Bursting onto the scene in the early 1970s with his flashy clothes, oversized glasses and a seemingly endless string of hit songs, Elton John has become an unforgettable icon of the music industry and a staunch humanitarian.
The man who would come to be known as Elton John was born on March 25 1947 in Middlesex, England in a town called Pinner. Reginald Kenneth Dwight was an only child who could have been described as awkward. He was overweight and wore glasses, which caused him to feel insecure in the eyes of his father, a squadron leader with the British Royal Air Force. It was his mother who introduced music into young Reginald's life and at the age of 4 years old, he had begun to learn the piano. By his eleventh birthday, he had won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. In the mid- to late 1950s, Reginald became enthralled with the new of music called Rock & Roll. He was particularly enamoured with the works of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, but he had to be careful about what he played in the house since his father had forbidden all rock & roll music.
In 1961, when he was 14 years old, he joined his first band called Bluesology. He spent most of his free time playing both with the band or occasionally performing solo. Within four years, Bluesology was performing as the accompanying act for American R&B musicians like The Bluebells, Major Lance and Doris Troy when they toured Britain. Shortly thereafter, they became the Long John Baldry's backing band and together they had toured throughout England. Over time, however, tensions within the band had begun to wear on Reginald. John Baldry had become more and more domineering and would not allow any of the other band members any degree of creative input. Frustrated with the situation, Reginald began looking for opportunities elsewhere.
In 1968, Reginald was auditioning for Liberty Records when he met Bernie Taupin. The two began to correspond with each other and found that they worked well together creatively. Thinking that fame was just around the corner, Reginald changed his name, but still wanted to honor the people he had worked with for so long. Borrowing from the names of Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and singer John Baldry, Elton John was born.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin were hired as songwriters for the newly formed DJM Records in 1968. They had written several songs for other British artists like Lulu and Roger Cook, but Elton knew he wanted to be the one in the limelight and getting the applause. He had always enjoyed performing before others and he vowed that he would do it again. In June of 1969, Elton recorded his debut album with DJM Records called "Empty Sky". The effort garnered respectable reviews, but few sales. Not prepared to give up, a second album was released in 1970. This self-titled effort managed to gain some popularity with American audiences and Elton's first single, "Your Song", began to climb the charts.
Encouraged by the success of "Elton John", he returned to the studio determined not to lose the momentum of popularity that had built up behind him. In February of 1971, Elton released the concept album "Tumbleweed Connection". It rocketed up the charts in both the American and British markets. The single "Madman Across The Water" quickly went platinum and established Elton John as a bona fide rock star. After that, a string of albums throughout the 1970s solidified Elton John's position as a living rock & roll legend.
Elton John's flamboyance on stage matched that of his personal life. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he shouldered a heavy addiction to cocaine and alcohol. He would continue to abuse drugs and alcohol for many years to come. Even after he was convalescing after having had surgery on his vocal chords, he continued his habit of substance abuse. In addition, worrying that rumors of his homosexuality might damage his career, he married German recording engineer Renate Blauel in 1984. After four years of marriage to her, the two divorced and Elton finally came out of the closet. To his surprise, his declaration that he was a homosexual had no impact on his popularity. In addition, he had begun using this revelation to help bring awareness to the new affliction which was devastating the gay community during the 1980s: AIDS. Even prior to revealing his sexual preferences to the world, Elton had worked alongside several celebrities to help raise awareness of this disease and help raise funds to help find a cure. In 1985, he collaborated with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight to record the some "That's What Friends Are For". The song became the highest selling single in Elton John's career to that point and proceeds of the effort were channelled completely into AIDS research.
His work as an AIDS activist continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Concerts and gatherings held in the names of those of his friends that had succumbed to the disease have raised millions of dollars for research. His activism seemed to bring his flagging career back to the superstar status he enjoyed in the 70s and his resurging fame as a singer helped fuel his activism. It was a win-win scenario for him. The 1990s had their share of misery for Elton John as well. In 1997, he lost two of his dearest friends and fellow activists. First was fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was murdered on July 15 1997 at the door of his Miami Beach home. Barely six weeks later, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in Paris. During her memorial service, Elton John performed a version of "Candle In The Wind" which he and Bernie Taupin altered to honor Lady Diana. The single "Goodbye England's Rose" became one of the highest selling singles of all time with the proceeds going to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. After the funeral, Elton never sang the song himself again. In 1998, Queen Elizabeth II honoured Elton John for his work with a knighthood.
Although still active as a performer and an AIDS activist, Sir Elton has also taken up the cause of civil right for homosexuals. He himself entered into a civil union with his partner David Furnish on December 21 2005.