Elton John: ‘They wanted to tone down the sex and drugs. But I havent led a PG-13 life’

In this exclusive article, Elton John writes about his extraordinary life and why he finally decided to give the Rocketman biopic the green light

I was in the cinema for about 15 times before I started crying. Not crying as in the occasional rip quietly percolating down my cheek: actually sobbing, in that loud, unguarded, emotionally destroyed style that makes people turn around and look at you with frightened faces. I was watching my family- my mum and dad, my nan- in my nan’s old-fashioned assembly house in Pinner Hill Road in the late 1950 s, singing I Want Love, a song Bernie Taupin and I had written in 2001. I knew it was in the film, but I didn’t know how they were going to use it. Up until that level, I’d kept a discrete interval from the actual process of making a movie about my life. I dedicated some suggestions, find a few daily rushes, said yay or nay to some important decisions and met two or three times with Taron Egerton, who play-acts me. But otherwise I’d preserve well away from Rocketman , letting my husband David[ Furnish] be my eyes and ears on determined every day. I figured it “wouldve been” uncomfortable for everyone to have the person the movie was about lurking around.

So I wasn’t prepared for the ability of what I was seeing. I Want Love is a song Bernie wrote, I envision, about himself: a middle-aged man with a few divorces, wondering if he’s ever going to fall in love again. But it shaped life in Pinner Hill Road perfectly. I believe my mum and dad must have been in love formerly, but there wasn’t much sign they ever had been by the time I came along. They rendered every notion of disliking each other. My dad was strict and remote and had a awful humour; my mum was argumentative and prone to dark feelings. When they were together, all I can remember are icy silences or screaming rows. The rows shall generally about me, how I was being brought up.

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Hot bench: Taron Egerton, Elton John and David Furnish on the determined of Rocketman. Photograph: David Appleby

My dad was in the RAF so he was away from home a lot, and when he got back, he tried to impose brand-new rules about everything: how I devour, how I garmented. That would set Mum off. I got the feeling they were staying together because of me, which just made things more miserable. The best mode to flee it was to shut myself in my bedroom with my record collect and my comics, and drift off into an imaginary world-wide, fantasising that I was Little Richard or Ray Charlesor Jerry Lee Lewis. I built my serenity with it all years ago. They divorced when I was 13, both remarried, which I was happy about, although my relation with both of them was always tricky. I was closer to Mum than Dad, but there were long periods when we didn’t speak. And my childhood is one thing I’m still sensitive about.

Even if I hadn’t been, the whole experience of watching someone else pretend to be you on screen, of ascertaining things you remember happening again in front of your eyes, is a very weird, embarrassing one, like having an incredibly vivid nightmare. And the story of how I ended up in a cinema, crying my eyes out at the sight of their own families 60 years ago, is a long and convoluted one. And it begins, naturally enough, with a naked transgender wife with triggers flying out of her vagina.

The trans lady was Amanda Lepore, a framework, singer and concert artist. She had triggers flying out of her vagina because she was starring in one of a series of movies by David LaChapelle I’d commissioned for my show in Las Vegas, The Red Piano in 2004. That was his interpretation of the lyrics of Someone Saved My Life Tonight, a song Bernie and I had written about our pre-fame years, living in a flat in north London with a woman I’d foolishly got engaged to when I was still very confused about my sexuality.

An actor was garmented as me in full 70 s stage clothing sticking his head in a gas oven, homoerotic angels figure-skating with giant teddy carries and Amanda Lepore, naked, in an electric chair, with sparks flying out of her vagina. I loved it: I’d said all along I didn’t want service standards Vegas present, and no one was ever going to be able to call The Red Piano that.

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‘ I told Rod Stewart to turn the role down ‘: Elton John in stone opu movie Tommy( 1975 ). Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images

But it also got me thinking. David LaChapelle’s movies were based, very loosely, on “peoples lives”. I truly had staged a completely ridiculous suicide bid that involved sticking my psyche in a gas oven. Instead than tell my fiancee I’d “re making a mistake”, that was my brilliant plan to try and get out of the bridal. If you were going to make a film about me, that would be the way to do it. Nevertheless, the idea of making a film about my life still seemed like a big IF. For one thing, I’ve been very successful author chants and soundtracks for cinemas, but I’ve never been very comfortable with discover myself on a big screen.

Amazingly, the administrator Hal Ashby offered me the male result in Harold and Maude in 1971, but I turned it down: I desired the script, but it seemed like the incorrect thing to do at the time. I’ve played myself in got a couple of cinemas , none of them exactly Oscar winners: Spice World and a Disney thing called The Country Bears . I believe my one famous film role was in Tommy , although it didn’t really involve acting, was trying not to fall over while wearing a pair of 41/2 ft Doc Martens. I initially turned that down, too. They contacted Rod Stewart and I told him to turn it down as well.” I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, dear .” Then Pete Townshend from the Who rang me and I felt like I couldn’t say no. Rod was absolutely fierce:” You bitch! You did that on purpose !” I’ve patently spent a significant proportion of “peoples lives” deliberately trying to annoy Rod Stewart- that’s very much the specific features of our friendship- but that time it was completely accidental.

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‘ I hadn’t even wanted to be a rock star ‘: Elton John on stage in 1974. Photograph: Michael Putland/ Getty Images

I’ve never been very interested in looking back at my vocation. It happened, I’m incredibly grateful, but I’m more interested in what I’m doing next rather than what I did 40 years ago. But that began to change a little the older I got, and I truly started to approach things in a different way when I had offsprings. I was 63 when our first son, Zachary, was born, 65 when Elijah came along- and I did start thinking about them in 40 years’ occasion, being able to see or speak my version of my life. I became less conscious about keeping it all to myself. I liked the notions of them having a film and an autobiography, where I was honest.

So when I decided I did want to go ahead with a movie, we commissioned a script from Lee Hall, who I’d worked with on the stage musical of Billy Elliot . It was brilliant. It had minutes that were pure fantasy and times that were really hard-hitting , no perforates drew, like Tantrums and Tiaras , the documentary my husband David made about me not long after we met. Plenties of people told me I was insane to allow that documentary to be released, but I loved it, because it was truthful. There are minutes in it- and moments in the movie- where I’m completely disgusting and horrid, but then, at my worst, I was disgusting and dreadful, and there’s no reason to pretend otherwise.

But actually building the thing took years. Directors came and moved- David LaChapelle was going to do it, but then he decided to focus on his fine art career- before the producer Matthew Vaughn, who I’d convened when I had a cameo role in Kingsman :< em> The Golden Circle, intimated Dexter Fletcher. So did produce actors: Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy were both in the frame before Taron came along. Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG-1 3 rating. But I simply haven’t contributed a PG-1 3 rated life. I didn’t want a film jam-pack with stimulants and sexuality, but evenly, everyone knows I had quite a number of both during the 70 s and 80 s, so there didn’t seem to be much degree in making a movie that be interpreted to mean that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my inn room with only a glass of warm milk and the Gideon’s Bible for company.

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Birthday bash: Elton John and David Furnish attend his 50 th party at the Hammersmith Palais in London, 1997. Photograph: UK Press/ Getty Images

And some studios wanted us to lose the fantasy element and make a more straightforward biopic, but that was missing the degree. Like I said, I lives in my own head a lot as a kid. And when my vocation took off, it took off in such a way that it nearly didn’t seem real to me. I wasn’t an overnight success by any means- I’d been slog in various regions of the clubs, constructing records, author sungs with Bernie and trying to sell them to people who weren’t interested for four or five years old before anything big happened. But when it happened, it set off like a missile: there’s a moment in Rocketman when I’m playing onstage in the Troubadour club in LA and everything in the room starts levitating, me included, and frankly, that’s what it felt like.

I left England in August 1970 more or less unknown. Me and Bernie were so broke, we were sleeping in bunk beds in my mum and stepdad’s spare chamber. I was inducing points encounter running as a conference musician, playing on anyone’s records. I’d had a little bit of press and a few cases plays on John Peel for my second album, Elton John – enough that I didn’t see the point of going to perform in America, where literally no one knew who I was. But I came back from the Government a month later with American critics calling me the saviour of rock’n’roll. Artists who were just mythic epithets on the back of album sleeves to me, people I absolutely hero-worship, were abruptly turning up in the dressing room to tell me and Bernie they enjoyed what we were doing: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Leon Russell, the Band, Bob Dylan. I’d also lost my virginity, to a humankind- John Reid, who later became my director- and “re coming out” as homosexual, at least to my friends and family. This all happened in the space of three weeks. To say it was a lot to take in is a terrible understatement.

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‘ I came back from the States with American reviewers calling me the savior of rock ‘n’ roll ‘: John with his mother Sheila and stepfather Fred Fairebrother at their suite, London 1971. Photograph: John Olson/ Getty Images

Understandably, Bernie and I has no such notion what the fuck is was going on – you are familiar, I hadn’t even wanted to be a rock star in the first place, I just wanted to be a successful songwriter- but it just got bigger and bigger over the next few years. I deterred a diary the whole time, and it’s inadvertently funny. I author everything down in this matter-of-fact way, which points up constructing it seem even more laughable:” Woke up, watched Grandstand . Wrote Candle in the Wind. Went to London, bought Rolls-Royce. Ringo Starr came for dinner .”

I suppose I “ve tried to” normalise what was happening, but the fact was, what was happening to me wasn’t normal. I’m not complaining at all, but there was no way you could prepare yourself for it. I don’t think any human being is psychologically built to cope with all that stuff happening to you that promptly, let alone me, with all my neuroses going back to my childhood.

In a lane, it’s a miracle I didn’t go off the rails before I did. It took three or four years- and my breakthrough of cocaine- before things started get out of hand, maybe because I was working so hard that I didn’t have too much time to think about it. I was always on tour or making a brand-new album. Of course, when I did go off the rails, that happened like a missile as well.

It’s strange, I don’t find it painful to watch those parts of the film. They’re truthful and, unlike my childhood, it was my own fault. No one forced me to do drugs and alcohol. In fact, more than a few people tried to warn me I was out of control. It took a reasonably Herculean effort to get yourself noticed for taking too much cocaine in the music industry of 1970 s LA, but I was clearly prepared to set the hours in.

I gave my journals to Taron to read when he took on the lead role in the film. He came to my house, we had a takeaway curry and chatted, and I let him discover them. I knew Taron was the right man when I heard him sing Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. I thought it was really important that whoever played me didn’t lip-sync, I wanted them to actually sing the sungs, and Taron had already sung I’m Still Standing brilliantly in the animated movie Sing .

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‘ Welcome to my world-wide, child ‘: Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman. Photograph: David Appleby

But Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me is a really hard song for a vocalist. I know, because I struggled with it myself. When I tried to record it in 1974, the session ran unbelievably poorly: I only couldn’t get it right. Demonstrating my legendary aplomb and breezy good humour in the face of a crisis, I terminated up threatening to strangle my producer Gus Dudgeon with my bare hands, then announced that the song was so terrible that I was never going to release it, and instead was going to give it to EngelbertHumperdinck. Taron, on the other hand, simply sang it: no threats of slaying , no mention of dear old-time Engelbert.

His singing really astounded me. He isn’t doing an parody of me, he doesn’t gaze uncannily like me- although women shaved his head and thinned out his hair to make it look like mine in the 70 s, which he hated. Welcome to my world-wide, newborn- at the least yours will be increased back. But he’s like me, he’s captured something of me, just as Richard Madden‘s got something of John Reid and Jamie Bell’s got something of Bernie.

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‘ Don’t get Bernie started on some of my more outlandish stage costumes ‘: in Sydney, 2001. Photograph: Bob King/ Redferns

Jamie and Taron have even managed to capture my relation with Bernie, which is frankly a miracle, because I actually have no idea how that works. We were thrown together at random. I had miscarried an audition for Liberty Records in 1967, and a person from the label gave me an envelope with his lyrics in it as an afterthought, like a succour trophy. I’m not sure he had even opened the envelope and read the lyrics himself before he did it: I think he only felt sorry for me and didn’t want me to go away evacuate handed.

We were very close right at the start of our career together, but we’re completely different people. He comes from the wilds of Lincolnshire, I come from the suburbs of London. He lives in Santa Barbara and he’s literally won rivalries for roping cow. I compile antique porcelain and the only way you’d get me on the back of a mare is at gunpoint. Neither of us can author if the other is in the room. But there’s a weird attachment between us that I felt the time I opened the envelope- I could just write music to his words straight away, without even “ve been thinking about” it- and it’s lasted over 50 years.

We’ve had arguments – you don’t want to get him started on the subject of some of my more outlandish stage costumes, or indeed the subject of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, a song he’s loathed from the time it was finished and is continuing to loathe to this day- but we’ve never fallen out, despite all the ridiculous crap we’ve been through.

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‘ Bernie never gave up on me ‘: John and Taupin at the 27 th Annual Elton John Aids Foundation Academy Awards viewing party, West Hollywood. Photograph: Michael Kovac/ Getty Images for EJAF

Outside of my husband and children, it’s the most important relationship in my life, we really adore one another and the cinema captures that. There’s a scene in Rocketman where he comes to visit me in rehab, and that started me sobbing again. It happened only the same way in real life. Bernie was one of the people who tried to tell me to stop doing drugs. I wouldn’t listen until years later, but he protruded by me, he never gave up on me, and he was so relieved and happy when I ultimately got help.

He was apprehensive about the movie. He spoke the script and he didn’t like the fantasy various aspects of it.” But that didn’t happen, that’s not true”- very Bernie. Then he saw it and wholly got it. I don’t think he actually burst into tears, but he was incredibly moved by it. He understood the level of it, who ought to establish something that was like my life: chaotic, funny, mad, horrible, brilliant and dark. It’s obviously not all true-blue, but it’s the truth.

Rocketman is in cinemas now

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ global/ 2019/ may/ 26/ elton-john-in-my-own-words-exclusive-my-life-and-making-rocketman

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