Elton John


Elton John

Elton John 2011 Shankbone 2.JPG
John at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival
Born
Reginald Kenneth Dwight

(1947-03-25) 25 March 1947 (age 71)
Pinner, Middlesex, England
Occupation
  • Musician
  • singer-songwriter
  • composer
Years active1962–present
Spouse(s)
Renate Blauel
(m. 1984; div. 1988)

David Furnish
(m. 2014)
Children2
Musical career
Genres
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • piano
  • keyboards
  • guitar
Labels
Associated acts
Websiteeltonjohn.com

Sir Elton Hercules John CBE (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, 25 March 1947)[1] is an English singer, pianist, and composer. He has worked with lyricist Bernie Taupin as his songwriting partner since 1967; they have collaborated on more than 30 albums. John has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world.[2][3] He has more than fifty Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive number one albums in the U.S., 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 Top 10, four which reached number two and nine which reached number one. His tribute single "Candle in the Wind 1997", rewritten in dedication to Diana, Princess of Wales, sold over 33 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling single in the history of the UK and U.S. singles charts.[4][5][6] He has also composed music, produced records, and has occasionally acted in films.

Raised in the Pinner area of London, John learned to play piano at an early age, and by 1962 had formed Bluesology. John met his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, in 1967, after they had both answered an advert for songwriters. For two years they wrote songs for other artists, including Lulu, and John also worked as a session musician for artists such as the Hollies and the Scaffold. In 1969 his debut album, Empty Sky, was released. In 1970. John's first hit single "Your Song", from his second album, Elton John, reached the top ten in the UK and the U.S. After decades of chart success, John has also achieved success in musical films and theatre, composing the music for The Lion King and its stage adaptation, Aida and Billy Elliot the Musical.

He has received five Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards – winning two awards for Outstanding Contribution to Music and the first Brits Icon in 2013 for his "lasting impact on British culture", an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, a Disney Legends award, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him Number 49 on its list of 100 influential musicians of the rock and roll era.[7] In 2013, Billboard ranked him the most successful male solo artist on the Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists (third overall behind the Beatles and Madonna).[8] He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, is an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. He was knighted by Elizabeth II for "services to music and charitable services" in 1998.[9] John has performed at a number of royal events, such as the funeral of Princess Diana at Westminster Abbey in 1997, the Party at the Palace in 2002 and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace in 2012.

He has been heavily involved in the fight against AIDS since the late 1980s.[10] In 1992, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation and a year later began hosting the annual Academy Award Party, which has since become one of the highest-profile Oscar parties in the Hollywood film industry. Since its inception, the foundation has raised over US$200 million.[11] John, who announced he was bisexual in 1976 and has been openly gay since 1988, entered into a civil partnership with David Furnish on 21 December 2005, and after same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014, wed Furnish on 21 December 2014. On 24 January 2018, it was announced that John would be retiring from touring and would soon embark on a three-year farewell tour, which began in September 2018.[12]

Life and career

Early life

Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, the eldest child of Stanley Dwight (1925–1991) and only child of Sheila Eileen (née Harris; 1925–2017),[13][14][15] and was raised in a council house by his maternal grandparents, in Pinner. His parents married in 1945,[16] when the family moved to a nearby semi-detached house.[17][18][19] He was educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School and Pinner County Grammar School, until the age of 17, when he left just prior to his A-Level examinations to pursue a career in the music industry.[20][21][22]

When he began to consider a career in music seriously, Elton John's father, who served as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, tried to steer him toward a more conventional career, such as banking.[20] John has stated that his wild stage costumes and performances were his way of letting go after such a restrictive childhood.[22] Both of John's parents were musically inclined, his father having been a trumpet player with the Bob Millar Band, a semi-professional big band that played at military dances.[22] The Dwights were keen record buyers, exposing John to the popular singers and musicians of the day, and John remembers being immediately hooked on rock and roll when his mother brought home records by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets in 1956.[20][21]

Elton John started playing his grandmother's piano as a young boy[23] and within a year, his mother heard him picking out Winifred Atwell's "The Skater's Waltz" by ear.[20][21] After performing at parties and family gatherings, at the age of 7 he took up formal piano lessons. He showed musical aptitude at school, including the ability to compose melodies, and gained some notoriety by playing like Jerry Lee Lewis at school functions. At the age of 11, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. According to one of his instructors, John promptly played back, like a "gramophone record", a four-page piece by George Frideric Handel that he heard for the first time.[21]

Elton studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London for five years.

For the next five years, he attended Saturday classes at the Academy in central London, and has stated that he enjoyed playing Frédéric Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach and singing in the choir during Saturday classes, but that he was not otherwise a diligent classical student.[21] "I kind of resented going to the Academy", he says. "I was one of those children who could just about get away without practising and still pass, scrape through the grades."[21] He has claimed that he would sometimes skip classes and ride around on the London Underground.[21] Several instructors have testified that he was a "model student", and during the last few years, he was taking lessons from a private tutor in addition to his classes at the Academy.[21]

Elton John's mother, though also strict with her son, was more vivacious than her husband, and something of a free spirit. With Stanley Dwight uninterested in his son and often physically absent, John was raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother. When his father was home, the Dwights would have terrible arguments that greatly distressed their son.[21] When John was 14, they divorced. His mother then married a local painter, Fred Farebrother, a caring and supportive stepfather whom John affectionately referred to as "Derf", his first name in reverse.[21] They moved into flat No. 1A in an eight-unit apartment building called Frome Court, not far from both previous homes. It was there that John wrote the songs that launched his career as a rock star; he lived there until he had four albums simultaneously in the American Top 40.[24]

Pub pianist to staff songwriter (1962–1969)

At the age of 15, with the help of his mother and stepfather, Reginald Dwight became a weekend pianist at a nearby pub, the Northwood Hills Hotel, playing Thursday to Sunday nights.[25][26] Known simply as "Reggie", he played a range of popular standards, including songs by Jim Reeves and Ray Charles, as well as songs he had written himself.[27][28] A stint with a short-lived group called the Corvettes rounded out his time.[21] Although normal sighted as a teenager, Dwight started wearing horn-rimmed glasses to imitate Buddy Holly.[29][30]

In 1962, Dwight and his friends formed a band called Bluesology. By day, he ran errands for a music publishing company; he divided his nights between solo gigs at a London hotel bar and working with Bluesology. By the mid-1960s, Bluesology was backing touring American soul and R&B musicians like the Isley Brothers, Major Lance and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. In 1966, the band became musician Long John Baldry's supporting band, and played 16 times at the Marquee Club.[31]

The 1910 piano on which Elton John composed his first five albums, including his first hit single, "Your Song"

In 1967, Dwight answered an advertisement in the British magazine New Musical Express, placed by Ray Williams, then the A&R manager for Liberty Records.[32] At their first meeting, Williams gave Dwight an unopened envelope of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin, who had answered the same ad.[33] Dwight wrote music for the lyrics, and then posted it to Taupin, beginning a partnership that still continues. When the two first met in 1967, they recorded what would become the first Elton John/Bernie Taupin song: "Scarecrow". Six months later Dwight was going by the name "Elton John" in homage to two members of Bluesology: saxophonist Elton Dean and vocalist Long John Baldry.[27] His name was legally changed to Elton Hercules John on 7 January 1972.[34]

The team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin joined Dick James's DJM Records as staff songwriters in 1968, and over the next two years wrote material for various artists, among them Roger Cook and Lulu.[35] Taupin would write a batch of lyrics in under an hour and give it to John, who would write music for them in half an hour, disposing of the lyrics if he could not come up with anything quickly.[35] For two years, they wrote easy-listening tunes for James to peddle to singers. Their early output included a contender for the UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 1969, for Lulu, called "I Can't Go On (Living Without You)". It came sixth of six songs. In 1969, John provided piano for Roger Hodgson on his first released single, "Mr. Boyd" by Argosy, a quartet that was completed by Caleb Quaye and Nigel Olsson.[36][37]

Debut album to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1969–1973)

Elton John on stage in 1971

On the advice of music publisher Steve Brown, John and Taupin started writing more complex songs for John to record for DJM. The first was the single "I've Been Loving You" (1968), produced by Caleb Quaye, Bluesology's former guitarist. In 1969, with Quaye, drummer Roger Pope, and bassist Tony Murray, John recorded another single, "Lady Samantha", and an album, Empty Sky. For their follow-up album, Elton John, John and Taupin enlisted Gus Dudgeon as producer and Paul Buckmaster as musical arranger. Elton John was released in April 1970 on DJM Records/Pye Records in the UK and Uni Records in the US, and established the formula for subsequent albums – gospel-chorded rockers and poignant ballads. The album's first single, "Border Song", peaked at 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, "Your Song", reached number seven in the UK Singles Chart and number eight in the US, becoming John's first hit single as a singer.[38] The album soon became his first hit album, reaching number four on the US Billboard 200 and number five on the UK Albums Chart.[38][39]

Backed by former Spencer Davis Group drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray, Elton John's first American concert took place at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in August 1970, and was a success.[40] The concept album Tumbleweed Connection was released in October 1970, and reached number two in the UK and number five in the U.S.[38] The live album 17-11-70 (titled 11–17–70 in the U.S.) was recorded at a live show aired from A&R Studios on WABC-FM in New York City. Sales of the live album were heavily hit in the US when an east-coast bootlegger released the performance several weeks before the official album, including all 60 minutes of the aircast, not just the 40 minutes selected by Dick James Music.[41]

Elton John at the Musikhalle Hamburg, in March 1972

John and Taupin then wrote the soundtrack to the obscure film Friends and then the album Madman Across the Water, the latter reaching number eight in the U.S. and producing the hit songs, "Levon", and the album's opening track "Tiny Dancer". In 1972, Davey Johnstone joined the Elton John Band on guitar and backing vocals. Released in 1972, Honky Château became John's first U.S. number one album, spending five weeks at the top of the Billboard 200, and began a streak of seven consecutive U.S. number-one albums.[42] The album reached number two in the UK, and spawned the hit singles "Rocket Man" and "Honky Cat".[43]

The pop album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player came out at the start of 1973 and reached number one in the UK, the U.S. and Australia, among other countries.[38] The album produced the hits "Crocodile Rock", his first US Billboard Hot 100 number one, and "Daniel", which reached number two in the U.S. and number four in the UK.[38][44] Both the album and "Crocodile Rock" were the first album and single, respectively on the consolidated MCA Records label in the U.S., replacing MCA's other labels including Uni.[45]

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, released in October 1973, gained instant critical acclaim and topped the chart on both sides of the Atlantic, remaining at number one for two months.[46] It also temporarily established John as a glam rock star. It contained the U.S. number 1 "Bennie and the Jets", along with other hits, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Candle in the Wind", "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding". Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is included in the VH1 Classic Albums series, discussing the making, recording, and popularity of the album through concert and home video footage including interviews.[47]

The Rocket Record Company to 21 at 33 (1974–1979)

Elton John on the piano during a live performance in 1975

John formed his own label named The Rocket Record Company (distributed in the US by MCA and initially by Island in the UK) and signed acts to it – notably Neil Sedaka (John sang background vocals on Sedaka's "Bad Blood") and Kiki Dee, in whom he took a personal interest. Instead of releasing his own records on Rocket, he opted for a $8 million contract offered by MCA. When the contract was signed in 1974, MCA reportedly took out a $25 million insurance policy on John's life.[48] In 1974, MCA released Elton John's Greatest Hits, a UK and U.S. number one which is certified Diamond by the RIAA for sales of 16 million copies in the U.S.[38][49]

In 1974, John collaborated with John Lennon on his cover of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", the B-side of which was Lennon's "One Day at a Time." In return, John was featured on "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" on Lennon's Walls and Bridges album. Later that year, in what would be Lennon's last major live performance, the pair performed these two number-one hits, along with the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There", at Madison Square Garden in New York. Lennon made the rare stage appearance with John and his band to keep the promise he had made that he would appear on stage with him if "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" became a U.S. number one single.[50]

Caribou was released in 1974, becoming John's third number one in the UK, and topping the charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia.[38][51] Reportedly recorded in two weeks between live appearances, it featured "The Bitch Is Back" and the orchestrated "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me".[51] "Step into Christmas" was released as a stand-alone single in November 1973, and appears in the album's 1995 remastered re-issue.[52]

John often wore elaborate stage costumes as part of the glam rock era in the UK music scene.[53]

Pete Townshend of the Who asked John to play a character called the "Local Lad" in the film adaptation of the rock opera Tommy, and to perform the song "Pinball Wizard". Drawing on power chords, John's version was recorded and used for the movie release in 1975. The song charted at number 7 in the UK.[38] Bally subsequently released a "Captain Fantastic" pinball machine featuring an illustration of John in his movie guise.[54]

The 1975 autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy debuted at number one in the U.S., the first album ever to do so, and stayed at the top for seven weeks.[55] Elton John revealed his previously ambiguous personality on the album, with Taupin's lyrics describing their early days as struggling songwriters and musicians in London. The lyrics and accompanying photo booklet are infused with a specific sense of place and time that is otherwise rare in his music. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was the hit single from this album and captured an early turning point in John's life. The album's release signalled the end of the Elton John Band, as an unhappy and overworked John dismissed Olsson and Murray, two people who had contributed much of the band's signature sound and who had helped build his live following since the beginning.[54]

According to Circus, a spokeswoman for John Reid said the decision was reached mutually via phone while John was in Australia promoting Tommy.[56] She said there was no way Reid could have fired them "because the band are not employed by John Reid, they're employed by Elton John."[56] She went on to say Nigel would be going back to his solo work and Dee would do session work "and possibly cut a solo album".[56]

Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper were retained, Quaye and Roger Pope returned, and the new bassist was Kenny Passarelli: this rhythm section provided a heavier-sounding backbeat. James Newton Howard joined to arrange in the studio and to play keyboards.[57] In June 1975, John introduced the line-up before a crowd of 75,000 in London's Wembley Stadium.[57]

Elton John during a Captain Fantastic concert in 1975

The rock-oriented Rock of the Westies entered the U.S. albums chart at number 1 as had Captain Fantastic, a previously unattained feat.[55] Elton John's stage wardrobe now included ostrich feathers, $5,000 spectacles that spelled his name in lights, and dressing up like the Statue of Liberty, Donald Duck, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, among other figures.[58] In 1975, John received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[59]

To celebrate five years since he had first appeared at the venue, in 1975 Elton John played a two-night, four-show stand at the Troubadour. With seating limited to under 500 per show, the chance to purchase tickets was determined by a postcard lottery, with each winner allowed two tickets. Everyone who attended the performances received a hardbound "yearbook" of the band's history. That year he also played piano on Kevin Ayers' Sweet Deceiver, and was among the first and few white artists to appear on the African-American television series Soul Train.[46] On 9 August 1975, John was named the outstanding rock personality of the year at the first annual Rock Music Awards at ceremonies held in Santa Monica, California.[60]

In 1976, the live album Here and There was released in May, followed by the Blue Moves album in October, which contained the single "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word". His biggest success in 1976 was "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", a duet with Kiki Dee that topped a number of charts, including the UK, the US, Australia, France and Canada.[38][61]

Elton performing live with Ray Cooper in Dublin in 1979

Besides being the most commercially successful period, 1970–1976 is also held in the most regard critically. Within only a three-year span, between 1972 and 1975 John saw seven consecutive albums reach number one in the U.S., something which had not been accomplished before.[46] Of the six Elton John albums to make Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003, all are from this period, with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ranked highest at number 91.[62]

In November 1977, Elton John announced he was retiring from performing; Taupin began collaborating with others. Now producing only one album a year, John issued A Single Man in 1978, employing a new lyricist, Gary Osborne; the album produced no singles that made the top 20 in the U.S. but the two singles from the album released in the UK, "Part-Time Love" and "Song for Guy", both made the top 20 in the UK, with the latter reaching the top 5.[38] In 1979, accompanied by Ray Cooper, Elton John became one of the first Western artists to tour the Soviet Union, as well as one of the first in Israel.[63][64] John returned to the U.S. top ten with "Mama Can't Buy You Love" (number 9), a song originally rejected in 1977 by MCA before being released, recorded in 1977 with Philadelphia soul producer Thom Bell.[65] John reported that Thom Bell was the first person to give him voice lessons; Bell encouraged John to sing in a lower register.[66] A disco-influenced album, Victim of Love, was poorly received. In 1979, John and Taupin reunited, though they did not collaborate on a full album until 1983's Too Low For Zero. 21 at 33, released the following year, was a significant career boost, aided by his biggest hit in four years, "Little Jeannie" (number 3 US), with the lyrics written by Gary Osborne.[67]

The Fox to Sleeping with the Past (1980–1989)

Elton John performing in the 1980s

His 1981 album, The Fox, was recorded during the same sessions as 21 at 33, and included collaborations with Tom Robinson and Judie Tzuke. On 13 September 1980, Elton John, with Olsson and Murray back in the Elton John Band, performed a free concert to an estimated 400,000 fans on The Great Lawn in Central Park in New York.[68]

With original band members Johnstone, Murray and Olsson together again, he was able to return to the charts with the 1983 hit album Too Low for Zero, which included "I'm Still Standing" (No. 4 UK) and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", the latter of which featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica and reached number four in the U.S. and number five in the UK.[38][61] In October 1983, John caused controversy when he broke the United Nations' cultural boycott on apartheid-era South Africa by performing at the Sun City venue.[69] He married his close friend and sound engineer, Renate Blauel, on Valentine's Day 1984 – the marriage lasted three years.[70]

Elton John costume from the 1986 Tour de Force Australian concerts, on display in the Hard Rock Cafe, London

In 1985, he was one of the many performers at Live Aid held at Wembley Stadium.[71] John played "Bennie and the Jets" and "Rocket Man"; then "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee for the first time since the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1982; and introduced George Michael, still then of Wham!, to sing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me".[71] In 1984, he released Breaking Hearts which featured the song "Sad Songs (Say So Much)", number five in the U.S. and number seven in the UK.[38] Elton John also recorded material with Millie Jackson in 1985. In 1986, he played the piano on two tracks on the heavy metal band Saxon's album Rock the Nations.[72]

In 1987, John won a libel case against The Sun which published false allegations of him having sex with rent boys.[73] In 1988, he performed five sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, giving him 26 for his career.[74] Netting over $20 million, 2,000 items of John's memorabilia were auctioned off at Sotheby's in London.[75]

He placed other hits throughout the 1980s, including "Nikita", whose music video was directed by Ken Russell. The song reached number three in the UK and number seven in the U.S. In 1986, a live orchestral version of "Candle in the Wind" reached number six in the U.S., while "I Don't Wanna Go on with You Like That" reached number two in the same country in 1988.[38][61] His highest-charting single was a collaboration with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder called "That's What Friends Are For". The track reached number one in the U.S. in 1985; credited as Dionne and Friends, the song raised funds for AIDS research.[61] His albums continued to sell, but of those released in the latter half of the 1980s, only Reg Strikes Back (number 16, 1988) placed in the top 20 in the U.S.[61]

"Sacrifice" to Aida (1990–1999)

In 1990, he achieved his first solo UK number one hit single, with "Sacrifice" (coupled with "Healing Hands") from the previous year's album Sleeping with the Past; it stayed at the top spot for six weeks.[76] The following year, John's "Basque" won the Grammy for Best Instrumental, and a guest concert appearance at Wembley Arena he had made on George Michael's cover of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was released as a single and topped the charts in both the UK and the U.S.[77] At the 1991 Brit Awards in London, Elton John won the award for Best British Male.[78]

In 1992, he released the U.S. number 8 album The One, featuring the hit song "The One".[79][80] He also released "Runaway Train", a duet he recorded with his long-time friend Eric Clapton, and with whom he played on Clapton's World Tour.[81] John and Taupin then signed a music publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music for an estimated $39 million over twelve years, giving them the largest cash advance in music publishing history.[82] In April 1992, John appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, performing "The Show Must Go On" with the remaining members of Queen, and "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses and Queen's remaining members.[83] In September, John performed "The One" at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, and closed the ceremony performing "November Rain" with Guns N' Roses.[84] The following year, he released Duets, which featured collaborations with fifteen artists including Tammy Wynette and RuPaul. This included a new collaboration with Kiki Dee, entitled "True Love", which reached the Top 10 of the UK charts.[85] In the same year, The Bunbury Tails, a multi-artist charity album, was released, which was the soundtrack to the British animated television series of the same name. "Up The Revolution" was John's track, alongside contributions from George Harrison, the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. The album was issued briefly, and only in the UK.[86]

"For myself as well as for many others no-one has been there more for inspiration than Elton John. When we talk of great rock duos like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, John (Lennon) and Paul (McCartney), Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards), I like to think of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Also tonight I think that Elton should be honoured for his great work and contribution in the fight against AIDS. And also his bravery in exposing all the triumphs and tragedies of his personal life. "

Axl Rose speech inducting Elton John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[87]

Along with Tim Rice, Elton John wrote the songs for the 1994 Disney animated film The Lion King. At the 67th Academy Awards, three of the five nominees for the Academy Award for Best Song were from The Lion King soundtrack. John won the award with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight".[88] Both that and "Circle of Life" became hit songs for John.[89][90] "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" also won John the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 37th Annual Grammy Awards.[88] After the release of The Lion King soundtrack, the album remained at the top of Billboard 200 for nine weeks. On 10 November 1999, the RIAA certified The Lion King "Diamond" for selling 15 million copies.[91]

In 1994, Elton John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Guns N' Roses' frontman Axl Rose.[92] In 1995, he released the album Made in England (number 3). The title track is an autobiographical telling of parts of his life and what it is like in England. The album also featured the single "Believe".[93] John performed "Believe" at the 1995 Brit Awards, and picked up the prize for Outstanding Contribution to Music.[94]

Elton John with Luciano Pavarotti in Modena, 1996

A duet with Luciano Pavarotti, "Live Like Horses", reached number nine in the UK in December 1996.[38] A compilation album called Love Songs was released in 1996.[95] Early in 1997, he held a 50th birthday party, costumed as Louis XIV of France, for five hundred friends. He performed with the surviving members of Queen in Paris at the opening night (17 January 1997) of Le Presbytère N'a Rien Perdu De Son Charme Ni Le Jardin De Son Éclat, a work by French ballet legend Maurice Béjart which draws upon the AIDS crisis and the deaths of Freddie Mercury and the company's principal dancer Jorge Donn. Later in 1997, two close friends died: designer Gianni Versace was murdered; and Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Paris car crash on 31 August.[96]

In early September, he contacted his writing partner Bernie Taupin, asking him to revise the lyrics of his 1973 song "Candle in the Wind" to honour Diana, and Taupin rewrote the song accordingly.[97] On 6 September 1997, John performed "Candle in the Wind 1997" for the only time in a live setting at the funeral of Diana in Westminster Abbey.[98][99] The song became the fastest and biggest-selling single of all time, eventually selling over 33 million copies worldwide,[91][100] the best-selling single in UK chart history,[101] the best-selling single in Billboard history and the first single certified Diamond in the U.S. where it sold over 11 million copies.[5][91][102] The Guinness World Records 2009 states that the song is "the biggest-selling single since UK and US singles charts began in the 1950s, having accumulated worldwide sales of 33 million copies".[6] The song proceeds of approximately £55 million were donated to Diana's charities via the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.[103] It won Elton John the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards in 1998.[100] The song “Something About the Way You Look Tonight" was released as a double A-side.[99]

On 15 September 1997, John appeared at the Music for Montserrat charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, performing "Your Song", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Live Like Horses" solo before finishing with "Hey Jude" alongside fellow English artists Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler and Sting.[104] In November 1997, John performed in the BBC's Children in Need charity single "Perfect Day", which reached number one in the UK.[105]

In the musical theatre world, The Lion King musical debuted on Broadway in 1997 and the West End in 1999. In 2014, it had grossed over $6 billion and became the top-earning title in box-office history for both stage productions and films, surpassing the record previously held by Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera.[106] In addition to The Lion King, John also composed music for a Disney's musical production Aida in 1999 with lyricist Tim Rice, for which they received the Tony Award for Best Original Score at the 54th Tony Awards,[107] and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards.[108][109] The musical was given its world premiere in the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and went on to Chicago and eventually Broadway. John released a live compilation album called Elton John One Night Only – The Greatest Hits, featuring sings from the show he did at Madison Square Garden in New York City that same year. A concept album of songs from the musical Aida titled Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida was also released and featured the John duets "Written in the Stars" with LeAnn Rimes, and "I Know the Truth" with Janet Jackson.[110]

Billy Elliot the Musical and 60th birthday (2000–2009)

Elton John performs at the Skagerak Arena in Skien, June 2009

At this point, John disliked appearing in his own music videos; the video for "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" featured Justin Timberlake portraying a young Elton John, and the video for "I Want Love" featured Robert Downey, Jr. lip-syncing the song.[111] One month after the 11 September attacks, Elton John appeared at the Concert for New York City, performing "I Want Love" as well as "Your Song" as a duet with Billy Joel.[112]

In August 2003, he scored his fifth UK number one single when "Are You Ready for Love" topped the charts.[113] Returning to musical theatre, John composed music for a West End production of Billy Elliot the Musical in 2005 with playwright Lee Hall. Opening to strong reviews, the show won four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. The eleventh longest-running musical in West End history, the London production ran through April 2016, after 4,566 performances.[114] Billy Elliot has been seen as of December 2015 by over 5.25 million people in London and nearly 11 million people worldwide (on Broadway, in Sydney, Melbourne, Chicago, Toronto, Seoul, the Netherlands and São Paulo, Brazil etc.), has grossed over $800 million worldwide and is the winner of over 80 theatre awards internationally.[115] His only theatrical project with Bernie Taupin is Lestat: The Musical, based on Anne Rice's vampire novels. It received negative reviews from critics and closed in May 2006 after 39 performances.[116] John featured on rapper Tupac Shakur's posthumous single "Ghetto Gospel", which topped the UK charts in July 2005.[38]

In October 2003, he announced that he had signed an exclusive agreement to perform 75 shows over three years at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip. The show, entitled The Red Piano, was a multimedia concert featuring massive props and video montages created by David LaChapelle. Effectively, he and Celine Dion shared performances at Caesars Palace throughout the year – while one would perform, the other would rest. The first of these shows took place on 13 February 2004.[117] In February 2006, John and Dion sang together at the venue to raise money for Harrah's Entertainment Inc. workers affected by the 2005 hurricanes, performing "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" and "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)."[118]

Elton John was named a Disney Legend for his contributions to Disney's films and theatrical works on 9 October 2006, by the Walt Disney Company.[119] In 2006, he told Rolling Stone that he plans for his next record to be in the R&B and hip hop genre. John said "I want to work with Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, Snoop [Dogg], Kanye [West], Eminem and just see what happens."[120] West sampled John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” on his 2007 song “Good Morning,” and in 2010 invited him to his Hawaii studio to play piano and sing on “All of the Lights.”[121]

John on piano at the Concert for Diana, commemorating Princess Diana, at Wembley Stadium on 1 July 2007

In March 2007, he performed at Madison Square Garden for a record-breaking 60th time for his 60th birthday; the concert was broadcast live and a DVD recording was released as Elton 60 – Live at Madison Square Garden;[122] a greatest-hits compilation CD, Rocket Man – Number Ones, was released in 17 different versions worldwide, including a CD/DVD combo; and his back catalogue – almost 500 songs from 32 albums – became available for legal paid download.[123]

On 1 July 2007, John appeared at the Concert for Diana held at Wembley Stadium, London in honour of Diana, Princess of Wales on what would have been her 46th birthday, with the proceeds from the concert going to Diana's charities as well as to charities of which her sons Prince William and Prince Harry are patrons.[124][125] John opened the concert with "Your Song", and then later closed it with "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", "Tiny Dancer", and "Are You Ready For Love".[124]

On 21 June 2008, he performed his 200th show in Caesars Palace. A DVD/CD package of The Red Piano was released through Best Buy in November 2008. A two-year global tour was sandwiched between commitments in Las Vegas, Nevada, some of the venues of which were new to John. The Red Piano Tour closed in Las Vegas in April 2009.[126] In a September 2008 interview with GQ, John said: "I'm going on the road again with Billy Joel again next year", referring to "Face to Face", a series of concerts featuring both musicians. The tour began in March.[127]

In 2009, John accepted Jerry Cantrell's invitation to collaborate with his band Alice in Chains.[128] John played the piano in the song "Black Gives Way to Blue", a tribute to the band's late lead singer, Layne Staley, which was the title track and closing song in the album Black Gives Way to Blue, released in September 2009.[129] The first concert that Staley attended was Elton John's, and his mother revealed that he was blown away by it,[129] with Cantrell adding: "Elton is a very important musical influence to all of us in varying degrees, and especially to me. My first album was Elton John’s Greatest Hits. And actually, we were reminded by Layne's stepfather that Elton was his first concert, so it was all really appropriate. So I wrote [Elton] an e-mail and explained what his music meant to us, and that this song was for Layne. We sent him a demo, and he said it was beautiful and he’d love to play on it. In the studio he was really relaxed and gracious, and he's got a great sense of humor. We were just trying to be cool: 'Oh, yeah, no big deal.' But we were excited. [Drummer Sean Kinney] and I had to walk out a couple of times to smoke cigarettes, like, 'Holy shit, this is killer.' It's one of those highlights you can't expect in life, and you're lucky to get them once in a while. And that is one."[130] Elton revealed that he's been a big admirer of Cantrell for quite some time and couldn't resist the offer.[131][132] He said, "I was kind of surprised that Alice in Chains would ask me to do anything. I never thought I’d play on an Alice in Chains record. When I heard the song I really wanted to do it. I liked the fact that it was so beautiful and very simple. They had a great idea of what they wanted me to do on it and it turned out great."[130]

2010–present

John on World AIDS Day in Sydney on 1 December 2011

Elton John performed a piano duet with Lady Gaga at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.[133] On 6 June 2010, John performed at the fourth wedding of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh for a reported $1 million fee.[134] Eleven days later, and 17 years to the day after his previous performance in Israel, he performed at the Ramat Gan Stadium; this was significant because of other then-recent cancellations by other performers in the fallout surrounding an Israeli raid on Gaza Flotilla the month before. In his introduction to that concert, Elton John noted he and other musicians should not "cherry-pick our conscience", in reference to Elvis Costello, who was to have performed in Israel two weeks after John did, but cancelled in the wake of the aforementioned raid, citing his conscience.[135][136]

He released The Union on 19 October 2010. John says the album, a collaboration with American singer, songwriter and sideman Leon Russell marks a new chapter in his recording career, saying: "I don't have to make pop records any more."[137] He began his new show The Million Dollar Piano at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas on 28 September 2011.[138] John performed the show at Caesars for the next three years. He performed his 3000th concert on 8 October 2011 at Caesars.[139] In 2011, John performed vocals on "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" with Kate Bush for her album 50 Words for Snow.[140] On 3 February 2012, Elton John visited Costa Rica for the first time when he performed at the recently built National Stadium.[141]

Elton performing at the Allstate Arena, Chicago in November 2013

On 4 June 2012, he performed at the Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace, performing a repertoire including "Your Song", "Crocodile Rock" and "I'm Still Standing".[142] On 30 June, John performed in Kiev, Ukraine at a joint concert with Queen + Adam Lambert for the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation.[143] An album containing remixes of songs that he recorded in the 1970s called Good Morning to the Night was released in July 2012. The remixes were conducted by Australian group Pnau and the album reached number one in the UK.[144] At the 2012 Pride of Britain Awards on 30 October, Elton John, along with Michael Caine, Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Stephen Fry, recited Rudyard Kipling's poem "If—" in tribute to the 2012 British Olympic and Paralympics athletes.[145]

In February 2013, John performed a duet with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.[146] Later in 2013 he collaborated with rock band Queens of the Stone Age on their sixth studio album ...Like Clockwork, contributing piano and vocals on the song "Fairweather Friends". He stated that he was a fan of frontman Josh Homme's side project, Them Crooked Vultures, and had contacted Homme via phone call, asking if he could perform on the album.[147] In September 2013, John received the first Brits Icon Award for his "lasting impact" on the culture of the United Kingdom.[148] Rod Stewart presented him the award on stage at the London Palladium before the two performed a duet of "Sad Songs (Say So Much)".[149] John's thirty-first album, The Diving Board, produced by T-Bone Burnett, was released in September 2013 and reached number three in the UK and number four in the U.S.[38][150] In October 2015, it was announced he would release his 32nd studio album, Wonderful Crazy Night, on 5 February 2016. As with his previous album, it was produced by T-Bone Burnett.[151] The album's first single, "Looking Up", was released in the same month. This album marked John's first full album recorded with his touring band since 2006's The Captain & the Kid.[152] He also had a major role, playing himself, in the action sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which was released in September 2017.[153]

John performing a tribute to the late George Michael at Twickenham, London in June 2017

On 26 January 2017, it was announced that John would be composing the score for the Broadway musical version of the novel The Devil Wears Prada and its film adaptation along with Kevin McCollum as the producer and Paul Rudnick writing the lyrics and story. The timeline for the musical is yet to be announced.[154] In June 2017, John appeared in the award-wining documentary The American Epic Sessions, directed by Bernard MacMahon. In the film, John recorded live on the restored first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s.[155][156] John composed and arranged a lyric, “Two Fingers of Whiskey”, written by Bernie Taupin, specially for the film, live on camera with the help of Jack White and T Bone Burnett.[157][158] Danny Eccleston in Mojo pointed out that “in one of the series’ most extraordinary moments, Elton John arrives toting a box-fresh lyric by Bernie Taupin and works it up in an instant, the song materializing in front of the viewers eyes before John and Jack White go for the take. There's the magic right there.”[159] “Two Fingers of Whiskey” was released on 9 June 2017 on Music from The American Epic Sessions: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.[160]

On 24 January 2018, it was announced that John would be retiring from touring and would soon embark on a three-year farewell tour. The first concert took place in Allentown, Pennsylvania on 8 September 2018. John cited spending time with his children as the reason for his retirement saying, "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."[161]

A biopic about John's life in the 1970s and 1980s, titled Rocketman, is under process by Paramount Pictures, and set to be released in May 2019.[162] It is to be directed by Dexter Fletcher, who directed Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic about John's close friend Freddie Mercury, and will star Taron Egerton as John.[163][164] In September 2018, John reportedly signed an agreement with Universal Music Group (UMG) to represent his new music "for the rest of his career" in addition to his work from the last 50 years.[165][166]

2018-2021: Farewell, Yellow Brick Road and retirement tour

From September 8 ,2018, John embarked on his final world tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road. It is expected to end in the English leg in 2021.[167]

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