33 Things You Didn't Know About Elton John

Elton John

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Elton John
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The Facts About the Original Rocket Man

With a career spanning over 50 years and counting, Elton John — who is currently performing on his umpteenth farewell tour — is one of the most famous musicians of all time with a life story you wouldn’t believe if it hadn’t been so well documented. From name changes and countless awards to surprising feuds and lifelong friendships — including a close bond with the royal family that culminated in a heartfelt speech and tribute to Queen Elizabeth II during one of the musician's concerts that took place on the eve of her passing, here are things you didn’t know about Elton John.

Related: Farewell Concert Tours — That Weren't Actually the End of the Road

elton john queen elizabeth
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He’s a Knight

In 1995, Queen Elizabeth II honored Elton John with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire or CBE title. Just three years later, he was knighted for his charitable work and musical contributions.

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Sir Elton John sings 'Candle in the Wind'
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He Performed at Princess Diana’s Funeral

In 1997, Elton John performed his hit song ‘Candle in the Wind” at Lady Di’s funeral. The song was originally written for Marilyn Monroe, but he rewrote it before the funeral. Documents show the Royal Family thought the new lyrics were too sentimental and John almost didn’t get to perform the song.

Related: 22 Locations From Famous Songs That You Can Actually Visit

Elton John
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He Changed His Name — With Approval

At birth, his name was Reginald Kenneth Dwight. His family called him Reggie or Reg, but in 1972, he legally changed his name to Elton John, which everyone — including his mother — called him, because he associates Reginald with a sad time in his life. He took his new moniker from two ensemble members from his soul group, Bluesology — Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. The two gave Elton their approval before he legally changed his name.

Related: 25 Celebs Whose First Job Was Worse Than Yours

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He Was a Music Prodigy

A musical prodigy, Elton John was teaching himself to play songs by ear from a very early age. In fact, he reportedly learned to play "The Skater's Waltz" by Emile Waldteufel, when he was just 3 years old.  By the time he was eleven years old, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. His teacher, Helen Piena, said he couldn’t read music, but played music back like a gramophone

Related: Iconic Musicians Who Are Back on the Road This Year

Elton John At Watford
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His Middle Name Is Hercules

When he changed his name in 1972, he ditched the middle name 'Kenneth' and opted for 'Hercules' instead. The name doesn't come from Hercules, the mythological hero, but after a horse in one of the most popular British television sitcoms of the '60s and '70s.

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He Once Released Four Albums in a Year

At the start of his career, Elton John came in hot, releasing four albums between October 1970 and November 1971. His fourth album that year, “Madman Across the Water,” is known for the hit single, “Tiny Dancer.” Not only did he release four albums in one year, he went on to release 17 albums in the 1970s alone, more than most artists release in their entire careers.

Related: Song Lyrics Everyone Gets Wrong

Elton John and Bernie Taupin
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He Met Bernie Taupin Through an Ad

Known as one of the greatest creative partnerships in music history, Bernie Taupin and Elton John met through an ad. Elton John answered an ad for a Liberty Records manager looking for songwriters. Taupin would write lyrics and send them to John, who would compose the music.

Taupin And Elton John
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He Produced 15 Hit Singles in Three Years

In the mid-1970s Elton John recorded 15 hit singles with his musical partner Bernie Taupin — nine of which took the top two spots. His albums were also wildly successful on the charts, as they hit number one nearly once per month from 1973-1976. 

Related: 50 Classic Albums Turning 50 Years Old

John Lennon Onstage With Elton John
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He Was on Stage for John Lennon's Final Performance

Elton John brought John Lennon on stage during his show at Madison Square Garden in 1974. Lennon sang a few songs during what would come to be his last performance. This wasn’t the first time the two rockstars played together — Elton John played piano on Lennon’s track, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” which went on to become Lennon’s first hit single in the US.

Laughing Elvis
David Bowie
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He Had a Falling Out With David Bowie

The two superstars became friends in the 1970s, but it quickly turned cold when Bowie called him "rock 'n roll's token queen" during a Rolling Stone interview, which John felt was a “snooty” thing to say. Their feud would go on for decades, but when Bowie died in 2016, Elton John did a public performance of "Space Oddity” to honor the late singer's memory. 

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Elton John and Madonna Have a Feud

The two have had a slew of feuds over the years, going back to 2002, when Elton John said he thought her theme song for Die Another Day was "the worst Bond tune ever." A few years later he called her out for lip syncing during her live performances while accepting an award at the 2004 Q Awards. 

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"To Russia... With Elton"
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He Played in the U.S.S.R.

Elton John is one of the first major rock acts to play behind the Iron Curtain in 1979. He played eight shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). Much of the audience consisted of government officials and he ended his shows with The Beatles' song “Back in the U.S.S.R."

Elton and Ron
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He’s a Prankster

Elton John and fellow singer Rod Stewart have had an on-and-off friendship, but are known for pranking each other. Some of the pranks John has pulled on Stewart include hiring a sniper to take down blimps Stewart bought to promote himself and buying billboards that said “But Brunettes make more money,” opposite Stewarts billboards for the Blondes ‘ave More Fun Tour.

Renate and Elton John at Their Wedding
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He Has an Ex-Wife, an Ex- Fiancee, and a Husband

Before his hit single “Your Song,” Elton John was engaged to Linda Woodrow, but broke off the engagement one night after Bernie Taupin told him he shouldn’t get married. He went on to marry Renate Blauel, a German recording engineer, in 1984. Having originally come out as bisexual to Rolling Stone in 1976, he came out as gay shortly after the divorce. He met David Furnish in 1993 and the couple have been together ever since. They registered their civil partnership in 2005 and married once same-sex marriage became legal in 2014.

Related: Shortest Celebrity Marriages: Til Death Do You Part? Hardly.

He Had Drug Problems
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He Had Drug Problems

He is very open about his past issues with drug abuse and addiction. Elton John was hospitalized in 1975 after a cocaine overdose, but has been sober since 1990. Some of his drug issues are shown in his biopic, “Rocketman.”

Elton John record Tiny Dancer

He's in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Elton John was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 by Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses. Rod Stewart, Bob Marley, The Grateful Dead, Duane Eddy, John Lennon, The Band, and The Animals were also added that year.

Elton John Grammys
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He Has Five Grammys

Over the course of his musical career, Elton John has won five Grammys, his first of which was for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1986 for the song "That's What Friends Are For," featuring Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder.

Elton John Family
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Elton John
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He’s Done a Lot of TV

Elton John has guest starred as himself on several TV shows and movies. From “The Nanny,” “South Park,” “The Simpsons,” “Ally McBeal,” “The Country Bears,” “Will & Grace,” “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” “Nashville,” and more. He’s been on television quite a bit. 

Victoria Beckham, Sir Elton John and Elizabeth Hurley
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He’s a Popular Godfather

Elton John has two sons of his own, but he is also the godfather to many famous couples’ children. Some of the most famous parents of John’s godchildren include Elizabeth Hurley’s, David and Victoria Beckham’s, and John Lennon’s kids.

Eminem and Sir Elton John
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He Helped Eminem Stay Sober

As a sober person, Elton John has become a mentor to several other famous folks, including Eminem. Their relationship began when Eminem reached out to John for advice on battling his own drug addiction. They have even worked on music together in the past, with John famously playing piano for Eminem’s performance of “Stan” at the 2001 Grammys.

Elton John Performs
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His Pianos Are All Named After Female Singers

Over the years, John has brought many showstopping pianos out on stage, including some named Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and Diana Krall. His most famous piano, though, has LED screens to display video footage that moves to the rhythm of the music. The piano, which has a price tag of $1.3 million, is named Blossom after jazz musician Blossom Dearie. 

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Elton John AIDS Foundation
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He Founded an AIDS Foundation

Founded in 1992, Elton John’s AIDS Foundation hosts an Academy Awards viewing party each year to raise money for AIDS prevention education and direct patient care services with the hope of bringing an end to HIV and AIDS.  

Elton John
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He Has Four Tony Nods

Of his four nominations between 1998 and 2010, John won one Tony in 2000 for Best Original Score for Aida. The musical is based on “Aida,” the opera, written by Antonio Ghislanzoni with music by Giuseppe Verdi.

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You Can Book Him for Weddings

Elton John performs at weddings for fees over $1 million dollars. His most famous private booking to date is perhaps when he played Rush Limbaugh’s wedding reception in 2010. John donated the proceeds to his AIDS foundation, as he does for all of his wedding bookings.

Elton John and Hillary Rodham Clinton
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He Supported Hillary Clinton for President

In 2016, Elton John held a concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City to raise money for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Katy Perry, John Legend, Andra Day, and many other celebs took the stage, raising $2.5 million.

Elton John
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He Won Two Oscars

Elton John has been nominated for four Academy Awards. He was nominated for three in 1995 for Best Original Music for “The Lion King,” of which he took home one Oscar. John was nominated again in 2020 for Best Original Song and took the award home for "I'm Gonna Love Me Again."

Related: 35 Best Movie Musicals of the Past 70 Years

Elton John and Taron Egerton
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He Has a Biopic

“Rocketman” tells the story of Elton John’s childhood and rise to stardom. The titular role was played by actor Taron Egerton and won an Academy Award and four BAFTAs.

Elton John
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He’s Officially Great

Elton John is third on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the Greatest of All Time Artists. The only two acts to beat him were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.