About Elton John
At the height of the fever dream that was Elton John’s life in the ’70s, the singer-songwriter had the optician Dennis Roberts design a pair of giant, sculptural glasses studded with 57 battery-powered lights in the shape of the name Elton—to the tune of about $5,000. Adjusted for inflation, you’re talking about something more like $25,000. But John had a show to put on, and wouldn’t that be something to talk about?
The excess was always apparent: the rhinestones, the costumery, the old Hollywood glamour retrofitted for a new, gender-bending world. But beneath the feathers, John’s music—written with the lyricist Bernie Taupin—was direct and unpretentious, the kind of rock ’n’ roll storytelling that met you where you were. Even if you didn’t know exactly what it meant—who is the dancer, and why are they so tiny?—the feeling was immediate, universal. By 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, John said they were writing a couple of songs at breakfast and recording them before lunch. This was pop music, John argued: You weren’t supposed to think about it too much, and god help you if you did. And yet here we are, singing the songs five decades later.
Born Reginald Dwight in Pinner, England, in 1947, John took to the piano young, studying on a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music while obsessively listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. They were so physical, John marvelled—they didn’t just play the piano, they beat it. He started playing in pubs at 15 and, around 20, met Taupin through a want ad in a music magazine.
There were good years and bad ones, highs and lows—that handful of Valium before jumping into the swimming pool in 1975, for example, or the disco album, which John himself described as jumping on a dying bandwagon—but he has always endured, emerging from the debauchery of the ’70s and redefinitions of the ’80s bruised but never beaten, a gay icon, AIDS activist, philanthropist, Knight Bachelor, and father of two. In 2018, nearly 50 years after his debut album, he embarked on a three-year farewell tour, and published his first autobiography, Me, in 2019.
HOMETOWNPinner, Middlesex, England
BORN25 March 1947