Elton John is a singer, pianist and composer. He is one of Britain’s biggest musical icons, having sold over 300 million records. He has also found success on Broadway, composing the score for Billy Elliott, which went on to win 10 Tony Awards. His Elton John AIDS Foundation was established in 1992 and has since brought in more than $400 million to support HIV/AIDS programmes across the globe.
Elton Hercules John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25th, 1947, in Middlesex, England. He has always had a strong passion for music, and he taught himself to play piano aged just four years old. Just prior to his A-Level exams, he left sixth form to pursue a career in music. He had also won a scholarship to a youth programme at the Royal Academy of Music in London aged eleven.
John's father, Stanley Dwight, was a member of the RAF, and he and Elton had a strained relationship throughout Elton’s teenage years. Stanley wanted his son to pursue a career in something more conventional, such as banking, and he was dismayed when Elton chose to pursue a career in music, despite being a semi-professional trumpet player himself.
When John was still a teenager, his parents divorced. John had always been raised predominantly by his mother and maternal grandmother, with his mother being something more of a free spirit than his father was. She later married Fred Farebrother, a local painter who doted on Elton and called him “Derf”, which is Fred backwards.
Aged fifteen, John was hired by a local pub as a pianist, where he would play at the weekends. He played popular songs as well as some of his own songs. He also did a stint with a short-lived group called The Corvettes.
Elton's first real venture into performing was as part of a group called Bluesology, which was when he came up with his stage name, Elton John, from the names of two of the other members of the group. By the mid-1960s, Bluesology was supporting touring American soul and R&B musicians.
In 1967, John responded to an advert for a songwriter for Liberty Records. He was offered the job and he teamed up with Bernie Taupin, with the duo switching to the DJM label the next year, writing songs for other artists. At this point, Elton was regularly going by the name Elton John, and he legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John in 1972.
His first break as a singer came in 1969, with his first album, Empty Sky, which featured songs by John and Taupin. The album didn’t enjoy great success, however, the follow-up album, titled Elton John, which was released in 1970, featured Elton’s first big hit, Your Song, which reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart and number eight in the US. The album reached number four on the US Billboard 200, and number five on the UK Albums Chart. The albums that followed also enjoyed great success, with Madman Across the Water in 1971, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 1973, and Rock of the Westies in 1975.
Elton's first American concert came in 1970 at the Troubadour in LA, with the concept album, Tumbleweed Connection, being released later that year and enjoying great success. Throughout the course of the 1970s, John became equally famous for his live performances as for his music. His glamorous and extravagant costumes became instantly recognisable and were often part of the reason that people would attend his shows.
In 1973, John founded The Rocket Record Company and signed notable acts such as Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee, the latter of whom went on to release Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Elton in 1976. Around this time, he decided to take a break from performing, instead focusing on the football team that he co-owned here in England for a few years and cutting down his albums to just one a year.
It was around the time that John announced he was stepping down from performing that he also came out as a bisexual man (it was later on that he then came out as a gay man). He then became the subject of controversy and ridicule due to his sexuality, a controversy which eventually died down.
In 1992, John had told Rolling Stone magazine he was “quite comfortable about being gay”, after having come out as bisexual in 1976. In 1993, he began his relationship with David Furnish, who is now his husband. On the 21st of December 2005, they were among the first couples to form a civil partnership in the UK. In 2014, same-sex marriage became legal in the UK, and so the couple made the move to marriage in December of that year, on the ninth anniversary of their civil partnership. In 2008, John had said he preferred civil partnerships to marriage for same-sex couples, but by 2012 he had become a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage.
John and Furnish now have two sons together, Zachary and Elijah. Both of the couple’s children were born via the same surrogate, with Zachary being born in 2010, and Elijah being born in 2013. John also has ten godchildren, including Brooklyn Beckham and Romeo Beckham.
Over the years, John has made comments about Jesus being a gay man and saying Jesus would have supported same-sex marriage, which have drawn criticism from the Christian community. He is said to have received death threats, and a man was arrested for making terrorist threats against him after posting a YouTube video saying that Elton John had to die.
In 1979, John and Taupin reunited their duo, though they didn’t produce an album together again until 1983. Throughout the 1980s, John continued to have huge hits, including I’m Still Standing, and I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues. In 1985, John performed at Live Aid in Wembley Stadium, among many other superstar performers. The 1980s also saw him marry his now ex-wife, who was his friend and sound engineer Renate Blauel, though the marriage only lasted three years before they divorced. In 1987, John won a libel case against The Sun, who had published false claims about him having sex with rent boys.
In 1985, John had his highest charting single of the decade. It was a collaboration with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, and it was called That’s What Friends Are For. It reached number one in the US, and raised funds for HIV and AIDS research.
In 1994, John teamed up with lyricist Tim Rice and branched out in a different direction, working on several different projects. Together they wrote songs for The Lion King soundtrack, bringing him his first Academy Award for Best Original Song. They also won a Tony Award for their musical, Aida, in 2000. Elton was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
On the topic of honours, Elton also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1975. In 1995, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and he was later knighted by the Queen in 1998 for his charitable work, officially making him a Sir. In 2020 he was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to music and charity.
During the summer of 1997, John lost two close friends – Gianni Versace and Diana, Princess of Wales. He an Taupin reworked their 1973 classic song, Candle in the Wind, in Diana’s honour that same year, with the proceeds going towards a charitable trust which had been established in her honour. The song sold more than thirty million copies that same year. The 1990s were a difficult time for John personally, as he had also entered rehab in 1990 for substance abuse issues, particularly cocaine abuse, which is thought to have triggered epileptic fits.
In 1992, Elton established his Elton John AIDS Foundation, a charitable organisation working to fight HIV and AIDS. In the years since the foundation was established, it has brought in more than $400 million to support HIV and AIDS programmes across the globe. The Foundation hosts an annual White Tie & Tiara Ball to raise funds for the organisation.
Over the years, Elton’s music career has gone from strength to strength. Including soundtrack and collaboration albums as well as studio albums, he has released 41 albums in total, many of which have gone on to win him awards. He wrote the score for Billy Elliott on Broadway, winning him ten Tony Awards.
In 2019, Rocketman, a biopic about his life was released. He was played by Taron Egerton, and the film was premiered at the May 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It had excellent musical scenes and unflinchingly portrayed his life and sexuality. He followed up with a publication of an autobiography, Me, later that year.