“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” – Sir Elton John, CBE
Sir Elton John is an English singer, pianist, and composer. In his five-decade career, he’s sold more than 300 million records. Now, with his biopic Rocketman hitting theaters across the world, let’s take a look back at 46 facts about this rock and roll legend.
1. A Few Pairs of Shades…
Elton John owns over a thousand pairs of glasses. His obsession with spectacles has even made headlines, and in 2013 he had to deny claims that he always booked a second hotel room just to store his glasses in. Sure you didn’t, Elton. Suuuuurre.
2. Born to Be
Elton wasn’t always Elton. He was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England.
3. A Rose by any Other Name…
When he changed his name from Reginald Dwight, he chose “Elton John” to pay tribute to vocalist Long John Baldry and saxophonist Elton Dean. For a middle name, he picked Hercules. He chose “Hercules” not for the hero of mythology, but after the horse named Hercules on the British sitcom Steptoe and Son (1962).
4. Quack, Quack
These days, John’s stage attire leans toward elegant suits, but in the early years of his career, he famously wore ludicrously flashy costumes. He took to the stage decked out in feathers, rhinestones, and glasses that spelled out his name in lights. He even dressed as the Statue of Liberty and Donald Duck on several occasions.
5. Britain and Their Impossibly Cool Titles
John is often formally referred to as Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE. The “CBE” denotes “Commander of the Order of the British Empire.” This is the third highest rank in Britain’s Order of Chivalry, and he achieved it in 1995.
6. A Few Times on Stage
Over the five decades since his career began in 1969, John has played more than 3,500 concerts in over 80 countries. This means that if you played a concert every day, it would take you almost ten years to catch up. Well, what are you waiting for?
7. Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog…
John is one of the kings of the Billboard charts. When Billboard released its list of the greatest artists in the history of the Hot 100, he came third, beating out Elvis Presley, but coming in behind The Beatles at #1 and Madonna #2 (That the Material Girl beat him must have been particularly maddening, but more on that later).
8. Rocking and Rolling…Right out of the Education System
At the age of 11, John (then still Reg Dwight) was awarded a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. He was apparently a model student while there, but he quit just before graduation to pursue a rock career.
9. Can You Feel the Love Tonight?
The Lion King stage musical, for which John wrote the music, was named the highest-grossing production in theater history, earning over $1 billion (and counting).
10. Back in the USSR!
In 1979, John was the first Western rock star to perform in the USSR. This was an extremely significant event in the Cold War, as it signaled a softening towards Western culture on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
11. That’s “Sir” Elton, Thank You Very Much
As if the CBE wasn’t enough, John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998 for his services to music and fundraising for AIDS charities.
12. Goodbye, England’s Rose
In 1997, following the death of Princess Diana, John performed a new version of his song “Candle in the Wind” at her funeral. The solemn performance moved many in the already-distraught attendees to tears. It ended up going on to be the best selling single since “White Christmas,” and its effect seems to persist into the 21st century.
The YouTube video of Elton singing at the funeral has been viewed more than 26 million times.
13. Goodbye, Norma Jean
John’s “Candle in the Wind” tribute to the late Princess Diana was originally written about Marilyn Monroe—the lyrics were re-written shortly before Diana’s funeral.
14. Ever Controversial
In 2010, John infuriated Christian groups in the US when he called Jesus a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.” These comments particularly incensed the groups who opposed gay marriage. For John’s part, I’m sure he’s not exactly worried about their opinions.
15. Husband v. Partner
Though once John publicly said he was in favor of civil partnerships over marriage for same-sex couples, he eventually changed his tune. As he put it, “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.”
16. A Little Help from Stevie!
For anyone who thought the harmonica on John’s song “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” sounded familiar, it’s probably because that was Stevie Wonder himself on the mouth harp.
17. Sure Plays a Mean Pinball
In 1975, John sang vocals on The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” for the film Tommy. In the film, he is shown performing the song while playing a pinball machine integrated with a miniature piano keyboard. Also, he’s on stilts. With giant boots at the bottom. The 70s were a magical time.
18. The Godfather
John has a few famous godchildren, including Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He’s also the godfather of Brooklyn and Romeo Beckham, the children of David and Victoria Beckham.
19. Not Fade Away
John started wearing glasses to copy one of his idols, Buddy Holly. He didn’t actually need them at first, but his eyesight got worse over the years. So, in a way, he grew into his iconic look.
20. Sorry, Elton!
John auditioned for the lead vocalist spot in the band King Crimson, but was turned down. Honestly, I think most music fans are glad that match wasn’t made in heaven.
21. Keeping Pace
In 1999, he had a pacemaker fitted to correct an irregular heartbeat following an episode of angina on an airplane. An insider said he was “anxious but calm” as he was driven to the hospital in a Bentley and greeted by three staff members.
22. Life and Love
John registered his civil partnership with his long-term partner, Canadian David Furnish, at the Windsor Guildhall on December 21, 2005, the very first day that same-sex civil unions were legal in England and Wales. Then, in December 2014, they married following the legalization of homosexual marriage earlier in the year.
Their wedding was attended by the likes of Lulu, Kate Bush, Gary Barlow, Ed Sheeran, David Beckham, David Walliams, and Elizabeth Hurley.
23. I’m With Her
In 2016, John helped raise $2.5 million for Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign with a concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Other performers included Katy Perry and Andra Day, and Julianne Moore and Jamie Foxx made appearances as well.
24. Big, Big Bucks for Elton
John has a net worth of $480 million, making him the second richest singer in the UK, behind only Paul McCartney.
25. Sir Platinum
Few artists have managed to crank out the hits quite like Sir Elton. 27 of his albums have gone platinum, with 14 of those going multi-platinum.
26. The Cost of Abuse
In 1987, John underwent laser surgery to remove nodules on his vocal cords in Australia. This followed a televised concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra where his voice sounded noticeably rough. In 2004, he admitted this problem had been caused by drug abuse, including marijuana.
27. A Few Awards…
He’s won so many awards that we almost skipped this fact because we thought the list was too long to read. Feel free to skip this massive catalog and just accept that Elton John is a legend.
- 1973-2000: 12 Ivor Novello Awards
- 1973-2000: 11 Grammy nominations
- 1986, 1991, 1994, 1997, and 2000: 5 Grammy wins
- 1991: Best British Male Artist BRIT Award
- 1992: Songwriters Hall of Fame (with Bernie Taupin)
- 1992: Officer of Arts & Letters (France)
- 1993: induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 1994: Polar Music Prize
- 1995: Oscar for Best Music, Original Song, The Lion King
- 1995: MusiCares Person of the Year
- 2000: Kennedy Center Honor
- 2001: Grammy Legends Award
- 2002: Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music
- 2004: Billboard Magazine Legend of Live Award
- 2004: Fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers
- 2006: Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Award (with Bernie Taupin)
- 2013: BRITs Icon Award
- 2013: Rockefeller Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2013: Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative Leadership Award
Also, in October 1975, John became the 1,662nd person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Just to throw one more in there.
28. Music and Lyrics
For his entire career, John hasn’t written the lyrics to his song. The vast majority of his biggest hits had their lyrics written by his collaborator Bernie Taupin, who John met after both failed an audition for Liberty Records. John usually does all the musical composition, while Taupin (or others) handle the words.
29. The Infidelity Scandal
In 2016, John controversially secured the court-ordered injunction that barred British media from mentioning his or his partner’s name. The action came after several media outlets published that he had been the victim of infidelity. Allegedly, his partner was having a long-term affair with British businessman Daniel Laurence.
Sir Elton and his husband have an open marriage, meaning that even if reports of the extramarital relationship were substantiated, it wouldn’t necessarily mean Furnish broke John’s trust.
30. Imagine Lennon and Elton on One Stage
In 1974, during one of John’s concerts at Madison Square Garden, John Lennon joined him on stage to perform three songs. This was part of a bet. John had bet Lennon that if the song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” (which featured John) went to #1, he would have to join Elton on stage. Occurring six years prior to his assassination, this was Lennon’s last major on-stage performance.
John’s song “Empty Garden” is a tribute to John Lennon.
31. Long Distance Songwriting
Though they were songwriting partners for years, John and Taupin never wrote their music together. Taupin would write the lyrics by himself, then he’d send them to John, wherever he happened to be in the world. John would then set the words to music, record it, and show it to Taupin.
32. John and Paul Should’ve Taken Notes
Remarkably, John and Taupin managed to have a 50-year songwriting partnership without eventually coming to hate each other. In 2017, John even went so far as to say that the pair had “never ever had an argument professionally or personally.”
33. Cover Wives
Though he’s a gay icon today, John’s career began in a time when attitudes towards homosexuality were far behind where they are today. He was married to women twice in his life, first to his secretary Linda Woodrow, then to recording engineer Renate Blauel. The marriages, especially the second one, were widely believed to be a cover for John’s homosexuality.
34. Accepting Himself
In 1976, John came out as a bisexual, but he became more at ease being public with his orientation over the years, and not long after his second divorce, he told Rolling Stone that he was “quite comfortable about being gay.”
35. About Time
When the biopic about John, Rocketman, hit theaters in 2019, it was the final result of more than two decades of effort. John and Furnish spent years trying in vain to get a biopic made. After countless attempts had fallen through, by 2012, things were starting to look promising. Michael Gracey was hired to direct and Tom Hardy was to be the star (though John’s first pick was Justin Timberlake). Unfortunately, that project fell through as well, but all was not lost.
While Tom Hardy did eventually leave the project, in 2017, Taran Egerton entered talks to replace him. This made Matthew Vaughn, who had directed Egerton in The Kingsmen, interested in producing. Vaughn really got things moving, hiring a director and filming Egerton performing two of John’s songs. This demo was shown to the CEO of Paramount Pictures, and they loved it. Paramount agreed to finance the film, and not long after, John’s dream came true and Rocketman was created.
36. Get the Snipers!
Rod Stewart and Elton John have a fierce rivalry. John once hired a sniper to shoot down balloons that Rod Stewart had launched into the sky to promote a concert. When Rod put up a huge banner for his “Blondes Have More Fun Tour,” Elton put a banner on a building across the street that said, “But Brunettes Make More Money.”
37. A Drunken Quarrel
In September 2008, John and Lily Allen co-hosted a prestigious GQ award show. 23-year-old Allen, decked out in an extravagant Dolce and Gabbana ballgown, drank champagne throughout the evening and soon began slurring words and ad-libbing. Eventually, John quipped, “What? Are you going to have another drink?” The comment resulted in an obscenity-filled back and forth that made headlines around the globe—though Allen would later make a post on her Myspace page (ahh, 2008…) claiming the two of them were only kidding.
I don’t know, I’ve seen the video, and it doesn’t look like kidding to me.
38. Tough Times at Home
The Dwight household wasn’t exactly a happy one when young Reginald was growing up. His father, an RAF flight lieutenant named Stanley Dwight, didn’t approve of John pursuing a career in music. Stanley was also rarely around, and when he did come home, he and John’s mother Sheila would get into brutal arguments which caused John extreme stress.
39. Thanks, Derf
Reg Dwight’s parents divorced when he was 14. It seemed like a tragic day, but young Elton’s life was about to get much better. Not long after, Sheila married a painter named Fred Farebrother who couldn’t have been more different from Stanley. Creative, kind, and supportive, John affectionately called his stepfather Derf (his first name backward). The three of them moved into an apartment in a building called Frome Court in London.
There, John wrote all of his early hits, and he stayed living there with his mother and Derf even when he had four albums in the American Top 40 at the same time!
40. Everyone Starts Somewhere
Sheila and Derf supported John’s musical career and helped get him his first gig—playing piano at a pub on the weekends—when he was just 15. He went by “Reggie,” and he played a combination of original songs and classics by artists like Ray Charles.
41. Take That, Madonna!
John and Madonna have famously quarreled over the years. The feud began in 2004 when John accepted the Best Classic Songwriter award at the Q Awards. The following is an excerpt from his speech:
“Madonna, best [redacted] live act? [redacted] off! Since when has lip-synching been live? Sorry about that, but I think everyone who lip-syncs on stage in public when you pay like 75 quid to see them should be shot. Thank you very much. That’s me off her [redacted] Christmas card list, but do I give a toss? No.” Jeez, tell me how you really feel Elton!
42. Backing up Your Boo
Even John’s husband got in on the Madonna feud. After she won the Best Original Song award at the 2012 Golden Globes, Furnish publicly wrote that it proved the awards had “nothing to do with merit.” He then went on to critique her acceptance speech, which he called “embarrassing in its narcissism.” He later backtracked, but it’s hard to take words like that back.
43. It Just Keeps Coming
Madonna always seemed to take the high road in her feud with John. She never clapped back publicly to John’s comments—but they just seemed to keep coming. He offered some advice for her Super Bowl Halftime Show on Good Morning America: “Make sure you lip-sync good.” He later told an Australian news program that “her tour is a disaster and it couldn’t happen to a bigger [redacted]…she looks like a [redacted] fairground stripper.”
In case you couldn’t tell, John really, really didn’t like Madonna.
After years of vitriol (almost entirely on John’s part), the pair finally buried the hatchet in 2012. John saw her at a restaurant in France and sent her a note that said, “You’ll probably never speak to me again but I am really sorry and ashamed of myself and can I buy you dinner.” Madonna accepted his apology and the feud has been off since then. So are John’s feuding days behind him? Not necessarily.
When asked about it, he responded, “I can’t say it won’t happen again, but not with Madonna.”
45. In Solemn Memory.
John was extremely close with the late rock singer Freddie Mercury. When Mercury was dying of AIDS in the early 1990s, one of the final things he did was buy Elton John a gift: a painting by one of John’s favorite artists. John wrote about his friendship with Mercury in a moving, deeply personal letter:
“As Freddie deteriorated in the late 1980s and early ’90s, it was almost too much to bear. It broke my heart to see this absolute light unto the world ravaged by AIDS. By the end, his body was covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions. He was almost blind. He was too weak to even stand. By all rights, Freddie should have spent those final days concerned only with his own comfort. But that wasn’t who he was.”
46. Big Bucks for Charity
After Mercury’s death, John decided that all profits from his singles would be donated to AIDS charities and formed the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The foundation has become one of the world’s largest non-profit AIDS organizations, raising more than $300 million in support of worthy projects in 55 countries around the world.