Sir Elton Hercules John CBE (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, 25 March 1947 is an English singer-songwriter, composer and pianist. He has worked with lyricist Bernie Taupin as his songwriting partner since 1967; they have collaborated on more than 30 albums to date. In his five-decade career Elton John has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. He has more than fifty Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No. 1 US albums, 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 Top 10, four No. 2 and nine No. 1. For 31 consecutive years (1970–2000) he had at least one song in the Billboard Hot 100. His single “Candle in the Wind 1997” sold over 33 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling single in the history of the UK and US singles charts. He has also composed music, produced records, and has occasionally acted in films. John owned Watford Football Club from 1976 to 1987, and 1997 to 2002. He is an honorary Life President of the club, and in 2014 had a stand named after him at the club’s home stadium.
Elton John was born Reginald Dwight in 1947, and raised in the Pinner area of London. He 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 Roger Cook and Lulu, and John also worked as a session musician for artists such as the Hollies and the Scaffold. In 1968 his debut album, Empty Sky, was released. In 1970 a single, “Your Song”, from his second album, Elton John, reached the top ten in the UK and the US, his first hit single.
He has received six 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 Legend 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. 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). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, is an inductee into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. Having been named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996, John was made a Knight Bachelor by Elizabeth II for “services to music and charitable services” in 1998. 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. 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 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 gay marriage became legal in England, wed Furnish on 21 December 2014. He continues to be a champion for LGBT social movements worldwide and same-sex marriage.
Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex, the eldest child of Stanley Dwight and only child of Sheila Eileen (Harris), and was raised in a council house of his maternal grandparents, in Pinner. His parents did not marry until he was 6 years old, when the family moved to a nearby semi-detached house. He was educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School and Pinner County Grammar School, until age 17, when he left just prior to his A Level examinations to pursue a career in the music industry.
When he began to seriously consider a career in music, 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. John has stated that his wild stage costumes and performances were his way of letting go after such a restrictive childhood. 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. 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.
Elton John started playing the piano at the age of 3, and within a year, his mother heard him picking out Winifred Atwell’s “The Skater’s Waltz” by ear. 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 Handel that he heard for the first time.
For the next five years, he attended Saturday classes at the Academy in central London, and has stated that he enjoyed playing Chopin and Bach and singing in the choir during Saturday classes, but that he was not otherwise a diligent classical student. “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.” He even claims that he would sometimes skip classes and just ride around on the Tube. However, 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.
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. 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. 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 would write the songs that would launch his career as a rock star; he would live there until he had four albums simultaneously in the American Top 40.
In the late 1960s, Elton John was engaged to be married to his first lover, secretary Linda Woodrow, who is mentioned in the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. He married German recording engineer Renate Blauel on 14 February 1984, in Darling Point, Sydney, with speculation that the marriage was a cover for his homosexuality. John came out as bisexual in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, but after his divorce from Blauel in 1988, he told the magazine that he was “comfortable” being gay.
In 1993, he began a relationship with David Furnish, a former advertising executive and now filmmaker originally from Toronto, Canada. On 21 December 2005 (the day that the Civil Partnership Act came into force), John and Furnish were amongst the first couples in the UK to form a civil partnership, which was held at the Windsor Guildhall. After gay marriage became legal in England in March 2014, John and Furnish married in Windsor, Berkshire, on 21 December 2014, the ninth anniversary of their civil partnership. They have two sons. Their oldest, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, was born to a surrogate mother on 25 December 2010 in California. A second son, Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John, was born to the couple by the same surrogate mother on 11 January 2013. He also has ten godchildren, including Sean Lennon, David and Victoria Beckham’s sons Brooklyn and Romeo, Elizabeth Hurley’s son Damian, and the daughter of Seymour Stein.
In 2010, John was criticised by some Christian groups in the US after describing Jesus as a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems”. William Anthony Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and opponent of gay marriage, responded: “To call Jesus a homosexual is to label him a sexual deviant. But what else would we expect from a man who previously said, ‘From my point of view, I would ban religion completely.'”
In 2008, John stated he preferred civil partnerships over marriage for gay people. But by 2012 John had changed his position and become a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom. He was quoted: “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.” In 2014, he claimed Jesus would have been in favour of same-sex marriage.
In 2013, Elton John resisted calls to boycott Russia in protest at the Russian LGBT propaganda law, but told fans at a Moscow concert that the Russian laws were “inhumane and isolating” and he was “deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation.” In a January 2014 interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of John in an attempt to show that there was no gay discrimination in Russia, stating; “Elton John – he’s an extraordinary person, a distinguished musician, and millions of our people sincerely love him, regardless of his sexual orientation.” John responded by offering to introduce the President to Russians abused under Russian legislation banning “homosexual propaganda”. On 24 September 2015, the Associated Press reported that President Putin called John and invited him to meet in the future about LGBT issues in Russia. Putin’s call came just a few days after two phone pranksters called Elton John, pretending to be Putin and his spokesman, and causing John to erroneously thank Putin for the call on the singer’s Instagram account.