At one point in the history of Rock n’ Roll, being in the presence of the one and only, Elvis Presley, was a life-changing experience. However, when a young Elton John finally got an opportunity to meet his hero, the experience changed his life in the most unexpected way.
If it wasn’t for that brief encounter with Elvis, Elton John probably wouldn’t be the iconic musician we know today. Elton revealed the heartbreaking reason why he calls “the King” his lifesaver.
Speaking With Oprah
When Elton John appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, he opened up about a number of topics in his life that have been shrouded in mystery. In the middle of the interview, Oprah said the following: “I read in an article, ’cause you never know what you read, but that you saw Elvis and that was also a turning point, and that you didn’t want…” It was obvious that Oprah was trying to treat the issue sensitively, but Elton knew exactly what she was talking about…
It turns out that Oprah was alluding to a specific moment that would change the course of Elton’s life forever. In 1976, the musician was already a big name in the world of pop music, with hits such as “The B*tch Is Back” and “Philadelphia Freedom” under his belt. It was at this time though that John finally got the chance to meet his idol backstage. He had seen him perform previously, but this experience was even more special.
Meeting The King
It was June 27, 1976, Elvis was performing in Largo, Maryland (or Washington, reports differ.) Although the King was performing twice that day, Elton got the chance to take his mother to the concert. Most importantly though, he was on the verge of meeting his hero. The question is this: what exactly happened between Elvis and Elton that had such a profound impact on the latter’s outlook on things? We can imagine that meeting Presley must’ve been extraordinary, but there was more to it than that…
Duet That Never Happened
Although Elton didn’t confirm the following to Oprah, many sources claim that the pair’s encounter was actually pretty normal from a neutral’s perspective. It is reported that Elvis complimented Elton on the work he had made so far in his career. Naturally flattered by the words of praise, John told Elvis that he would write a song for him if he wanted, and even hinted at the idea of working together. That wasn’t all though…
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
There was one last thing that John asked Elvis to do before he went to take a seat: he wanted him to sing “Heartbreak Hotel,” the song that inspired him to be a musician in the first place. Although it wasn’t confirmed what Elvis said, they parted ways amicably. Just before he left, Elton ended up having a photo taken with the King’s daughter, Lisa Marie, who would go on to have a successful career in her own right.
Lisa Marie Loves Elton
It turns out that the Lisa Marie Presley was already a huge fan of John, explaining the backstage photo. In an interview, she confessed that Elvis once begged to borrow one of her Elton John records. “[My dad] wanted to know who he was, and why was I listening to him,” she said. “He wanted to get a record so he could hear it. I think it was the Yellow Brick Road album…He really, really wanted to know who this was…”
Apparently, that wasn’t the end of Elton and Elvis’ interaction. The latter reportedly gave the former a gold suit when they met backstage. When Elton told Elvis how much he loved it, the King was happy to give it to him. Many believe that John wore the exact same suit at a concert less than a decade later during his Breaking Hearts tour. The suit, which has the tag “Elvis Presley,” sewn onto it, was sold by John and was put up for sale at Julien’s Auctions.
Before Elton even decided he wanted to become a rock star, he would sit back in his bedroom, listening to old records. One day, his mother came back from work and brought home the classic record, “Heartbreak Hotel.” “She said she’d just heard it in the record shop and she knew she had to buy it straight away,” Elton said. “So she put it on for us both to listen to and I’d never heard anything like that before in my whole life.”
Music Like No Other
You must understand, nothing had really come out before that sounded quite like Elvis. For a young Elton John, it was a life-changing experience. “I’d never been around music like that, music that was so powerful,” he said. “I’d certainly never heard an electric guitar played like that…There wasn’t anything else around like that, at least not in my family.” John knew that he needed to put a face to the music. Who was this Elvis person?
Soon enough, young Elton was able to connect all the dots in a way that would change his life forever. When he was reading Life magazine while waiting to have a haircut, he noticed a photo of a handsome man. It was Elvis. “When I put the two together it was astonishing,” he said. “He looked amazing and he sounded amazing and it changed everything for me. It was Rock ‘n’ Roll! This was what I wanted to be.”
This Is Your Song
Elvis’ influence on Elton John ran so deep that the musician even made a song about him. On his twenty-seventh studio album, Peachtree Road, John and his long-term collaborator Bernie Taupin put a song together called “Porch Swing in Tupelo.” It painted a clear picture of Elvis’ childhood and what it was like to live in the south. “Well I was just thinking about him, because I guess he sat here, singing all praise to God through poverty’s tears,” Elton sang.
Can’t Help Falling In Love
One thing that the two music legends had in common was their eventful personal life. Elvis, who is considered to be one of the most beloved men in pop culture, had a string of relationships with beautiful woman. These included Priscilla Beaulieu (his only marriage), Ann-Margret, Natalie Wood, Anita Wood, Cybill Shepherd, Linda Thompson, Ginger Alden, and Barbara Gray, amongst others. It was clear that it wasn’t just Elvis’ music that heavily influenced John’s life…
Am I Ready For Love?
Elton also followed in Elvis’ footsteps in the love department. However, unlike his hero, John was able to eventually find a fairly stable relationship with David Furnish. The couple was one of the first in the UK to form a civil partnership. However, it was a long and winding road to Elton’s happy ending. After a short-lived engagement to secretary Linda Woodrow and a failed marriage with Renate Blauel, Elton John eventually came out to the public as gay.
The 80s sparked a particularly dark time in Elton John’s life. Substance abuse sent him down a rabbit hole that he and many of his friends, struggled to get out of. “I was a [substance] addict and self-absorbed,” John said. “You know, I was having people die right, left and center around me, friends. And yet I didn’t stop the life that I had, which is the terrible thing about addiction. It’s that – you know, it’s that bad of a disease.”
At a time when there was a massive AIDS epidemic, it was a harsh time for rock stars; a group of many famous individuals who thrived on hedonism. Elton John happened to be one of them. “When you take a [substance] and you take a drink and you mix those two together, you think you’re invincible,” he said. “I came out of this HIV-negative. I was the luckiest man in the world.” But was Elton able to escape this nightmare?
Elton John documented his harrowing experiences in the memoir Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS. Upon the book’s release, John revealed the sales’ proceeds would go towards the Elton John AIDS Foundation. After the deaths of friends such as Ryan White and Freddie Mercury, John felt compelled to raise awareness of the disease and used his own public profile to make the most of it. Nevertheless, Elton’s meeting with Elvis was still an important piece to this puzzle…
Time Of My Life
At the concert in Washington, Elton was enjoying every single moment of Elvis’ performance, knowing that he had just spoken with, not just a Rock n’ Roll legend, but the greatest of all time. He felt immortal, watching his hero play songs such as “See See Rider” and “America, The Beautiful.” Every time Elvis came towards the end of a song, Elton shot up out of his chair and initiated mass applause. However, as the show went on, things changed…
All Shook Up
It’s worth noting that, even before Elton saw Elvis’ performance, the King’s health had already been a matter of concern for the last few years prior. Although online social media wasn’t around at the time, word got around that the King had been dealing with prescriptive substance addiction in the wake of his divorce with Priscilla Presley. Another reason for his health concerns was the fact that he performed a staggering 168 concerts in 1973 alone, the busiest schedule of his career, which obviously must’ve taken a physical toll on him.
Once the novelty of seeing the King gradually disappeared, Elton started to feel something that he had never felt before when thinking about Elvis – confusion. “It was someone who was in a complete [substance] haze giving nylon scarves away to these fans,” John said. “And yet it was still, in a way, magical.” However, when asked about that experience by Oprah all those years later, John’s thoughts on the matter changed in tone, drastically. How does he feel nowadays about that unforgettable evening?
Elvis Has Left The Building
In response to Oprah’s question regarding his encounter, John said the following: “Well Elvis, when I saw him in Washington, bless his heart, I’m a huge Elvis fan. It was so sad because he turned into this big man with no eyes that sunk into the back of his head, and, it was pathetic.” Everything had changed. The man who he had once called his hero, was nothing more than a shadow of his original self. Elvis had truly left the building.
That Phone Call
It wasn’t just the show that Elton John attended that demonstrated Elvis’ peculiar behavior and poor appearance. There are many reports and footage of the musician’s shows in 1976 that show how bad of a state he was in. Elvis had serious trouble singing the way he used to and it was clear that he was impaired. Then, in November of that year, The Star published transcripts from a phone call where Elvis admitted to being addicted to prescribed substances.
Hero Becomes Villain
A classic trope in literature is when the hero worries about becoming the very thing they despise. At some point, Elton John realized that this was happening to him. “In the end, there were pictures of me when I look at them and I think, ‘Oh my God,’ You know? You turn into Elvis,” he said. “You just shut your door and, you gain weight, and you did this and you did that and you didn’t care how you were, and it’s very easy to do that.”
Forseeing The Future
Oprah confirmed John’s deepest fears for Elvis’ wellbeing, saying, “when you saw him you thought you didn’t want to end up like that.” Elton elaborated on this, even claiming to have foreseen the King’s fate. “I knew he would be dead within a year if he carried on like that, and he was,” he said. His mother agreed, believing that Presley would die within the next six months if he carried on that way.
The King Is Dead
Surely enough, Elton and Sheila were right. On August 16, 1977, Elvis was planning on flying to Memphis with another tour scheduled. However, his girlfriend at the time, Ginger Alden, found him lying unresponsively on his bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead shortly after. Although various reports on his autopsy gave conflicting theories on the cause of his death, the general consensus was that he suffered a heart attack. However, an unhealthy use of prescribed substances surely had a part to play.
Viva Las Vegas
There is no denying the fact that Elvis Presley and Las Vegas are, for the most part, inseparable. Over time, the King of Rock n’ Roll has become synonymous with the “Entertainment Capital of the World” and even recorded the hit single “Viva Las Vegas,” which obviously honors the city. The spirit of Elvis certainly lives on in Vegas, with numerous neon signs of him and $10 gold-rimmed shades on sale in virtually every souvenir store. And it was Elton who was well aware of this…
Elton In Vegas
It seems like one of the most blatant inspirations that Elton John took from the King was his connection to Las Vegas. Like many superstars who have headlined huge concert residencies in Las Vegas, Elton John emulated his hero when he opened his own show way back in 2011. Since then, the musician has performed a staggering 200 shows, raking in over $100 million and filling 98.9% of all of his shows. Maybe Elton is the new King of Rock n’ Roll after all.
That isn’t to say that every single one of Elton John’s shows in Las Vegas has been an easy ride. In 2018, when the star was doing one of his standard shows at the Caesars Palace, an angry fan decided to throw some Mardi Gras beads at him. In the middle of his performance, John checked his teeth to make sure that he hadn’t lost any from the assault. It would take a good half a minute before Elton resume his set.
Dominated By The Colonel
One of the key differences between Elvis and Elton John were the ways that they handle their management team or more specifically, how the management team handled them. For Elvis, it was all about Colonel Tom Parker, who was considered by many to be the man most responsible for the King’s hugely successful career. However, the Colonel also was considered to be a detriment to Elvis, reportedly taking 50% of Presley’s earnings towards the end of his life.
Sorry Is The Hardest Word
Elton, on the other hand, has handled his business differently compared to the King of Rock n’ Roll. Often reported by former staff members as a nightmare to work with, John got into a bit of a situation a couple of years ago when a concert steward told people in attendance of one of his shows to remain seated. An angry Elton called the steward out in front of everyone. He even reportedly reduced the steward to tears!
One thing that both Elton John and Elvis Presley have in common is that they are two of the most commercially successful musicians of all time. What is most amazing is that, although Elton has outlived Elvis by many years, the latter has still managed to outdo the former in terms of records sales. To this day, Elton has sold more than 300 million records. However, long after his death, it is estimated that more than a billion records have been sold in Elvis’ name.
Elton Has Left the Building?
It seems like the end of Elton’s career has begun, as he recently announced his retirement from touring after nearly half a century’s worth of live performances. Although there were rumors that the reason behind this decision was due to his health, he was quick to address it. “I’m not in ill health – you couldn’t do 300 performances if you were ill,” he said to an audience he was performing in front of at Gotham Hall, New York.
Own Worst Enemy
Knowing that he was on the verge of emulating his hero in the worst possible way, Elton battled his addictions and fought hard to move on. The only person who was in his way was himself. “I knew I had a problem and the hardest thing for me was…I thought I could solve everything myself,” he said. “You know, ‘I can do this. I’m intelligent. I’m wealthy, I’m rich, I’m successful. Why can’t I do this? I can do this.’ I couldn’t.”
I Need Help
Make no mistake about it, Elton John did not squash his addictions straight after seeing Elvis in the state he was in. However, it did plant the seeds for a road to redemption that would take over a decade to complete. “For 16 years I couldn’t say ‘I need help,'” he said. “Those three words that will save your life, ‘I need help.’ And as soon as I said that, I was away. [I] haven’t looked back since.”
Swallow Your Pride
Like many who suffer from addiction, Elton struggled for a long time to speak to people about his problems. He felt so embarrassed about it, and that it was somehow easier to hide it to save face. “If you’re in pain and afraid to reach out because you think people will think you’re weak, or you feel ashamed of asking for help, just swallow your pride,” he said. “Pride will kill you. Just ask for help. People will be there to give it to you.”
I’m Still Standing
The tragic circumstances surrounding Elvis’ untimely passing have helped people all around the world. Most notably, Elton John, who learned how much of a difference a cry for help can make. “I think you just saved somebody’s life tonight,” Oprah said, referring to his story. “I hope so,” Elton replied. This was followed by thunderous applause from the crowd, who stood in awe at a man who has been through so much, but is still here to shine his light on the world of music, and beyond.
It wasn’t just Elton who fell in love with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. After all, it was his mother who brought the record home in the first place. To this day, Elton still considers that record his mother brought home to be the greatest of all time. “The one that changed my life forever, was “Heartbreak Hotel.” It launched a whole new world and it was revolutionary in ways that we’re still dealing with.”