Once in awhile, I realize what a quiet and uneventful life I lead. That happened recently when I finished Elton John’s new autobiography, Me. I have long been a fan and so I was curious to learn about his life. I was especially interested to learn about his temperamental side and how he turned his life around and became a leader in the world’s battle with AIDS.
Before I share a few, brief interesting takeaways, I must urge you to listen to the audiobook rather than read it. While Elton does read the opening and closing book segments, Taron Egerton reads the rest. Egerton is the Welsh actor who just won the Golden Globe Award for portraying Elton in the movie Rocketman. Egerton’s acting skill made me feel like Elton was sitting next to me in the car just talking about his life. And he did great voice impressions so you thought the many people Elton knew, like John Lennon and Rod Steward, were there, too.
The book is full of wonderful stories and incredible details and so I wondered how Elton could remember all this from 50-60 years ago. Apparently he kept a daily diary with “manic” entries that contained details. As he read these details his nearly photographic memory brought the stories back to life.
Here are eight takeaways/tidbits that intrigued me and you might find interesting.
- He was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England. At the age of 3, he played “The Skater’s Waltz” after only hearing it played on the family piano. (This link takes you to a cool camera view of what playing the song looks like from above the piano.) At the age of 11, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where he learned musical composition.
- Like the Beatles, “Reggie Dwight” or Elton honed his performance skills by playing in British bars for thousands of hours. He could never get his compositions accepted by record producers until he met his writing partner, Bernie Taupin. He met Taupin by chance when Elton was given an envelop full of lyrics by a record producer, who had just rejected another early Elton song. Elton contacted Taupin, who was living on a farm north of London, and convinced Taupin to move into Elton’s parent’s home so they could write together.
- Elton composes all his songs at the piano while reading song lyrics, mostly from Bernie Taupin. He wrote his most famous early hit Your Song in 15 minutes after Bernie handed him the lyrics after breakfast one day. (This is the song I picked to have played for Patti by our friend Ed Jordan at our 1981 Bar Harbor wedding.) Elton later wrote the music for Rocket Man and Honky Cat in about 45 minutes while he and his band were creating the album, Honky Chateau. (I remember seeing Elton interviewed once and he took a random book from an audience member and sat at the piano and wrote a song using lines in the book.)
- Elton was a huge life-long soccer fan and loved the Watford Hornets so much he bought the team in 1977. He then showed brilliant leadership by hiring the best soccer manager, Graham Taylor, to turn around the franchise. Watford went from being in last place of the lowest division to first place in the highest division.
- In 1990 Elton met Ryan White and his family. Ryan was the young man who died from AIDS after receiving a blood transfusion. Elton talks about how meeting Ryan and his mother touched him deeply and he saw how afraid the world was about the disease. This was an inflection point for Elton and he suddenly realized how selfish he had become. He then became one of the world’s largest voices and fundraisers for AIDS research and understanding.
- Elton admits in the book he was a drug and alcohol abuser/addict, which is his biggest regret. Later in 1990, after his Ryan White experience, he entered rehab and became very engaged in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It was while in AA that he further learned about the many serious plights of others and how lucky he was. He has been sober since and still goes to AA occasionally around the world. (I believe he said he has been to over 1,000 AA meetings around the world and tries to help others deal with their addictions.)
- He was (is) friends with Princess Diana and most of the Royal Family. As most know, he was asked to perform his Candle in the Wind song at her funeral by the Royal Family. Because the song was originally written about Marilyn Monroe, Bernie Taupin rewrote the lyrics in 24 hours so they would honor Diana. Elton talked about having to look at the lyrics during the performance so he could keep his composure and not slip back into singing the original lyrics. The song has sold 33 million copies and became the second most purchased song of all time behind Bing Crosby’s White Christmas with over 50 million copies sold.
- Among his many entertaining stories, is the one he tells about hosting a dinner party with a “single” Princess Di, Richard Gere, and Sly Stallone attending. Apparently Sly was so jealous that Diana was smitten with Richard Gere that he confronted Gere in the hallway and a fight almost broke out. Fortunately, Elton interrupted the confrontation and Sly left later after Gere and Diana began talking again. (Sorry, Sly, but I think Richard will win that duel for women’s interest every time.)
Elton John is now on his final world tour so he can thank all his many fans. He plans to retire from world tours later this year, but will likely continue to perform in England and continue composing.
His life story is uplifting – it reminds all leaders that when you become more self-aware and see how your behavior is negatively impacting others, you can change and better things can happen.