23 Things You Didn’t Know About Elton John
Elton John is one of the most recognisable faces in pop music. Together with his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, Elton has released over 30 albums and sold over 300 million albums worldwide – not bad at all! Many people know and love Elton for classic songs such as ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Your Song’.
His recording of ‘Candle in the Wind’ in honour of Princess Diana is also the best-selling single in the history of the UK and U.S. singles charts. Outside of music, John has done a tremendous amount of work for AIDS organisations and he’s also been outspoken on the issue of LGBT rights after coming out as gay himself in the late 80s.
Without further ado, in the article below we’ve brought you 23 things you didn’t know about Elton John, one of the most iconic performers of our times.
23. His middle name is Hercules
Most people are probably aware by now that ‘Elton John’ is actually the singer’s stage name.
However did you know that Elton’s real name is Reginald Hercules(!) Dwight?! The singer legally changed his name on 7th January 1972 after deciding that ‘Reginald Dwight’ just wasn’t a very glamorous stage name (we think it was the right choice).
He chose the names ‘Elton’ and ‘John’ in honour of the vocalist Long John Baldry and saxophonist Elton Dean, both of whom were members of Bluesology. But why did he choose Hercules?
Interestingly enough, it’s nothing to do with the mythical superhero who fought three-headed hell hounds and slayed the Hydra. Instead it’s a nod to the 60s British sitcom Steptoe and Son!
Fans of the show will remember that the horse featured in the programme was named Hercules. Who knew?! Technically, we should all be referring to John as Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE.
John was awarded a CBE or “Commander of the Order of the British Empire”, which is the third-highest rank in Britain’s Order of Chivalry.
22. He once received a gift from Freddie Mercury from beyond the grave
Elton John was extremely close to his fellow musician Freddie Mercury.
So of course John was distraught when Mercury passed away from HIV/AIDS in the early 90s. But little did he know that his deceased friend had made sure to get John a Christmas present and ensure that it was sent to the singer during the festive season.
Mercury passed away in November 1991, so he was naturally shocked to receive a Christmas gift from the singer, seemingly from beyond the grave. Apparently one of the final things that the Queen frontman ever did was to buy Elton a painting by one of his favourite artists.
Elton was extremely moved by the gesture and penned an open letter on his friendship with Freddie: “As Freddie deteriorated in the late 1980s and early ’90s, it was almost too much to bear. It broke my heart to see this absolute light unto the world ravaged by AIDS. By the end, his body was covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.
“He was almost blind. He was too weak to even stand. By all rights, Freddie should have spent those final days concerned only with his own comfort. But that wasn’t who he was.”
Aww! These two clearly had a special bond, and it just goes to show how thoughtful Mercury was to his friends, right up until the end.
21. John Lennon’s last ever on-stage performance was at an Elton John concert
Elton has worked with most of pop music’s most influential icons.
And of course he was always good friends with the Beatles during the late 60s and early 70s, when the two musical artists were at the height of their fame. In particular, Elton struck up a friendship with John Lennon and once struck a very interesting bet with the singer.
Apparently Elton bet Lennon that if the song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, Lennon would have to join Elton on stage. And he did just that in 1974, performing three songs during one of Elton’s concerts at Madison Square Garden.
The performance occurred six years before Lennon was assassinated and it also marked the last time that Lennon would ever perform on stage again.
Fans will remember that Elton’s song “Empty Garden” is a tribute to John Lennon, who eventually died in December 1980 outside his apartment block in New York.
Sad to think that so many of Elton’s friends have been marred by tragedy.
20. He has a lot of famous godchildren
It’s fair to say that Elton John has a lot of celebrity friends.
This is partly to do with just how many acts he’s collaborated with over the years, and it also helps when he’s trying to raise money for his AIDS foundation. But it seems that many of these showbiz pals are so fond of the singer that they’ve asked him to be godfather to their children several times.
First off, Elton is a godfather to Sean Lennon, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono – which just goes to show how close he was to the Beatles singer. The ‘Rocket Man’ singer also boasts a very close friendship with David and Victoria Beckham.
They asked Elton to be godfather to their sons Brooklyn and Romeo – and of course he agreed!
Lastly, Elton has always been firm friends with the model and actress Liz Hurley. She has a son Damian who can also boast that they have Elton John as a godfather.
In the picture above they can be seen attending a musical event dedicated to honouring Elton’s illustrious career.
19. He was the first ever Western artist to perform in the USSR
Elton John has made history several times during his career.
But perhaps one of the most significant landmarks in his musical journey was the time that he went on a tour around Russia (then known as the USSR) while it was still under communist rule.
At a time in history when the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ was firmly in place, Elton embarked on a tour of the secretive country. In 1979, the singer became the first ever Western artist to perform in the USSR.
For a whole generation of curious Russians, this was the first time that they had ever cast eyes on a Westerner, let alone a unique individual like Elton!
After seeing his bizarre stage outfits and elaborate costumes, most Russians simply assumed that this was how all Westerners dressed and behaved.
This is how the luxury Russian clothing market was born!
18. Originally he only started wearing glasses to copy his hero Buddy Holly
Every musician has their heroes…
…And for Elton John, nobody sang rock’n’roll like Buddy Holly. Aside from his excellent music and his tragic untimely death, Holly is best-known for his iconic thick-framed glasses, a look which Elton quickly decided to emulate.
Early on in his career, Elton started wearing glasses to imitate Holly’s style. Unfortunately his eyes adjusted the lenses and ever since then Elton has genuinely needed to wear glasses!
It turns out that he’s not the only rock star to be inspired by Buddy Holly’s unique look. The Beatles started off wearing suits that emulated Holly’s distinctive style.
Meanwhile Elvis Costello also tried on some thick-rimmed glasses for size and decided to stick with them in homage to Buddy.
Who knew that Elton permanently ruined his eyesight in tribute to Buddy Holly?!
17. Freddie Mercury’s tragic death inspired him to set up the world’s biggest AIDS charity
As we’ve seen, Elton was hugely close to the late Queen front man Freddie Mercury.
And apparently the ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ singer was so distraught over the illness that had killed his late friend that Elton decided to set up an AIDS charity in his memory.
Not only that, but John pledged to donate all of the profits from any of his singles directly to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, as well as other related charities.
Since then, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has become the world’s largest non-profit HIV/AIDS charity, with the singer regularly organising parties and events to raise money to tackle the disease. Thus far, the organisation has raised more then $300 million for 55 countries around the world.
Interestingly, John was also one of the first people to be informed of Mercury’s AIDS diagnoses in 1987.
Mercury famously only publicly disclosed the illness the day before he died in 1991.
16. He’s played over 3,500 concerts in 80 different countries
It’s no secret that Elton John is prolific when it comes to live performances.
But someone has managed to run up the numbers, and the true scale of his touring will astound you! Apparently the singer has played over 3,500 concerts in 80 different countries around the world. Wow!
John has achieved this amazing feat over the course of five decades, ever since his musical career first kicked off in 1969. Apparently if you played a concert every single day, it would still take you ten years to catch up with Elton’s live performances!
Aside from his epic concert statistics, Elton has also broken several records when it comes to his album releases.
The singer is the third most successful musical artist in the American charts, behind only Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
He’s also had 56(!) top 40 singles in the US – second only to Elvis.
15. He once called Madonna a ‘fairground stripper’
Elton John definitely has a way with words…
…and we’re not talking about his songwriting abilities! The singer has dished out more than his fair share of public insults over his career, and nobody can forget some of the jibes he’s come out with during his bitter feud with Madonna.
The pair have quarrelled for years, with Elton regularly questioning Madonna’s musical talent, including her ability to perform live. Things came to a head in 2004 after Madonna was awarded a Best Live Act gong at the Q Awards.
During his speech, John stated: “Madonna, best live act? F**k off! Since when has lip-syncing been live? Sorry about that, but I think everyone who lip-syncs on stage in public when you pay like 75 quid to see them should be shot. Thank you very much. That’s me off her Christmas card list, but do I give a toss? No.”
Burn! And the insults just kept coming…John infamously called Madonna a ‘fairground stripper’ after one of her many revealing performances onstage.
Elton definitely wins when it comes to bitchy insults.
14. He covered ‘Pinball Wizard’ and The Who weren’t happy about it
Elton John famously covered the classic Who song ‘Pinball Wizard’.
He made his own version of the song to feature in the film Tommy – you can even see him in the movie performing ‘Pinball Wizard’ while wearing giant-size shoes and playing a piano that looks like a pinball machine.
However, the Who weren’t all too happy about Elton covering their material and decided to get their revenge on the singer a few years later.
The classic rock band decided to make a cover of one of Elton’s biggest hits – ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’. How we do know?
They contributed a song to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute album ‘Two Rooms’ with their own cover of the famous track…
…And performed it as though the song was a Who composition originally. Yikes!
13. He now has a pacemaker fitted after a bout of angina
Elton John has had his health troubles over the years.
The singer recently had to cancel a string of his Vegas shows after suffering from a bacterial infection and having to spend some time in hospital. But that’s not the first time he’s needed some drastic treatment.
In 1999, the singer had to have a pacemaker fitted after suffering an episode of angina while on an airplane. Apparently he was struggling with an irregular heartbeat at the time.
The singer was understandably worried, but close friends said that he had been ‘anxious but calm’ regarding the procedure.
After getting off the flight, John was escorted to the hospital in a Bentley and promptly received treatment. He managed to give fans a wave and a smile afterwards too!
He has also previously shown off his surgery scar.
12. He married his husband David Furnish on the first day that same-sex marriage became legal in the UK
Elton John and David Furnish have been together for decades now.
But of course, for a long time they were never able to make their union official. That is, until the United Kingdom became one of the first countries to make same-sex marriage legal.
Elton and David decided to celebrate by registering their civil partnership at Windsor Town Hall on Decemeber 21st, 2005. This was actually the first day that civil unions were made legal in England Wales – what a way to celebrate!
Of course, there were plenty of famous faces in attendance to watch the pair get hitched.
Guests included Kate Bush, Gary Barlow, David Beckham, David Walliams and Elizabeth Hurley. The ceremony was performed by Registrar Clair Williams, who also officiated the union between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles.
In 2014, Elton and David upgraded their partnership to a full marriage following same-sex marriage being made legal earlier that year.
11. His moving performance of ‘Candle in the Wind’ has had over 26 million views on Youtube
This one isn’t all that surprising really…
Elton John was extremely close to Diana, Princess of Wales before her tragic and untimely death in 1997. The singer commemorated her death at Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey by performing the much-loved song ‘Candle in the Wind’.
Elton reworked the song (which was originally about Marilyn Monroe) and his collaborator Bernie Taupin changed the lyrics to match Diana’s life and personality.
The song was an iconic moment in British pop culture history and Elton’s performance was watched by millions of people around the world. Since being uploaded to Youtube, the clip has been viewed over 26 million times.
Diana’s funeral represents the only time that this version of the song has been performed live – it was released as a single in 1997.
All proceeds from the record sales were donated to Diana’s favourite charities.
10. He owns over 1,000 pairs of glasses
Elton definitely has a very iconic look.
He’s rocked some memorable costumes over the years, from dressing up like some kind of pantomime dame to wearing some very questionable wigs. Nowadays the singer seems to prefer rocking glamorous suits.
But of course, one thing that hasn’t changed is the singer’s iconic glasses – he’s always wearing an elaborate pair and has done since his career first began.
In fact, it turns out that Elton actually owns over one thousand pairs of glasses in total. Wow!
This feat came to the media’s attention in 2013, when it was revealed that Elton had been forced to hire an extra hotel room just to house all of his glasses.
Talk about extravagant! They must be worth a lot of money…
9. He nearly destroyed his voice entirely thanks to drug abuse
Elton has had some much-publicised battles with drink and drugs over the years.
Nowadays he’s clean and sober, but in the past Elton struggled with addictions to alcohol, cocaine and other substances. Of course, this ended up having a serious effect on his voice.
In fact, in 1987 the singer had to undergo laser surgery to remove nodules on his vocal chords in Australia. The hospitalisation occurred after a particularly rough performance in Melbourne.
Elton was performing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra when audiences noticed that his voice sounded gravelly and weak.
The singer later admitted in 2004 that the problem had been caused entirely by years of drug abuse, including regular marijuana use.
Nowadays Elton can boast that he has overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol, as well as a struggle with bulimia.
8. He doesn’t get on with Lily Allen
Elton is clearly not a fan of Madonna…
…and it turns out that the Queen of Pop is not the only performer that he can’t stand. The ‘Rocket Man’ singer fell out with Lily Allen when they were both presenting the GQ Awards in September 2008, and Lily decided to get hammered.
According to eyewitnesses, Allen spent most of her time swigging champagne rather than focusing on her co-hosting duties, and it wasn’t long before she was slurring words and making speeches up on the spot.
Elton got fairly annoyed with the whole charade and eventually quipped: “What? Are you going to have another drink?”. Allen replied with an obscenity-filled stream of abuse which was broadcast to audiences around the world.
John also hilarious retorted to Allen that “I could snort you under the table”. He definitely put her in her place!
The next day Allen tried to downplay the feud, but we could see just how annoyed Elton was getting…
7. He once hired a sniper to shoot down balloons at a Rod Stewart concert
Speaking of celebrity feuds, here’s another one!
Although we think this one might be a little bit less vicious than the others. Apparently Elton and fellow singer Rod Stewart have been messing with each other for years, and sometimes their pranks have gone a little bit too far.
Despite the fact that they’ve performed together a number of times, the two stars still maintain a fierce rivalry. And apparently Elton once hired a sniper to shoot down balloons that were being launched during one of Stewart’s publicity events.
Apparently the balloons were being released into the sky to promote a concert that Stewart was holding when Elton decided to sabotage them. That wasn’t the only prank Elton carried out either…
Apparently Stewart once enlisted the help of a giant banner to announce one of his music tours which read: “Blondes Have More Fun”.
John put up a banner across the road reading “But Brunettes Make More Money.”
6. He successfully won a super-injunction to try and cover up his husband’s infidelity
In the UK, celebs have been putting out so-called ‘super-injunctions’ on the press for a while.
Think Ryan Giggs and his affair with his brother’s wife, or John Terry’s illicit relationship with one of his teammates’ partners. But Elton John has also used the British court system to protect his private life (temporarily).
In 2016, Sir Elton successfully secured a court-ordered injunction which banned the British press from mentioning his or his partner’s name. This came in response to rumours that the news was about to break regarding David’s alleged infidelity.
Reports were set to emerge that David had been carrying on an affair with a British businessman, and Elton wanted to quash the rumours.
However, it’s also been rumoured that Elton and his husband David have an open relationship, so maybe the singer was just trying to save a bit of embarrassment on his husband’s lover’s part.
Either way, it puts a different perspective on the pair’s marriage…
5. He had a major falling out with David Bowie and the pair didn’t speak for decades
You might think that Elton and David Bowie would be like two peas in a pod.
With their iconic pop/rock songs and elaborate stage outfits, they seem like a match made in heaven. But apparently Bowie once insulted Elton during an interview with Rolling Stone, and the singer never forgave him.
In a 2016 interview with the Evening Standard, Elton stated: “David [Bowie] and I were not the best of friends towards the end. We started out being really good friends. We used to hang out together with Marc Bolan, going to gay clubs, but I think we just drifted apart.
“He once called me ‘rock’n’roll’s token queen’ in an interview with Rolling Stone, which I thought was a bit snooty. I wasn’t his cup of tea. But the dignified way he handled his death, I mean, thank God. I knew he’d had a heart attack on stage in Berlin years ago, but not about the cancer.
“Everyone else take note of this: Bowie couldn’t have staged a better death. It was classy.” It seems that despite their feud, Elton still had some kind words to say about the late singer.
He also covered ‘Space Oddity’ live onstage in memory of Bowie, not long after the singer’s death.
4. One of his songs is about his real-life suicide attempt
‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ is a classic Elton John song.
It’s full of emotion and some great piano melodies. But did you know that the track actually describes the singer’s real-life suicide attempt? The song was released in 1976 and documents a very dark moment in Elton’s life.
Apparently the singer was contemplating suicide after getting engaged to a woman while also trying to hide his homosexuality from the world. The situation led him to think about killing himself.
Fortunately, his singer friend Long John Baldry knew all about Elton’s turmoil and managed to persuade Elton to break off the engagement and focus on his music.
Thankfully this advice led Elton to find a brighter perspective on life and also helped him to find further success in the music industry. The song refers to a ‘sugar bear’ which was Baldry’s nickname.
Nevertheless, Elton later married a German producer named Renate Blauel as a cover for his homosexuality – the couple divorced four years later in 1988.
3. He’s been chairman of Watford F.C. twice
It’s no secret that Elton is a massive football fan.
And he can often be seen in the stands watching his beloved Watford F.C. playing. The singer has even started to indoctrinate his two children in the ways of the football club – check out the cute photograph below:
In fact, Elton has been so involved in Watford’s footballing history that he has acted as chairman of the club twice. He first became chairman in 1976 and appointed Graham Taylor as head coach.
He eventually sold the club on but decided to re-purchase in 1997 and again acted as chairman. However, he couldn’t commit enough time to running Watford and sold it again to someone who could take the reins full-time.
Although Elton is no longer the majority shareholder, he still retains a significant financial interest in the club and regularly attends premier league home matches. In 2014, the club repaid his service by opening the ‘Sir Elton John Stand’.
Elton called the moment ‘one of the greatest days of my life’. Aww!
2. He’s a massive fan of the grunge metal band Alice in Chains
It’s safe to say we couldn’t predict this one!
Elton definitely has an eclectic taste in music, but we had no idea that he’s always been a massive fan of Alice in Chains, the metal grunge band who were most prolific in the 90s.
In fact, the singer is such a huge fan of their music that he played piano in the song “Black Gives Way to Blue”, which was a tribute to Layne Staley, the band’s late singer.
Apparently the first ever concert that Staley attended was an Elton John gig, back when he was just a young kid. He’s not the only member of the band who has a closet Elton appreciation…
Apparently the guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell is also a fan of Elton’s music and revealed that the first album he ever bought was a ‘Greatest Hits’ CD of the singer’s.
We would never have put these two acts together!
1. He started playing piano at the age of four
Elton’s signature instrument is the piano.
He’s wowed audiences all over the world with his musical ability, and has been tinkling the ivories for decades now. In fact, did you know that the young Reginald Dwight was playing the instrument at the tender age of four years old?
All that practice came in very handy, because Elton has since won every musical award in the book (and then some). John is the proud owner of 5 Grammys (he’s been nominated 11 times) and 12 Ivor Novello awards.
He also won Best British Male Artist at the BRIT awards in 1991 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the 90s. He even won an Oscar for his work on The Lion King.
Did you know all of these Elton John facts?