Elton John’s highs and lows, photo flashback | Gallery
6:29am PDT, Mar 26, 2021
Elton John — who was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in London’s Pinner neighborhood in 1947 — started playing piano when he was just 3 years old. While his father, who served as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force during World War II, was strict, his mother exposed him to rock ‘n’ roll at an early age and encouraged his interest in music. At 11, Reggie won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music. He started playing a weekend residency at a local pub when he was 15 and dropped out of school two years later — just shy of graduation — to pursue a career as a musician.
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During the early ’60s, Elton John (second from left) joined a band called the Corvettes, which eventually reformed as Bluesology. They served as the backing band for artists like the Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle but ultimately failed to gain traction with music of their own. After several lineup changes, the group disbanded around 1967. It would leave a lasting impression on Reginald Dwight though: His stage name is an homage to two of his former bandmates, saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry. He legally became Elton John in 1967.
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Elton John first connected with lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1967 when they both responded to a Liberty Records advertisement seeking talent for a new group that had been placed in the British pop music weekly New Musical Express. The duo became writing partners and then staff songwriters for DJM Records in 1968 — all while Elton was working as a session musician for other recording artists.
Elton John first connected with Linda Woodrow (pictured in 2010) in 1968. The duo lived together in London, where she worked as a secretary to support them, and eventually became engaged. But Elton dumped Linda in 1970 before they made it to the altar. He wrote the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” about the end of their relationship. Ouch!
In 1969, Elton John released his debut album, “Empty Sky.” But it wasn’t until the following year — once he’d started touring across Britain and performed his first American gig at The Troubadour in West Hollywood — that he became a sensation with his self-titled album, which featured his first big hit, “Your Song,” and for which he earned three Grammy nominations.
In 1973, Elton John founded his own label, The Rocket Record Company. The following year, John Lennon joined him onstage during a concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It was the Beatles musician’s final concert before his death in 1980.
Elton John made his feature-film debut in 1975’s “Tommy.” He portrayed the pinball wizard in the hit musical drama, which earned two Oscar nominations.
A Hollywood star for the Rocketman! In 1975, Elton John received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was just 28 at the time.
In November 1975, Elton John played a series of concerts at Los Angeles’s Dodger Stadium as part of the city’s Elton John Week. He then attempted suicide by swallowing 60 Valium pills at his mansion in L.A.’s Bel Air neighborhood. The superstar, who’d struggled with cocaine addiction and alcoholism as well as depression and bulimia, would continue to struggle with substance abuse issues until the early ’90s when he finally got clean.
In 1976, Elton John came out as bisexual during an interview with Rolling Stone. He also claimed — despite rampant speculation that he and manager John Reid were romantically involved — that he hadn’t been in a serious relationship since he and Linda Woodrow parted ways.
On Feb. 14, 1984, Elton John married German sound engineer Renate Blauel. But it wasn’t meant to be: Their marriage was dissolved on Nov. 18, 1988.
Elton John took home his first Grammy in 1987. He shared the award for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder for their cover of “That’s What Friends Are For.” The foursome reunited at a charity event in New York City in early 2011.
In 1992, Elton John founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He brought the organization to Britain the following year.
In 1993, Elton John met and fell for Canadian advertising executive David Furnish. “We fell in love very quickly,” the singer told Parade magazine in 2010.
In 1994, Elton John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose.
At the 1995 Golden Globe Awards, Elton John won big! That evening, he (and lyricist Tim Rice) took home the award for best original song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” which was featured in Disney’s animated film “The Lion King.” This wasn’t the only major award the duo won that year…
Elton John collaborated with Tim Rice on music for the 1995 animated film “The Lion King,” which eventually became a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Three of their tracks earned Academy Award nominations for best original song — and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” ultimately won. Elton and Tim worked together again on the 2000 Broadway musical “Aida,” which won four Tony Awards. (Elton’s third major musical, “Billy Elliot the Musical,” opened in London in 2005 and went on to win 10 Tonys.)
In 1996, Elton John founded his own production company, Rocket Pictures. Partner David Furnish directed the company’s debut project, the 1997 documentary “Elton John: Tantrums & Tiaras,” which chronicled the superstar on his “Made in England” tour. Rocket Pictures has since produced the feature films “Women Talking Dirty,” “It’s a Boy Girl Thing” and “Gnomeo & Juliet.” (Elton earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2012 for the song “Hello Hello” from the animated Romeo and Juliet spoof.)
In 1997, Elton John re-recorded his 1973 song “Candle in the Wind” to honor his friend Princess Diana following her tragic death. He performed the ballad, with updated lyrics reflecting his late friend’s life, at her funeral in London’s Westminster Abbey but has not performed it again since — and has said that he won’t unless specifically asked to by her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. Elton won a Grammy for the 1997 version of the song, which benefited the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and is still one of the best-selling singles of all time, but sank into a depression over the loss of Diana and their mutual friend Gianni Versace earlier that year.
Spice up your life! In 1998, Elton John made an appearance in the musical comedy film “Spice World.” He’s seen here alongside Spice Girls members Victoria Beckham, Melanie Chisholm, Mel B, Emma Bunton and Geri Halliwell while filming the movie.
In 1998, Elton John officially became Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE, when Queen Elizabeth knighted him for “services to music and charitable services.” (The duo were photographed together three years later at a royal concert.)
Elton John and Tim Rice are seen here in March 2000 at the opening night of “Aida,” their four-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.
Elton John’s “The Red Piano” show launched at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 2004. After 241 performances, the residency finally came to an end in April 2009. The superstar returned to the venue in September 2011 for his “The Million Dollar Piano” residency show, which ended in 2018.
On May 12, 2005, Elton John attended the opening night and world premiere of his latest musical, “Billy Elliot: The Musical” in London. He’s seen here hitting the event’s red carpet with David Furnish. They entered into a civil partnership seven months later.
In 2005, Britain passed a law allowing same-sex couples to form civil partnerships. That same day, Elton John and longtime love David Furnish made their relationship legal at England’s Windsor Guildhall.
On Dec. 25, 2010, Elton John and David Furnish welcomed their first child, son Zachary, via surrogate. (They named pal Lady Gaga their baby boy’s godmother.)
Elton John and Leon Russell were the subjects of the 2011 Cameron Crowe documentary “The Union,” which chronicled the making of their eponymous 2010 T-Bone Burnett-produced album.
On Jan. 11, 2013, Elton John and David Furnish welcomed their second child, son Elijah, via surrogate.
A wedding! The same year gay marriage was legalized in Britain, Elton John married civil partner David Furnish in Windsor, England. The longtime couple married on Dec. 21, 2014, on the ninth anniversary of their civil partnership. They’re seen here at a fashion party in London six months later in June 2015.
On Feb. 5, 2016, Elton John released his 33rd studio album, “Wonderful Crazy Night.” The album marked Elton’s first full album recorded with his touring band since 2006’s “The Captain & the Kid.”
Elton John and Lady Gaga — who’s the godmother of his two sons with David Furnish — are seen here at the Vanity Fair Oscars Party on Feb. 28, 2016. While chatting with Heart in 2018, Elton revealed that Gaga is “very hands on. She comes whenever can she can and visits the boys. She bathes them, she sings to them, she reads stories to them. She’s the greatest godmother. She really cares. She leads a very heavy-scheduled life, but she always finds time for them.” He added that they call her “GaGa-mother.” Cute!
Elton John started off 2017 with a bang! In January, he announced that he would be composing the score for a Broadway musical version of the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada.” He also appeared in two films in 2017: the award-winning documentary “The American Epic Sessions” and the action sequel “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” which starred Taron Egerton, who was cast as Elton in the 2019 biopic “Rocketman.”
Fans around the world shed a tear in January 2018 when Elton John announced that he would be retiring from touring after a big farewell tour. “Ten years ago if you asked me if I would stop touring I would have said no. But we had children and that changed our lives. I have had an amazing life and career but my life has changed. My priorities are now my children and my husband and my family,” he told journalist Anderson Cooper of his decision. The three-year concert trek, the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, began in September 2018 and is scheduled to end in 2021.
Elton John had a very special wedding gift for Prince Harry and new bride Duchess Meghan in May 2018: The music star performed at their lunchtime wedding reception, which was hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle. “Prince Harry asked Sir Elton to perform,” the palace revealed, adding that the music legend was asked “in recognition of the close connection he has with Prince Harry and his family.” Elton reportedly performed “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Circle of Life” and “I’m Still Standing.”
In May 2019, Elton John released a new song, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” in celebration of his new biopic. The track was written especially for “Rocketman” and was performed by both Elton and the film’s star, Taron Egerton, who sang with the music legend at a “Rocketman” party during the 72nd Annual Cannes Film Festival in France on May 16, 2019.
On June 21, 2019, Elton John was presented with the Legion d’honneur — France’s highest civilian decoration. He’s here with France’s President Emmanuel Macron during the event at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
He’s an author too! On Oct. 15, 2019, Elton John’s “first and only autobiography,” “Me,” was released. The memoir, which was ghostwritten by British journalist Alexis Petridis, discusses a series of pivotal moments in Elton’s life from his childhood as well as mental illness, addiction issues and how he coped with his prostate cancer diagnosis. He’s seen here holding a copy of his book at Waterstones Piccadilly in London on Nov. 20, 2019.
During the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 5, 2020, Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin took home the prize for best original song for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” which was written for the 2019 biopic “Rocketman.” The win was significant as, despite being collaborators for nearly 50 years, the men had never won an award together before. “We never won a Grammy [together],” Elton said as he and Bernie stood on stage. “We never did anything together except for this, and I’m so happy.” This wasn’t the only major accolade Elton took home for the song though…
At the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 9, 2020, Elton John and Bernie Taupin won big once again when they took home the Oscar for best original song for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman.”
On Feb. 16, 2020, Elton John performed in Auckland, New Zealand, as part of his three-year global “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour despite having been diagnosed with walking pneumonia that same day. However, despite his best efforts, his illness won out and he had to cut short his set midway through the night. “I’ve just completely lost my voice. I can’t sing,” he told the crowd.
During the Global Citizen special broadcast “One World: Together At Home” in support of COVID-19 frontline workers, which included performances from stars including Lady Gaga (who curated the show), Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, Elton John also performed. Since many areas of the country were on lockdown at the time as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, Elton made sure he kept people safe by performed his hit “I’m Still Standing” at a piano in his yard in front of a hedge and a basketball hoop.