Birth - Death
CBE, Grammy Award, Legion d'honneur, Order of the Companions of Honour, Academy Award
Sir Elton John’s accomplishments in the global music industry have been unsurpassed by any other musician in history. He is a global entertainment icon that continues to perform and remain popular amongst his legions of fans after five decades in the business. His record of best-selling albums, singles, and music awards is equalled only by the degree of his philanthropic work around the world.
Elton John’s musical aptitude began at the age of three when he started to play the piano, moving to lessons at the age of 7. By the age of 15 he had a regular gig playing piano in a pub near his home. It was during this time that Elton John met the legendary songwriter Bernie Taupin, and the two would remain working partners in the business to this day.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin set off creating a series of progressively more popular albums. It began with the first album Empty Sky (1969), and quickly moved through several others until Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973) became his first number one album in the U.S. and U.K. This was followed by the critically acclaimed Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) – it was this album which established Elton John as the leader in the pop music genre.
From there, it was a series of progressive hits. To his record, Elton John has more than fifty Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No. 1 U.S. albums – a record unmatched by any other musician in history. He has the best-selling single of all time with the song Candle in the Wind, which has sold over 33 million copies. For 31 years, Elton John has had at least one song in the Billboard Top 100 every year. He has received six Grammy Awards (including a Grammy Legend Award in 1999), Academy Awards (including best song for the biopic on his life which appeared in 2019), and a Tony Award, among many other music awards.
Recognition and honours have followed. He was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1996), a knighthood (1998), entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1994), and received a Kennedy Centre Honour (2004). In 2019, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to music.
As part of his unique performing style, Elton John was the first musician to adopt a flamboyant stage persona including outlandish costumes and sets that matched the often outlandish themes of his music. This persona has created a unique presentation style that was adopted by many other musical performers wishing to enhance their marketing strategies. This style of pop performance continues today, as evidenced by Lady Gaga or Katy Perry for example. Elton John argues that his stage persona is an attempt to hide his stage shyness.
Today, Elton John’s homosexuality is common knowledge. This was not always the case. For much of the earlier part of his career he remained in the closet, a reflection of the pressures of the industry and society of the time. He came out as bisexual in 1979, and came out as gay in 1988. In fact, he was engaged to be married to Linda Woodrow in 1968 but that engagement fell apart.
Some members of the LGBTQ community lament the fact that little, if any, of his music addresses them directly. Why would an entertainer that acknowledges his gay sexuality and adopts a flamboyant stage presence not have a single song that contains LGBTQ subject matter? Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that his songs were written by Bernie Taupin. However, the easy answer is that the businessman in Elton John has been focussed on creating music and an accompanying persona that would maximize global sales and exposure.
During a time, Elton John was traumatized by his predicament of success and being in the closet. This is evident by his addiction to cocaine and other drugs that severely impaired his life mid-career, and which he managed to escape once he revealed his sexuality and entered into a same-sex relationship.
Elton John has not been distant from the LGBTQ community. The Elton John AIDS Foundation was created in 1992 and has raised in excess of $200 million in research funds. He was active in raising funds for other AIDS organizations. All royalties from his singles sales since 1992 have gone to AIDS research. His marriage to David Furnish has provided significant global exposure to the issue of LGBTQ rights, as has their recent decision to adopt a son.
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