Since releasing his first album in 1975, Sir Elton John has surprised, intrigued and entertained many thousands of fans. But in 2018, the Rocket Man announced he would no longer be performing live in concert following a worldwide farewell tour.
Whether you sing along with his dozens of top singles or grew up on his movie music, you are likely a fan. But how much do you really know about Elton John? Learn some scintillating, sweet and stirring facts about the singer/songwriter — and don’t forget to catch the film about his early years of success, “Rocketman,” in theaters later this year.
Sir Reginald Kenneth Dwight?
Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex, England on March 25, 1947. He was the only child his parents Stanley Dwight and Sheila Eileen Harris had together, but Elton does have half-siblings. His father later had four more sons — Geoff, Stan, Simon and Robert— and his mother had another son named Frederick Farebrother.
Elton Hercules John
In 1972, Dwight legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John. He took his first name from jazz musician Elton Dean, his surname from Long John Baldry and his middle name from a horse on a British sitcom. He can’t stand to be called by his birth name.
“Reg is the unhappy part of my life,” he is quoted as saying in “Elton: The Biography” by David Buckley.
In 1998, the singer received an addition to his name. He formally became Sir Elton Hercules John CBE when he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. The “CBE” stands for “Commander of the Order of the British Empire,” the third highest rank in Britain’s Order of Chivalry. According to his citation, the honor was bestowed in 1998 for “services to music and for charitable services.” The previous year, he had reworked his hit “Candle in the Wind” to sing at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
John started playing the piano by ear when he was about 3 years old. He had an aunt who played, and his mother and grandmother were music lovers, so he was immersed in it. His parents enrolled him in formal lessons a few years later.
The singer had strained relationships with both parents, who parted ways when he was 15. His father was distant and disapproving.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to relate to kids,” John told The Daily Mail. “He left us, remarried and had another family, and by all accounts was a great dad to them. It wasn’t children, it was me.”
As an adult, he had a falling-out with his mother when he fired two longstanding staff members with whom she had a bond. They reconciled less than a year before her death in 2017.
Thousands Of Concerts
Elton John has entertained fans in more than 80 countries throughout his career. He has performed more than 4,000 times over 50 years. Along with the thousands of times he has been the headliner, John also has a history of surprising audiences of other performers by walking onstage unannounced to join them.
Back In The USSR
One of the dozens of locations where Elton John has performed is in Russia. He was the first Western rock star given permission to put on a concert in Leningrad, which drew an enthralled crowd of 4,000 in 1979.
“I was determined to make it successful,” John told the New York Times. “That’s the biggest achievement I’ve ever received as an artist.”
He’s pictured below in St. Petersburg during the tour with percussionist Ray Cooper.
Elton John keeps multiple pianos and names each one. During his 2013 world tour, he traveled with five 9-foot-long Yamaha grand pianos he named Aretha, Nikita, Kay, Nina and Winifred, after female singers such as Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. During his Las Vegas residency, he played a million-dollar piano he called Blossom, after jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie.
The superstar is known for many things, including his over-the-top eyewear. John has worn glasses since childhood and at one time had an eyewear collection that numbered around 20,000. He reportedly had eye surgery in 2002 to correct his vision, but he still wears these accessories constantly! Although he sells some of his costumes to raise money for the AIDS Foundation, he rarely parts with his eyeglasses for the purpose.
“No, I never give the eyeglasses,” he told CBS News. “They’re all in storage.”
In 1987, Elton John underwent surgery on his throat. After struggling for months and calling off a concert in Perth at the last minute, he was hospitalized for an exploratory procedure. Doctors found a non-malignant lesion and he was forced to rest his voice for some time. His voice changed following the procedure, but he wasn’t disappointed.
“…It changed the timbre of my voice and made it deeper, [compared to] when you listen to my voice on ‘Yellow Brick Road,'” he told Billboard. “I still sing certain songs in the same key, I haven’t taken them down, but I just have more resonance in my voice and I’m much happier with that.”
John experienced hair loss as a young man. He said it was caused by overprocessing and overcoloring his hair with harsh, bright hues.
In a 1978 interview, he blamed his bald spot on “messing around with my hair — pink, green, orange dyes,” he told People Magazine.
He rectified the receding hairline by undergoing two 90-minute hair transplant operations in Paris in the late 1970s.
In 1999, Elton John had another surgery. This one was a bit more serious. On a flight to perform at David and Victoria Beckham’s wedding, he became ill. When doctors discovered he had an irregular heartbeat, they surgically implanted a pacemaker.
John became involved with AIDS research in the 1980s. He gave $16,500 for a down payment on a house to the mother of Ryan White, who contracted HIV at age 13 as a result of a blood transfusion. Following White’s death and Freddie Mercury‘s passing, he started the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), which has raised more than $300 million to fight HIV/AIDS.
Although heart problems prevented him from performing for Posh and Becks, Elton John has gifted some lucky couples with his voice at their nuptials. He sang four songs at the wedding reception of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. He has also performed at the wedding of the daughter of a Russian oligarch and at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.
Elton John is not one to hit the gym, but he works hard to keep fit.
“I put on weight very easily,” he told People. “I play tennis maybe four or five times a week, and I take a tennis pro on the road because I get bored in a gym and I don’t like the treadmill very much — but I’ll do it under pressure.”
The celeb has taken part in tennis matches for charity, as well.
Eclectic Taste In Tunes
Although he has said Bach, Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven were his biggest influences early on, Elton John is a fan of many types of music. In an interview with Noisey, Sir Elton said that he was a fan of Young Thug’s work. John performed with Eminem at the 2001 Grammy Awards, and told Big Sean that he loved his album “front to back.”
He Serves A Mean Grilled Cheese
Every year, Elton John and spouse David Furnish host an Academy Awards viewing party to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Although he doesn’t prep the food himself, he does have a hand in the dishes that are served. One app that is always on the menu is Sir Elton’s favorite grilled cheese sandwich, which is raisin bread layered with melty gorgonzola, mascarpone, and Asian pears.
No Fan of Tech
Although there is an official Elton John Instagram account, you likely won’t see the singer posting selfies. He doesn’t like cell phones because the cameras make it harder for celebs to have privacy. He has also said that the internet has stifled people’s creativity.
Not A TV Watcher, Either
He nixed an offer to judge contestants on “American Idol” and disapproves of talent shows, saying that artists should have to work their way up and pay their dues. He dislikes television in general.
“It’s become boring, arse-paralysingly brain crippling,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
Most Memorable Moment
In his decades of performing and thousands of concerts, one moment stands out for the singer. In 1974, John was performing at Madison Square Garden when John Lennon joined him on the stage.
“It was his last public concert,” Elton John told ABC News Radio, “although of course no one knew that at the time, and the ovation he got was something I will never forget.”
Elton John has long been an avid fan of football (or as Americans call it, soccer). He was chairman and owner of Watford Football Club in the ’70s and ’80s, and has since been named Honorary Life-President of the club. The club has also named a stand of bleachers at the stadium after him.
The artist feels strongly about canine companions. He had a cocker spaniel named Arthur who served as “best man” at his civil partnership ceremony to David Furnish in 2005 (they officially married in 2014). When Arthur passed away at the age of 14, the star was apparently heartbroken, dedicating the song “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” to the dog in a Las Vegas performance that night.
Elton John has clearly made an impact on those in his celebrity circle. He has been named godfather of several children of noteworthy parents. John’s godchildren include Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono; Brooklyn and Romeo, two of David and Victoria Beckham’s sons; and Damian, Elizabeth Hurley’s son.
In 1984, Elton John surprised fans and friends alike when he tied the knot. Following a five-day engagement, he wed German sound engineer Renate Blauel. The pair officially announced a divorce in 1988. John has since apologized for the pain he caused his ex-wife.
“I wanted more than anything to be a good husband, but I denied who I really was, which caused my wife sadness, and caused me huge guilt and regret.” he wrote in a 2017 Instagram post. “To be worthy of someone’s love, you have to be brave enough and clear eyed enough to be honest with yourself and your partner.”
He went on to find lasting love with filmmaker David Furnish. The longtime couple married in 2014, following the legalization of same-sex marriages the same year.
“For David and I, being able to openly love and commit to one another, and for that to be recognised and celebrated is what makes life truly worth living,” he wrote on Instagram.
John’s talent has brought him wealth. Forbes included him in their 2018 list of top-earning celebrities, with an income of $46 million for the year. He is listed as one of the richest musicians in the UK as well, coming in at £300 million.
In 2009, Elton and David tried to adopt a baby from a Ukrainian orphanage, but officials blocked the adoption, calling same-sex couples unsuitable parents. A year later, their son Zachary was born with the help of a surrogate mother. His brother Elijah joined the family in the same manner in 2013. The couple has decided not to find out which of them is the biological father of each boy. They have also decided not to have any more children.
Normalcy at Home
John and his spouse work to give their children as normal an upbringing as possible.
“They live a very local life in Old Windsor, they go round their mates’ houses, it’s not a showbiz life as such,” he told the Guardian about his kids’ daily lives. “They’re not stuck behind the gates of a mansion. Saturdays when I’m home, we go to Pizza Hut with them, we go to Waterstones, we go to the cinema. I’ve never been a recluse, I’ve never hidden away. I’m on the school run.”
No Silver Spoons
The superstar doesn’t believe in spoiling his children. They do chores to earn a meager allowance and must save one-third, then donate another third to charity. He will not leave them all of his money, either.
“Of course I want to leave my boys in a very sound financial state,” John told The Mirror. “But it’s terrible to give kids a silver spoon. It ruins their life. Listen, the boys live the most incredible lives, they’re not normal kids, and I’m not pretending they are. But you have to have some semblance of normality, some respect for money, some respect for work.”
In large part, Elton John’s children are the driving force behind his three-year “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour. He says he will continue to write and record, but his touring days will soon be behind him.
“We had children and had changed our lives, and in 2015 we sat down with their school schedule and we said I’m going to miss too much of this,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Catching Elton On The Big Screen
For those not lucky enough to get to see John in concert, you’ll want to catch Taron Egerton playing him in “Rocketman,” which comes out in wide release in May. You may know Egerton from the Kingsman films or from his starring role in the most recent “Robin Hood” film — or you may recognize his voice from his role as Johnny, the gorilla, in “Sing.” In an interesting twist, Egerton as Johnny sings Elton John’s hit song “I’m Still Standing” — though Egerton wasn’t cast to play John in “Rocketman” until 2018.