The son of a former Royal Air Force trumpeter, Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25th, 1947, in Pinner, a suburb of London. Dwight began playing piano at the age of four, and when he was 11 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Young Reg grew up with a repressive father who wanted him to be a banker, and though John's one love was music, his father banned all Rock 'n' Roll from the house. His mother took pity on him and smuggled in such contraband as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. After studying for six years, he left school with the intention of breaking into the music business. In 1961 he joined his first band, Bluesology, and divided his time between playing with the group, giving solo concerts at a local hotel and running errands for a London publishing house. By 1965 Bluesology were backing touring American Soul and R&B musicians like Major Lance, Doris Troy and The Bluebells. In 1966 Bluesology became Long John Baldry's supporting band and began touring cabarets throughout England. Dwight became frustrated with Baldry's control of the band and began searching for other groups to join. He was passed over at lead vocalist auditions for both King Crimson and Gentle Giant before responding to an advertisement by Liberty Records. Though he failed his Liberty audition, he was given a stack of lyrics that Bernie Taupin, who had also replied to the ad, had left with the label. Dwight wrote music for Taupin's lyrics and began corresponding with him through mail. By the time the two met six months later, Dwight had changed his name to Elton John, taking his first name from Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and his last from John Baldry.
John and Taupin were hired by Dick James as staff songwriters at his fledgling DJM in 1968. The pair collaborated at a rapid rate, with Taupin submitting batches of lyrics every few weeks. John would then write music without changing the words, sometimes completing the songs in under a half hour. Over the next two years the duo wrote songs for Pop singers like Roger Cook and Lulu. In the meantime, John recorded cover versions of current hits for budget labels to be sold in supermarkets. By the Summer of 1968, he had begun recording singles for release under his own name. Usually these songs were more Rock and radio-oriented than the tunes he and Taupin were giving to other vocalists, yet neither of his early singles for Phillips, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Lady Samantha", sold well.
In June of 1969, Elton released his debut album for DJM, "Empty Sky", which received fair reviews, but few sales. For his second album, John and Taupin hired producer Gus Dudgeon and arranger Paul Buckmaster, who contributed grandiose string charts to Elton. Released in the Summer of 1970, the album titled simply "Elton John" began to make inroads in America, where it appeared on MCA's subsidiary, Uni Records. In August, he gave his first American concert at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, which received enthusiastic reviews as well as praise from Quincy Jones and Leon Russell. Throughout the Fall, Elton continued to climb the charts on the strength of the Top 10 single, "Your Song".
John followed it quickly in February 1971 with the concept album "Tumbleweed Connection", which received heavy air play on album-oriented radio in the U.S., helping it climb into the Top 10. The rapid release of "Tumbleweed Connection" established a pattern of frequent releases that John maintained throughout his career. In 1971, he released the live "11-17-70" and the "Friends" soundtrack, before releasing "Madman Across The Water" late in the year. "Madman Across the Water" was successful, but John achieved stardom with the follow-up, 1972's "Honky Chateau". Recorded with his touring band, bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, and featuring the hit singles "Rocket Man" (#6) and "Honky Cat" (#8), "Honky Chateau" became his first American number one album, spending five weeks at the top of the charts. Between 1972 and 1976, Elton John and Bernie Taupin's hit-making machine was virtually unstoppable. "Rocket Man" began a four-year streak of 16 Top 20 hits in a row. Out of those 16, which included "Crocodile Rock" (#1), "Daniel" (#2), "Bennie and the Jets" (#1), "The Bitch Is Back" (#4) and "Philadelphia Freedom" (#1), only one, the FM hit "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", failed to reach the Top Ten and had to settle for #12.
"Honky Chateau" began a streak of seven consecutive number one albums, "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player" (1973), "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973), "Caribou" (1974), "Greatest Hits" (1974), "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" (1975), "Rock Of The Westies" (1975), that all went Platinum. John founded Rocket, a record label distributed by MCA in 1973 in order to sign and produce acts like Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee. John didn't become a Rocket recording artist himself, choosing to stay with MCA for a record-breaking eight million dollar contract in 1974. Later in 1974, he co-wrote John Lennon's number one comeback single, "Whatever Gets You Through the Night", and he persuaded Lennon to join him onstage at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day 1974. It would prove to be Lennon's last live performance.
The following year "Captain Fantastic" became the first album to enter the American charts at number one. After its release, he revamped his band, which now featured Johnstone, Quaye , Roger Pope, Ray Cooper and bassist Kenny Passarelli; "Rock of the Westies" was the first album to feature this line-up. Throughout the mid-'70s, John's concerts were enormously popular, as were his singles and albums, and he continued to record and perform at a rapid pace until 1976. That year, he revealed in an interview in Rolling Stone that he was bisexual. He would later admit that the confession was a compromise, since he was afraid to reveal that he was homosexual. Many fans reacted negatively to John's bisexuality, and his audience began to shrink somewhat in the late '70s.
After 1976, John cut his performance schedule drastically, announcing that he was retiring from live performances in 1977 and started recording only one album a year. His relationship with Taupin became strained following the release of 1976's double-album "Blue Moves", and the lyricist began working with other musicians. John returned in 1978 with "A Single Man", which was written with Gary Osborne. The record produced no Top 20 singles. That year, he returned to live performances, first by jamming at the Live Stiffs package tour, then by launching a comeback tour in 1979 accompanied only by percussionist Ray Cooper.
"Mama Can't Buy You Love", a song he recorded with Philly soul producer Thom Bell in 1977, returned him to the Top Ten in 1979, but that year's "Victim of Love" was a commercial disappointment. John reunited with Taupin for 1980's "21 at 33", which featured the Top 10 single "Little Jeannie". Over the next three years, John remained a popular concert artist, but his singles failed to crack the Top 10. In 1981, he signed with Geffen Records and his second album, "Jump Up!" became a Gold album on the strength of "Blue Eyes" (#12) and "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)" (#13), his tribute to John Lennon. But it was 1983's "Too Low for Zero" that began his last great streak of hit singles, with the MTV hit "I'm Still Standing" and the Top Ten single "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues".
Throughout the rest of the '80s, John's albums would consistently go Gold, and they always generated at least one Top 40 single. Frequently they featured Top 10 singles like "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" ( #5 in 1984), "Nikita" ( #7 in 1986), "Candle in the Wind" ( #6 in 1987), and " I Don't Want To Go On With You Like That" ( #2 in 1988). While his career continued to be successful, his personal life was in turmoil. Since the mid-'70s he had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol, and the situation only worsened during the '80s. In a surprise move, he married female engineer Renate Blauel in 1984. The couple stayed married for four years. In 1986, he underwent throat surgery while on tour, but even after he successfully recovered he continued to abuse cocaine and alcohol. Following a record-breaking five-date stint at Madison Square Garden in 1988, John auctioned off all of his theatrical costumes, thousands of pieces of memorabilia and his extensive record collection through Sotheby's. The auction was a symbolic turning point. Over the next two years, John battled both his drug addiction and bulimia, undergoing hair replacement surgery at the same time. By 1991, he was sober and the following year he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He also announced that he would donate all royalties from his single to AIDS research.
In 1992, John returned to active recording with "The One". Peaking at number eight on the US charts and going double-Platinum, the album became his most successful record since "Blue Moves", and sparked a career renaissance for Elton. He and Taupin signed a record-breaking publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 1992 for an estimated $39 million. In 1994, John collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on songs for Disney's animated feature The Lion King. He was nominated for five Grammys, and took home Best Male Pop Vocal. He was also nominated for three Academy Awards, and won the Oscar for Best Achievement In Music for the song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight.". The year ended with his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. John's 1995 album "Made In England" continued his comeback, peaking at number 3 on the UK charts and number 13 in the U.S. In America, the album went Platinum. In November of 1996, Elton launched his own London-based film and TV production company, Rocket Pictures, which boasts a five-year development deal with Disney. The company's mission included a commitment to nurture first-time directors and other emerging U.K. talent.
The year 1997 proved to be one of the most significant of the Rocket Man's career. In July, his close friend Gianni Versace was murdered by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. At the slain designer's memorial service, John was photographed in tears as Princess Diana comforted him. The following month, Diana was killed in a tragic car crash in Paris while attempting to escape paparazzi. John was given the honor of singing at her funeral. He and Taupin retooled the lyrics to "Candle in the Wind", which was originally written about Marilyn Monroe. Immediately following his powerful appearance at the widely televised funeral, John went into the studio and recorded the track, vowing that any profits made from the single would be funnelled to a memorial fund set up in Diana's name. The single immediately went Platinum in his native country, eventually earning over $33 million for the Princess Diana Memorial Fund. Though 1997 was marked by tragedy, the bespeckled singer did get one piece of good news toward the year's end. In December, John found out that he had earned a knighthood in his native U.K. Queen Elizabeth crowned him "Sir Reginald Kenneth Dwight" the following February. In keeping with his newfound respectability, the crooner earned an American Music Award for Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist in January. He also pocketed a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
There was more good news in Elton's future. In September 1998, the Recording Industry Association of America announced its August sales results that propelled Elton John into the #2 slot of all-time best-selling solo artists with a grand total of 60.6 million albums sold. He still trailed Country superstar Garth Brooks, who at the time had sold 81 million albums. Billy Joel, (60 million), Barbra Streisand (57.3 million), and Elvis Presley (50.1 million) rounded out the Top Five list. Awards, knighthood, and huge sales figures didn't slow John down a bit in 1998 however. He hit the road in grand styl, and announced several shows with Billy Joel though Joel, beset by throat problems, had to cancel most of his appearances. But even without the other piano man on the roster, by the end of the year, John's concert was named the top draw of 1998 by Pollstar, beating out such big touring names as The Spice Girls, Aerosmith, Lilith Fair, Celine Dion, and even Garth Brooks. October found Sir Elton getting animated, literally. His cartoon likeness appeared on South Park, headlining a benefit concert for the beleaguered Chef. John also contributed a track, "Wake Up Wendy", to the show's soundtrack, "Chef Aid: The South Park Album".
. John did have to take some time out of his busy schedule to contend with the financial problems that often accompany artists of his stature. The Rocket Man filed lawsuits against the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse Coopers and Andrew Haydon in January after his finances, valued at approximately 150 million pounds, came up short. The firm was at one time the managing director of John Reid Enterprises, the company of John's former manager, whom he split with in the Summer of 1998. "I am a musician, not a businessman or accountant," John said in a statement. "I have always had to rely on other people to protect my interests, and I am deeply disappointed that people I have relied on in the past have let me down so badly. I shall now leave the issues of the past in the hands of my lawyers, and I will be looking to the future and continuing with my work."
And continue he did. In February and March 1999, the singer took to the road again, this time in with much more stripped-down production with just him and his piano. The 51-year-old pianist told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution "It's a way to keep myself fresh and on my toes." Playing solo affords the opportunity "to get to do numbers you don't normally perform with a band, and it gives you a chance to talk to the audience," he explained. The tour kicked off in Roanoke, Virginia on February 19th, and ended a month later in Huntsville, Alabama. John also made another appearance at the annual Rock And Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, this time to induct Dusty Springfield, who died twelve days prior to the event. In the meantime, John again teamed up with his Lion King cohort Tim Rice on the Disney musical Aida, based on Verdi's Aida. The soundtrack to the Broadway production boasts appearances from LeAnn Rimes, Janet Jackson, The Spice Girls, Sting, Boyz II Men, Shania Twain, James Taylor, Kelly Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and Tina Turner.
In early December, 2001, Elton announced that he was so fed up with the business end of the recording industry, he would no longer make any new albums. He went on to say that his album, "Songs From The West Coast", will be his last, but he would continue to tour. On December 21st, 2005, Elton John became one of the first Britons to take advantage of the country's new Civil Partnership Act. The 58 year-old Pop star and his longtime boyfriend, Canadian filmmaker David Furnish, 43, tied the knot in a civil ceremony at the Guildhall in Windsor, on the first day that the new law took effect. The Act gives same-sex couples property and inheritance rights similar to those granted married straight couples, though the unions are not regarded as marriages by British law.
As Elton's 60th Birthday approached on March 25, 2007, a concert at Madison Square Garden was scheduled to be turned into a TV special for the U.S. and Canada markets. Two days later, Island Records released "Rocket Man: Number Ones", Elton's first career spanning single-disc retrospective. A deluxe version of the album contains a DVD including ten performances and the video for his single, "Tinderbox". In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Elton as the most successful male solo artist on The Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists. He's listed as third overall, behind only The Beatles and Madonna. In June of that year, Elton performed his 200th show in Caesars Palace. A DVD / CD package of "The Red Piano" was released through Best Buy in November. The Red Piano Tour closed in Las Vegas in April 2009.
At the 52nd Grammy Awards on January 31st, 2010, Elton performed a piano duet with Lady Gaga. On June 6th, he played at the fourth wedding of TV commentator Rush Limbaugh for a reported US $1 million fee. October 19th finally brought a new album entitled "The Union", a collaboration with Leon Russell. The effort, which featured contributions from Brian Wilson, Neil Young and Booker T. Jones, became Elton's highest charting studio album on the Billboard Hot 200 since 1976's "Blue Moves", debuting at number 3. It was also Leon Russell's highest charting studio album since 1972's "Carney". The effort finished third on Rolling Stone's list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010.
In 2011, John performed vocals on the song "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" with English singer / songwriter Kate Bush for her "50 Words for Snow" album. That LP entered the UK album charts at #5. On September 28th, 2011, Elton kicked off his new show, The Million Dollar Piano at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where he would stay for the next three years. He marked the 3000th concert of his career on October 8th, 2011 at Caesars. In April, 2012, Elton announced that he and his partner David Furnish were planning to have another child via surrogate so their son Zachary would have a sibling. In July, an album called "Good Morning To The Night", that contained the experimental reworkings of components of John's 1970-1976 catalog by Australian dance duo Pnau, rose to the top of the U.K. album chart. It marked the first time since 1990's "Very Best Of" was #1, that any of Elton's material had risen that high. The new success was tempered by the sobering statistic that "Good Morning" was the lowest-selling #1 album of the century to date.
2013's Summer tour was abruptly called off when Elton was diagnosed with appendicitis. The 66-year-old had been playing with severe stomach cramps, but was forced off the stage in the middle of a show in Halle, Germany on July 5th. He planned on returning in time to play at the Emmy Awards on September 22nd. Another highlight for September was the release of "The Diving Board", his first solo studio album in seven years. He was quoted as saying "It's the most piano-orientated record I've ever made. It's the most adult record I can make at my age."
On stage at the Festival de Carcassonne in France on July 15th, 2014, Elton John announced the end of his career. He surprised the audience during the third song of the show, "Candle in the Wind", by announcing his plans to retire and spend more time with his family. "No more shows, no more music, no more songs," Elton declared on stage, according to the French regional newspaper L'Independant. Before those plans could be finalized, he was still scheduled to play several concerts across Europe before the end of 2014. On December, 21st, Elton and his longtime partner, David Furnish, were officially married in a ceremony in London, England. The couple then hosted a reception at their estate near Windsor Castle, attended by an A-list crowd.
The long awaited news of a new album came in mid-October, 2015 when Elton announced that his 33rd LP, "Wonderful, Crazy Night", would be released on February 5th, 2016. It was an album that Elton admitted he recorded very quickly, laying down seventeen songs in fourteen days, ten of which ended up on the record. Predictably, it received poor reviews.
In January, 2016, Elton announced that he would appear on The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60 on Sunday, February 21 in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park and sing the "Circle of Life", his hit from the 1994 film The Lion King. He also revealed that he would be cutting back on his touring schedule so that he can spend more time with his adopted sons. In September of that year, he admitted during an appearance on the UK TV show Good Morning Britain that he was still considering retiring from recording. He told the audience, "My records don't sell anymore because people have enough Elton John records in their collection. I love making them, but it's someone else's turn now." Despite repeatedly saying he was quitting the music business, Elton was still heavily booked worldwide throughout 2017.
A harmful bacterial infection forced Elton to cancel his April and May set of The Million Dollar Piano shows at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, as well as his May 6th show in Bakersfield, California. He contracted the illness duing a tour of South America and became violently ill on a flight home from Santiago, Chile. He spent two nights in intensive care at a U.K. hospital, where he received treatment to remove the infection.