Rocket Man: 20 Facts About Elton John’s Extraordinary Musical Career
Elton John’s style has influenced generations. The crazy sunglasses. The animal costumes. The sequined baseball uniform. Did we mention the crazy sunglasses? He’s one-of-a-kind.
But his flamboyant onstage fashion is only a small part of John’s story. He was a music prodigy who turned himself into a global icon. Together, his melodies and his powerful voice, and, of course, his beloved piano, blend to create unforgettable music. From his pop songs to decades of sold-out tours to composing multiple award-winning movie scores and musicals, he’s conquered the musical world.
So how did he do it? Here’s a little more about the man and his exceptional life and career.
Meet Reginald Kenneth Dwight
He was born in Pinner, England, as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. His parents, Stanley Dwight, a member of the Royal Air Force, and Sheila Eileen Dwight, divorced when he was a teenager. His mother remarried but had no more children. His father also remarried and had three more sons, half brothers for young Elton.
With his father often absent, John was more or less raised by his maternal grandparents in Pinner. Eventually, he lived with his mom and stepdad for years, even after he had a handful of musical hits. He didn’t move out until he had multiple albums in the American Top 40.
He Started Playing Music as a Young Boy
At the age of four, John taught himself how to play piano and eventually was able to pick out melodies of songs playing on the radio. He found success at a young age, winning a piano scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at age 11. He never ended up graduating. He quit the school early to pursue a career in rock ‘n’ roll.
Humble Early Beginnings
He began pursuing music as a career at a young age, though his father wasn’t keen on the idea. He found support in his mother and stepfather, who helped him snag gigs around his hometown at a pub that needed a weekend pianist.
At age 15, in 1962, he became a member of the group Bluesology. The band eventually joined up with the singer Long John Baldry. John soon grew tired working with the group, and left to begin a solo career. He dropped out of school at 17 pursue rock ‘n’ roll full time.
He still didn’t play music full time, however. In 1967, he found himself with a day job as a staff writer at Liberty Records after answering an ad for a songwriter.
Meet His Musical Partner, Bernie Taupin
At Liberty Records, another young musician answered the same advertisement that brought John to the record company. Bernie Taupin, a gifted young lyricist, met the gifted young piano player and the two hit it off quickly. They began collaborating at the company and would continue to do so over the next 50 years.
Bernie would write heartfelt lyrics; Elton would write the melodies. In the ‘70s, they took a two-year break from working together, in large part because they felt worn out by how much they were creating. But after that breather, they were back at it for years. Despite the chaotic ups and downs of their personal lives, they thrived as a gifted musical partnership.
The Creation of Elton John
In 1967, Reginald Kenneth Dwight officially changed his name to Elton Hercules John. Elton and John were both inspired by band members of the early band he played in, Bluesology. Elton Dean was the band’s sax player, and the lead singer was Long John Baldry. He took on the name Hercules not for the mythical god, but because it was the name of the horse on a popular TV show, “Steptoe and Son.”
“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” Broke New Ground
His 1975 album, “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” was the first LP to ever debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Then He Broke More New Ground
His follow up album, 1975’s “Rock of the Westies,” also debuted at No. 1, making John the first artist to have two consecutive No. 1 album debuts.
And Let’s Not Forget His Groundbreaking Style
Between sequined sports uniforms, sparkly sunglasses, duck costumes and an ongoing array of over-the-top looks on stage, the singer is as much a fashion icon as a rock legend. He was a major symbol of the British Glam Rock era in the ‘70s, and he evolved his glamorous looks for decades.
He’s said to wear such loud styles to help create a stage persona that offsets some of the natural shyness in his personality.
He’s an Early Pioneer for the LGBTQ Community
He came out as bisexual in 1976 and was married to a female German sound engineer Renate Blauel from 1984-1988, though, during their subsequent divorce, he admitted guilt over not being true to himself and causing her pain.
After his divorce, he began a relationship with David Furnish in 1993. The two had a civil ceremony in 2005, the day a 2004 act allowed same-sex couples to be recognized by civil ceremony. And in 2014, the same year gay marriage was recognized in Britain, they were married. They remain together and have two children together through a surrogate.
He’s Also an LGBTQ Advocate On and Off Stage
He established the Elton John AIDS foundation in 1990, which has raised more than $400 million to help people affected by HIV. On top of that, he’s spoken out during concerts in precarious political climates like Russia, hoping to create more tolerance and understanding of LGBTQ youth.
He Mastered the Pop Charts
He’s the third most successful Billboard Artist of all time, behind The Beatles and Madonna. His portfolio includes 38 gold albums and 31 platinum or multi platinum albums. All told, he’s sold more than 150 million albums and 100 million singles.
He Wrote the Most Successful Physical Single of All Time
His 1997 tribute to Princess Diana, “Candle in the Wind,” sold more than 10 million copies in United States, helping make him the official title holder of the best selling physical single of all time.
Proceeds from the single were donated to Princess Diana’s memorial fund, which helps charities around the world. The song is a remake of his 1973 the original single of the same name, which was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe.
The Grammys Gave Him No (Early) Love, Though
Despite having several successful albums in the ‘70s, and his first major hit on the top of the Billboard single charts in 1973 (with “Crocodile Rock”), Elton John didn’t get a Grammy nomination until 1984.
His first nomination was earned from his collaboration on “That’s What Friends Are For.” He’s earned a subsequent 11 nominations, won five Grammy awards and has three albums in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
He even earned a Grammy Legend award in 2001.
But Broadway Loves Him
He composed the music for “Aida,” which premiered on Broadway in 2000 and was nominated for five Tony Awards. (It won four). In 2008, his next Broadway musical, “Billy Elliot,” premiered. That earned him another Tony.
He Won an Academy Award
He was nominated for three Academy Awards for his work on the 1995 classic “The Lion King.” His song “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” won him the coveted Oscar in the Best Music (Original Score) category, beating out two of his own songs.
He’s Got an Eye for Photography
The Tate Museum in London recently featured an exhibition of about 200 of his exquisite collection of fine art photographs. He’s collected photography throughout the course of his career.
He’s a Big Fan of Sports
Outside of music and the arts, his next love is sports. In 2012, he founded Rocket Sports Management, which helps support up-and-coming athletes navigate the twists and turns of their careers.
He’s a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer
In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, thanks to his impressive body of work. “American music changed my life,” he said in his induction acceptance speech.
That’s “Sir” Elton John to You
Being knighted is a high honor and a major accomplishment. Since 1917, it has been bestowed to British citizens as a recognition of excellence. Elton John officially dropped the “Mr.” from his name and picked up that coveted “Sir” in 1996 when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
He was recognized not only for his musicianship, but for his ongoing dedication to charity through his AIDS foundation. Funny enough, Lord Chamberlain, who announced the star, said his name wrong during the announcement, calling him “Sir John Elton.”
The End of the Road
After having toured since he was 17 and gaining a net worth of around $500 million, it’s fair to say John’s earned a break from the road. But he’s not stopping yet. The #EltonFarewellTour officially began in September 2018 and will continue for a while.
He’s taking his time to say goodbye to his fans and the road, with his last show scheduled for December 2020 at the O2 Arena in London.