Sir Elton Hercules John CBE (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, 25 March 1947) 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. 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. 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. In 2013, Billboard ranked him the most successful male solo artist on the BillboardHot 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 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. 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 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.
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), and was raised in a council house by his maternal grandparents, in Pinner. His parents married in 1945, 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 the age of 17, when he left just prior to his A-Level examinations to pursue a career in the music industry.
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. 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 his grandmother’s piano as a young boy 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 George Frideric Handel that he heard for the first time.
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.
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. 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. He married his close friend and sound engineer, Renate Blauel, on Valentine’s Day 1984 – the marriage lasted three years.
In 1985, he was one of the many performers at Live Aid held at Wembley Stadium. 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”.
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. 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.
In 1987, John won a libel case against The Sun which published false allegations of him having sex with rent boys. In 1988, he performed five sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, giving him 26 for his career. Netting over $20 million, 2,000 items of John’s memorabilia were auctioned off at Sotheby’s in London.
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. 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. 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.
Elton John has written with his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin since 1967, when he answered an advertisement for talent placed in the popular U.K. music publication, New Musical Express, by Liberty records A&R man Ray Williams. The pair have collaborated on more than thirty albums to date. The writing style that Elton John and Bernie Taupin use involves Taupin writing the lyrics on his own, and John then putting them to music, with the two never in the same room during the process. Taupin would write a set of lyrics, then post them to John, wherever he was in the world, who would then lay down the music, arrange it, and record.
Speaking about their 50-year partnership in November 2017, John stated, “we’ve never ever had an argument professionally or personally which is extraordinary because most songwriters sometimes split up because they get jealous of each other and it’s exciting because it’s never changed from the first day we wrote songs. I still write the song when he’s not there and then I go and play it to him. So the excitement is still the same as it was from day one and that’s kept it fresh and it’s kept it exciting.”
In 1992, John was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA). His voice was once classed as a tenor; it is now a baritone. His piano playing is influenced by classical music and gospel music. He used Paul Buckmaster to arrange the music on his studio albums during the 1970s.
In April 2009, the Sunday Times Rich List estimated John’s wealth to be £175 million (US$265 million), and ranked him as the 322nd wealthiest person in Britain. John was estimated to have a fortune of £195 million in the Sunday Times Rich List of 2011, making him one of the 10 wealthiest people in the British music industry. Aside from his main home Woodside in Old Windsor, Berkshire, John owns residences in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nice, Holland Park in London, and Venice. John’s property in Nice is based on Mon Boron mountain. Elton John is an art collector, and is believed to have one of the largest private photography collections in the world.
In 2000, he admitted to spending £30 million in just under two years—an average of £1.5 million a month. Between January 1996 and September 1997, he spent more than £9.6m on property and £293,000 on flowers. In June 2001 John sold 20 of his cars at Christie’s, saying he didn’t get the chance to drive them because he was out of the country so often. The sale, which included a 1993 Jaguar XJ220, the most expensive at £234,750, and several Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and Bentleys, raised nearly £2 million. In 2003, John sold the contents of his Holland Park home—expected to fetch £800,000 at Sotheby’s—to modernise the decoration and to display some of his contemporary art collection. Every year since 2004, John has opened a shop called “Elton’s Closet” in which he sells his second-hand clothes.