How Elton John Amassed a $500 Million Net Worth
Elton John is one of the most famous singers in the world, selling over 300 million records and creating numerous classic hits that can be heard on the radio somewhere every day, all across the world. But he started with nothing. Now, John has a net worth of $500 million.
The story of how John made it in his career — and how he amassed such an incredibly high net worth — is truly inspiring. This is how the "Rocket Man" became one of the most revered (and richest) musicians in history.
He Grew Up in Public Housing
Elton John was born on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England. His birth name was Reginald Kenneth Dwight, and he grew up in public housing.
"It was the kind of council house that had sprung up all over Britain in the twenties and thirties: three bedrooms, semi-detached, red brick on the ground floor and white-painted render on the top floor," John wrote in his 2019 autobiography, "Me."
His father was a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. He met his mother during wartime England, when she was delivering milk from a horse and cart.
His Childhood Wasn't a Happy One
John's parents were unhappy together, and it made for some difficult times. The singer writes that his mother "was always looking for a reason not to be happy" or "in search of a fight," and believed in a "spare the rod, spoil the child" approach to parenting.
"I found out years later that when I was 2, she’d toilet-trained me by hitting me with a wire brush until I bled if I didn’t use the potty," he writes. His loving grandmother threw a fit when she found this out.
"I was f***ing terrified of her. I loved her — she was my mum — but I spent my childhood in a state of high alert. ... If she was happy, I was happy, albeit temporarily."
As for his mother and father, "They just didn't get on. They were both stubborn and short-tempered, two delightful characteristics that it's been my huge good fortune to inherit."
His father was often off at work, and a disciplinarian when he came home.
He Was Surrounded by Records
John's childhood also was marked with a lot of music. His mother would buy and bring home a new record every Friday after work and bring home music from the likes of Johnnie Ray, Frankie Laine, Nat King Cole and Guy Mitchell.
And then there was Elvis.
Elvis Left an Impression
One day, his mother brought home an Elvis Presley record. He recognized the name immediately.
That previous weekend, he had been looking at magazines at a barbershop. He spotted a photo that "transfixed" him:
"I came across a photo of the most bizarre-looking man I’d ever seen. Everything about him looked extraordinary: his clothes, his hair, even the way he was standing. Compared to the people you could see outside the barbershop window in the northwest London suburb of Pinner, he might as well have been bright green with antennae sticking out of his forehead," John writes.
When he heard Elvis' music, he knew he had found something special.
"I’d never experienced anything like this in my life. As 'Heartbreak Hotel' played, it felt like something had changed, that nothing could really be the same again. As it turned out, something had, and nothing was."
He Played Piano at a Young Age
Like many of the most famous and richest musicians in the world, John began playing his instrument of choice when he was still a child. He was about 6 or 7 years old and could play music he had heard on the radio or at a school assembly on the piano. He was somewhat of a prodigy, you might say.
He also was obsessed with records. He didn't just buy records. He kept a notebook filled with every purchase: "I wrote down the titles of the A and B sides and all the other information off the label: writer, publisher, producer. I then memorized the lot, until I became a walking musical encyclopedia," he writes.
His First Job Was Stacking Bottles
To pay for his ever-increasing record collection, John grabbed a job at a liquor store called Victoria Wine, where he put empty beer bottles in crates and stacked them in the back.
"I think there was a vague idea of my saving up some money, but I should have realized that idea was doomed to failure from the start: Victoria Wine was next door to another record shop," he writes. "It was an early example of what turned out to be a lifelong attitude to shopping: I’m just not very good at keeping money in my pocket if there’s something I want to buy."
He Ruined His Eyesight Trying to Look Like Buddy Holly
As rock and roll took England by storm, young people started to dress more rebelliously. Not John, though. He was forbidden from donning anything that might look like rock and roll, and he didn't like it.
Stuck wearing clothes that made him look "like a miniature version of my father," he decided to wear his prescription glasses all the time. It was the only accessory he had, and he believed that it made him look like Buddy Holly,
"They were only supposed to be used for looking at the blackboard. Laboring under the demented misapprehension that they made me look like Buddy Holly, I wore them all the time, completely ruining my eyesight in the process. Then I had to wear them all the time," he writes.
He Wanted to Play Like Little Richard
Elvis was one of his earliest influences, but it was Little Richard's and Jerry Lee Lewis' showmanship that John really took after.
He commented on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2020 that Lewis and Richard "attacked the piano like lunatics — like criminals, basically. They stood up on it. They jumped on it. So, I attacked the piano like they did, and I jumped on it, and I dressed flamboyantly because if you’re going to watch me for two hours sitting at a plank you’ve got to be entertained."
John was a reserved kind of guy, and later, the stage would be a way for him to open up.
He Started Playing Pubs at 15
By the time he was 15, John's parents divorced, and his mom was in another relationship, and happier. Her mom's boyfriend, Fred, got him a gig playing piano at a pub, where he managed to make £15 ($21 today) a week in tips. It was a huge amount of money for a 15-year-old kid in the early 1960s, and it was enough for him to eventually afford an electric piano and microphone.
The pub had an unruly atmosphere, and if things got too bad, John would climb out of a window to make his escape.
"I’ve played bad gigs to unappreciative audiences as well, but they’ve never impacted on me too deeply. If I don’t actually have to stop performing and climb out of a window in fear of my life, it’s still an improvement on how I started out," he writes.
Into the Blues
John dropped out of music school and went on to get a job at a music publishing company on Denmark Street in London, where he hoped to get his foot in the door in the music industry.
While there, he founded the band called Bluesology, but it wasn't fated to be a success.
"We weren’t good enough. It was obvious. We’d gone from playing obscure blues to playing the same soul songs that virtually every British R and B [rhythm and blues] band played in the mid-sixties – 'In The Midnight Hour,' 'Hold On I’m Coming,'" he reflected in his biography.
Bluesology never made it, but the group played clubs and pubs around Europe, from Glasgow to Hamburg.
He Staged a Suicide to Get Out of Marriage
At the age of 21, John was still closeted — or perhaps just still confused — about his sexuality, and ended up in a relationship with a woman named Linda Woodrow. The two were engaged, and John, rather than be honest, decided to set up a suicide attempt in order to get Woodrow to realize he didn't want to be married to her.
One afternoon, in an apartment with his buddy Bernie Taupin and while Linda was napping, he put a pillow in the oven. Then he opened all the kitchen windows, stuck his head in the oven, and turned on the gas.
"It momentarily seemed quite dramatic when Bernie hauled me out of the oven, but there wasn’t enough carbon monoxide in the room to kill a wasp," he wrote. Linda just thought he was depressed, and that his single "I’ve Been Loving You," failed to garner any traction.
It took another of his friends and musicians, Long John Baldry, to "spell out what I already knew" and get him to admit that he was gay. He and Linda split. In 2020, John paid for her medical bills, even though the two hadn't spoken in 50 years.
Things Start Moving
By the late 1960s, John and Taupin had formed a music duo, writing music at DJM Records for other artists.
"I've Been Loving You" was both Taupin and John's first single. They recorded "Empty Sky" in 1969, which "only sold a few thousand copies" but gave John a sense that "things were starting to move, very gradually," he wrote.
John played piano for a number of other musicians, and this is where he started to think about how he looked on stage and formed his own band. He experimented playing like Little Richard standing up, even though it was "bloody hard work when you have arms as short as mine, but I persevered."
John released his second album, "Elton John," in April 1970. On it included "Your Song," which Taupin wrote the lyrics for over a single breakfast and John wrote the music for in 15 minutes.
Elton and crew were given £6,000 ($8,340 today) to make that second album, which was a lot of money to spend on an artist who was still unproven and had hardly sold any records. But DJM producer Dick James believed in them. And it paid off. Reviews for "Elton John" were great, and a buzz was building.
Then Dick James cut the England buzz short to go to America.
He Had a Stellar Debut
John didn't want to go to America, but Dick James insisted. He and DJM created hype for a virtually unknown artist by stocking American record stores in California with "Elton John," and drumming up enough publicity to pack a 300-person club, the Troubadour.
John was wearing "bright yellow dungarees, a long-sleeved T-shirt covered in stars and a pair of heavy workman’s boots, also bright yellow, with a large set of blue wings sprouting from them," he wrote. "I suppose it all went back to chancing on that photo of Elvis in the barber’s in Pinner when I was a kid: I liked that sense of shock, of seeing a star who made you wonder what the hell was going on."
And then he started banging the keys, standing up, balancing on one hand and doing a handstand. It was a fantastic success, with the Los Angeles Times writing a glowing review of his American debut.
It wasn't long before John found breakthrough success. His self-titled album was certified gold in the U.S. in 1971 and nominated for an Album of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance Grammy that same year.
In November 1971, John released "Madman Across the Water," which included "Levon" and "Tiny Dancer." A few months later, by February 1972, it had gone gold.
"Madman" reached platinum in March 1993 and went platinum twice by 1998.
Seven Consecutive No. 1 Albums
By the time "Honky Chateau" was released in May 1972, John was on fire.
"Honky Chateau" went gold two months after it was released, and the album was the first of John's seven consecutive albums to hit the number one spot in the U.S.
That's some serious cash.
He Married a Woman in the 1980s
Elton John married a woman, Renate Blauel (pictured), in 1984. All of his relationships up to that point had ended badly. He started having what he calls "irrational thinking":
"What if the problem with my relationships wasn’t me? What if it was the fact that they were gay relationships? What if a relationship with a woman could make me happy in a way that relationships with men had failed to do?"
While John had come out as bisexual, he was still in denial about not being attracted to women. His marriage to Blauel lasted three years. When they divorced, both parties signed what was essentially an NDA about their time together.
In 2020, Blauel sued John for an estimated £3 million (about $4.1 million) for writing about her in "Me" and her depiction in the "Rocketman" biopic. The two settled out of court.
He Had to Go to Rehab
Fame hit John hard and fast, and he developed a cocaine problem.
John did his first line in 1974 in at the Caribou Ranch recording studio in Boulder, Colorado. He immediately took a liking to the drug, even though that first line made him puke. It melted away the shyness he thought he had.
"That jolt of confidence and euphoria, the sense that I could suddenly open up, that I didn’t feel shy or intimidated, that I could talk to anybody," he wrote. Cocaine led him to a number of poor decisions. Once, on stage at Colorado, the Rolling Stones asked him to perform "Honky Tonk Women." John felt that the song had gone on so well that he decided to keep playing.
"For a while, I thought Keith Richards kept staring at me because he was awestruck by the brilliance of my improvised contributions to their oeuvre," he writes. "After a few songs, it finally penetrated my brain that the expression on his face wasn’t really suggestive of profound musical appreciation. Actually, he looked remarkably like someone who was about to inflict appalling violence on a musician who’d outstayed his welcome. "
John developed a serious cocaine habit that lasted 16 years. He went into rehab in 1990 and finally kicked the habit.
His Albums Made Millions
These are Elton John's top 10 highest-grossing albums and how much they made:
- "Rock of the Westies" — $7.2 million
- "Honkey Chateau" — $8.2 million
- "Caribou" — $12.6 million
- " Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player" — $18 million
- "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" — $18.9 million
- "Too Low For Zero" — $28 Million
- "Diamonds" — $29.9 Million
- '"The Big Picture" — $38.3 Million
- "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" — $51.9 Million
- "Greatest Hits" — $112.2 Million
Altogether, that's $325.2 million.
Now, he is helping the next generation of music stars with his Apple Music Show called "Rocket Hour." In July 2021, he celebrated his 300th episode.
He Made $100 Million in 2020
Despite 2020 being cut short by the pandemic, Elton John brought in $114.1 million in ticket sales for his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour" after just four and a half months.
According to Billboard, he would have cleared $200 million had the year not been the hellscape it turned out to be.
He Has Many Homes
John has come a long way from living in public housing.
The music maven owns:
- A $7.2 million, 5,000 square-foot house in the Trousdale Estates neighborhood of Beverly Hills (that's where Elvis once lived).
- A six-unit high rise condo in Atlanta's historic Buckhead neighborhood.
- A massive estate in Old Windsor, England (pictured), which he calls "the hub," and where he has lived since 1975. It has an 18th-century orangery, a gilded salon and a library.
- A house by Holland Park in London, England.
- A summer home in Nice, France, which has views of the Alps.
Elton John Stats
Here are some stats on just how successful Elton John has been throughout his career:
- He's ranked as the third on Billboard's Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Artists.
- The songs "Candle in the Wind 1997" and "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" both stayed for number one on the Billboard 100 for 14 weeks.
- Throughout his career, John's songs have had a cumulative of 34 weeks at the number one spot on the Billboard top 100.
- He has had 27 top 10 singles, tying with Janet Jackson.
- He has had 57 singles land in the top 40.
He Has an AIDS Foundation
The AIDS epidemic claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone.
"It was horrible, but ask any gay man who lived through the seventies and eighties and they’ll tell you a similar story: Everyone lost someone, everyone can remember the climate of fear," he writes.
John was particularly drawn to a story about Ryan White, a teenager who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion and was subsequently, and vehemently, ostracized from his hometown in Indiana. Queen singer Freddie Mercury, a friend of John's, was another blow.
In 1992, John founded the Elton John Aids Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the U.S. and U.K that is dedicated to HIV prevention and support services. His husband, David Furnish, is the chair.
He Released an Album in 2020
Even though he's retiring, John released another album, "Jewel Box."
It is a 148-song album of songs recorded between 1965 and 2019, which includes rarities, deep cuts and B-sides hand-selected by John. There are track-by-track commentaries as well.
The deluxe edition costs $90 on Amazon, but it's also free with Amazon Music Unlimited.