Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
March 25, 1947
1960s - Present
Currently Known For:
Musician, Singer, Songwriter, and Composer
Your Song, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets
“Fame attracts lunatics.” A British icon and one of the best-selling music artists in the world, Elton Hercules John launched his music career in the early 1960s only to find fame later in the decade after he teamed up with lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1967 to release his debut album, Empty Sky. With the album’s success, John skyrocketed to stardom as he and Taupin settled into a groove for John’s next 30 albums, selling over 300 million records and releasing over 50 Top 40 Hits. Along the way, John earned dozens of accolades including five Brit Awards, five Grammy Awards, one Golden Globe Award, one Academy Award, one Tony Award, and one Disney Legends Award. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in the mid-1990s, the honors just keep coming with John named as the Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Solo Male Artist in 2013. With the recent announcement of his three-year farewell tour beginning in September 2018, let’s take a look at John’s early career and his life today as a music icon and living legend!
From Pub Pianist to International Icon
Long before he adopted his stage name as Elton John or even dreamed of becoming a star, Reginald Kenneth Dwight was born on March 25, 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex, England where his father was a Royal Air Force flight lieutenant who played the trumpet for the Bob Millar Band. With his parents exposing him to a variety of music from an early age, John started playing piano at the age of three and spent the next few years picking out melodies by ear before starting formal lessons at the age of seven. By the time he reached elementary school, it was apparent that John was especially talented as he often performed for his classmates channeling his favorite artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley & His Comets.
At 11 years old, John won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where his talent was undeniable as he spent the next five years taking classes and learning Chopin, Bach and Handel. However, the experience wasn’t exactly enjoyable for John who dreamed of playing rock and roll music. “I kind of resented going to the Academy,” he later admitted. “I was one of those children who could just about get away without practicing and still pass, scrape through the grades.”
Despite his undeniable talent, John’s father encouraged him to pursue a more traditional and stable career in banking while his mother, a kindred free spirit, encouraged him to follow his musical dreams. Eventually, his parents divorced when he was 14 leaving his mother to remarry a local painter who was incredibly supportive of John’s talents. With more support at home, John courageously worked on new music and accepted his first paying gig playing piano at a local pub in the Northwood Hills Hotel when he was 15 years old. Playing covers of Ray Charles and Jim Reeves in between his own original songs, he teamed up with his friend to create the Bluesology band who later backed popular bands like Major Lance and the Isley Brothers.
John’s career took a different turn in 1967 when he answered an advertisement for Liberty Records in the British magazine, New Musical Express. Landing the meeting and invited to audition as a composer, John was introduced to lyricist Bernie Taupin. Together, the duo was tasked to write lyrics and music for the label as John officially adopted his stage name in homage to his former Bluesology bandmates, saxophonist Elton Dean and vocalist Long John Baldry.
“I answered an advert to become a songwriter for Liberty Records,” John later said. “I never expected to be me. I was very shy and timid and a little overweight. I would have absolutely settled for being a great songwriter, but they gave me some of Bernie’s lyrics and we teamed up and it turned out that we were absolutely terrible at writing songs for Cilla Black and Tom Jones, which is what we were signed to do, so they told us to make our own records. I changed my name, and it was like this Ziggy Stardust moment, a huge release, but everything that happened after that was just hard work and kismet, the stars were aligned, I never expected it or planned it.”
Rise to Fame
John released his first album, Empty Sky, in 1969 just a year after he and Taupin were hired as songwriters for DJM Records. While there, he wrote several songs for the label before he released his second album, Elton John, featuring the single “Border Song” that ranked at #92 on the US Top 100 chart. Following the success of his first single, he released “Your Song” and earned even greater praise as the single ranked eighth on the US Singles Chart and seventh on the UK Singles Chart while the album itself ranked in the top five in both the US and UK. This incredible feat inspired John to launch his first American tour where he performed in Los Angeles and New York.
Going on to release Tumbleweed Collection (1970), Madman Across the Water (1971), Honky Chateau (1972), Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973), and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), John started his own record label in 1974 named The Rocket Record Company. The move was incredibly profitable for the young John who signed a deal with the American label, MCA, for $8 million to release his albums. This included his first Greatest Hits album that ranked at the top of the charts in the US and UK. From there, John initiated the first of many impressive collaborations when he teamed up with the legendary John Lennon to cover The Beatles’ single “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The duo later performed the cover and “I Saw Her Standing There” in front of a sold-out crowd at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Repeating the same success with chart-topping albums like Blue Moves (1976), 21 at 33 (1980), Breaking Hearts (1984), Leather Jackets (1986), The One (1992) and dozens of others, John adopted a unique flair for performing with extravagant costumes and showmanship that sealed his fate as one of the greatest musicians in the world. He extended his reach to musical theatre with productions on the West End and Broadway in addition to his work for films and productions of The Lion King, Billy Elliot the Musical, and Aida. Most recently, he returned to the studio to release his latest album, Wonderful Crazy Night (2016), in addition to composing the score for the Broadway musical adaptation of the novel and film, The Devil Wears Prada.
Amid his incredible success as one of the best-selling and most awarded musicians in the world, John’s personal life has often come into question especially after many suggested his early relationships with Linda Woodrow and Renate Blauel were meant to hide his homosexuality. Although he later came out as bisexual in 1976, John’s personal life took a new turn in the early 1990s when he met and fell in love with David Furnish, an advertising executive turned filmmaker. As their relationship evolved and the couple later formed a civil partnership in December 2005, Furnish took on more responsibility in John’s professional career and stepped in to oversee The Rocket Record Company, which led to an 18-month cost-cutting exercise that earned Furnish the nickname “Yoko Ono” after he supposedly worked to cut everyone out of John’s life.
“Oh, I’m a recluse, what a load of bullshit,” John said of the rumors. “My businesses have been badly run for the last five or six years, he’s come in, had a look at what’s gone on, pruned a few people away, made it a leaner, meaner machine. We’ve made some changes and some of them haven’t been very popular because people don’t like being gotten rid of, which is quite right. On a human level, I understand that people are hurt; on the other hand, they needed to go.”
Even bigger changes were in store for John in 2009 when he and Furnish tried to adopt a Ukrainian boy named Lev during their visit to an orphanage for HIV-positive children. As a gay couple, they were refused the adoption but continued to provide for Lev and his brother. “I always said no to having kids, because I’m too old, too set in my ways, too selfish, the lifestyle doesn’t suit me,” John said. “But I said, ‘This boy we met was trying to tell me something.’”
In 2010, John and Furnish welcomed their oldest son, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, via surrogate followed by their youngest son, Elijah, in 2013, both of whom have given John a new lease on life and altered his priorities. Ultimately realizing how much of his sons’ lives he’ll miss while on the road, John has made a huge decision to launch his three-year farewell tour that will start in September 2018. “Years ago, I didn’t have anything,” John says of his decision. “I wanted to die on the stage. That’s all I had. Now I don’t. I’ve got children. I want to come off the road. I want to be there. I want to take them to baseball, I want to take them to soccer games. My life is completely changed.”