He tried to avoid stepping on a floorboard, so as to not drown out the extremely quiet music coming from the DJ. As he was dancing, he thought about how strange it was that he, a working-class kid, was dancing with royalty.
John struggled with addiction. John talks about his addiction to food, alcohol, and drugs. Though on the outside he was known for being a talented song-writer and celebrity, on the inside, he could never escape feeling like that scared little boy with parents who grew up with abusive parents. He felt like he had finally found the solution when he tried cocaine for the first time. He felt like he could do anything: and his shyness was gone. He loved cocaine and alcohol, but they made him destructive. One morning, after a night of partying, he noticed his assistant’s room hotel room had been destroyed. He asked what happened, and his assistant responded: “You happened!”. John woke up after another drug binge to the phone ringing: apparently he had ordered a tram carriage. It took two helicopters to unload it into his garden. Along with drugs, John also struggled with food addiction: he would eat significant portions and then force himself to throw up because he was afraid of gaining weight. Elton hit bottom after locking himself away for two weeks with whiskey, cocaine, and porn. He was doing lines every five minutes. He decided after that he wanted to go to rehab and checked in to a clinic in Chicago. After attending for 6 days, he left again. They expected him to wash his clothes and make his bed, and he had no idea how to do that. His assistants always did stuff like that for him. He was too embarrassed to tell anyone he didn’t know-how. As he was leaving, after he got back to the car park, he realized he didn’t want to go back to the drugs and porn. He checked himself back in, finding he actually enjoyed some aspects of getting sober. One of his favorite parts of rehab was that he got to experience being treated like everyone else. While he was there, he was just another addict. He is still sober to this day and got to play a meaningful role in helping others like Rufus Wainwright to get sober too.
In October of 1976, John experienced the peak of his career. He played to an audience of 55,000 fans at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The weather was perfect. Two days earlier, he had unveiled his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That week had been declared by the LA Time as “Elton John Week”. He knew that this was the moment of the most success he would ever experience, and he was ok with it. He always understood how fame and success work: primarily, that they don’t last forever. Instead of trying to recapture moments like those, he has branched out instead: doing things like writing music for the 1990s Disney classic, Lion King. He even took home the academy award for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. His most meaningful project was adapting a version of “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Diana’s funeral. He was close to Diana, and the family asked him to. He was absolutely terrified to perform it, worried that he might slip up when he sang the lyrics. Luckily, he successfully performed it in front of the guests at the funeral and the billions of people who tuned in to watch the televised event. For many years afterward, John refused to play that song or the adaptation at his concerts or events.
It has been a wild ride for John: full of crazy parties and surreal experiences. He has also experienced incredible challenges like addiction and family struggles. John has finally reached a point of security and contentment. Currently, he is happily married to a man he loves, two sons who bring him joy.
Many people dream of one day becoming famous. Elton John was certainly one of them until he hit it big with his first single, “Your Song”, and his dreams became a reality. With fame came a lot of surreal experiences: like taking over the runway at Iggy’s fashion show dressed like a giant ape (for starters). But, fame isn’t all fun, and John learned no matter how many records he sold he couldn’t shake feeling shy and uncomfortable after growing up in an abusive household. He eventually turned to alcohol, drugs, and food to cope. Read on to learn about John’s early childhood, where he struggled with abusive parents, and dad who eventually walked away. Discover how a chance encounter at a failed attempt to sign with a record company ended up changing John’s life. Learn about the depths John’s addiction took him to, and what event finally led him to seek treatment for his addiction to cocaine. And finally, find out which two celebrities fought over Princess Diana at one of his dinner parties, leading to one of them leaving in a huff!