Tantrums, tiaras and tunes: a lifetime of Elton John
It seems to us, he’s lived his life like a candle in the wind . . . As Elton John releases his 30th solo album and the first in seven years, we look back at his colourful career
Having declared himself bisexual via a 1976 interview he gave to Rolling Stone (he has since admitted that saying he was bisexual rather than homosexual was “a cop-out . . . because I was probably scared”), John surprised all and sundry by marrying a close friend, Renate Blauel, in 1984. The reasoning behind it, John has said, was an attempt to offset deep unhappiness and, ultimately, his inability to address the real issue, which was that he was a drug addict. Albums were released, but quality control remained an issue; personal problems continued, not least divorce, throat surgery (which altered the tone and timbre of his singing voice) and, in 1987, his famous, successful libel case against the Sun, which had published false allegations of John’s sex “romps” with rent boys.
Throughout the 1980s, though, it was John’s addiction to cocaine (as well as being rather partial to joints and Martinis) that set him on a hellish odyssey. It had to stop, but not just yet.
“I was a complete, f***ed-up mess,” he has said. “I destroyed a lot of relationships – the only thing I didn’t destroy was my career. I’d spend days in my room doing coke . . . You get up in the morning, surrounded by empty bottles, the mirror’s covered in smears of cocaine – and the first thing you do is lick the mirror.”
From the 1990s to the present day, John has settled into a life that would have been unthinkable a decade or two earlier. Drug and alcohol-free, he took on a proactive role of involvement in the fight against Aids, establishing the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992 and – from 1993 – the hosting of an annual fundraising Academy Awards party, which to date has raised more than $200 million.
John became even more of a British national treasure in 1997, when a new version of Candle in the Wind was performed at the funeral of his close friend, Diana Princess of Wales, at Westminster Abbey; the revised single (known as Candle in the Wind 1997) went on to sell more than 33 million copies, making it the biggest-selling single of all time. John was knighted a year later.
There followed a sequence of largely forgettable albums, many more hit singles, music for animated movies and Broadway shows (The Lion King, Gnomeo & Juliet), West-End musicals (Billy Elliot), Las Vegas residencies; he and David Furnish became civil partners on December 21st, 2005 (the day that the Civil Partnership Act came into force), the births of two sons and the accumulation of wealth believed to be in excess of €200 million (and that’s a conservative estimate).
Latterly, John has returned to his musical roots with 2001’s Songs from the West Coast, 2004’s Peachtree Road, 2010’s The Union, and his new album, The Diving Board. An interesting point, however: John has never written lyrics for any of his songs, making him the most successful male solo artist of all time (according to Billboard) to have never sung directly about his own life experiences.