Photo: David Shankbone / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Full name: Sir Elton Hercules John
Born: March 25, 1947
Age: 72 years
Born Place: Pinner, United Kingdom
Spouse: Renate Blauel (m. 1984; div. 1988) ||| David Furnish (m. 2014)
- pop rock
- glam rock
- soft rock
Sir Elton Hercules John CH CBE (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight; 25 March 1947) is an English singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer. Collaborating with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967 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 number 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 biggest high-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. Growing up he states, “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it. I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”
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.
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”. Woodrow provided financial assistance to John and Taupin at the time. John ended the relationship two weeks before their intended wedding, after being advised by Taupin. In 2020, John helped pay for Woodrow’s medical fees, when she requested, despite not having been in contact for around 50 years.
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. The relationship ended five years later, although Reid remained his manager until 1998.
John married German recording engineer Renate Blauel on 14 February 1984, in an extravagant wedding ceremony at Darling Point, New South Wales, Australia. The Daily Australian wrote, “It was Valentine’s Day, and Elton John was making one last attempt at being heterosexual”. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1988. John stated, “She was the classiest woman I’ve ever met, but it wasn’t meant to be. I was living a lie.”
John had come out as bisexual in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, and in 1992 he told Rolling Stone in another interview 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 via surrogacy on 25 December 2010 in California. The younger, Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John, was born on 11 January 2013 via the same surrogate. 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. John said,
“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”.
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.
John has appeared in commercials for Diet Coke, the Royal Mail, Snickers, John Lewis & Partners department store among others. First endorsing Diet Coke in 1990, authors Roger Blackwell and Tina Stephan wrote “the relationship of Elton John and Diet Coke is one of the classic success stories in the role of sponsorship in brand building.” His 2018 John Lewis & Partners Christmas advert in the UK, titled, “The Boy & The Piano”, sees him reminisce about his life and career in reverse, eventually culminating with Christmas Day in the 1950s when he received a piano for Christmas from his mother.
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.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
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.