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Elton John: On the Yellow Brick Road to Freedom

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Elton John: The Cher Show, 1975 [Free Public Domain]

You know you can’t hold me forever

I didn’t sign up with you

I’m not a present for your friends to open

This boy’s too young to be singing the blues

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John

For decades, Sir Elton John has been a pillar for the queer community, showing representation and support in an industry with a desecrate history of closeting and mistreatment. However, like many others, his journey to live authentically as a musician in the public eye was not one of ease. At the height of his career, while selling out non-stop tours and millions of records worldwide, Elton John was fighting a multitude of demons behind closed doors.

Today, Elton John is an openly proud gay man who has been committed to his husband for nearly thirty years, but for decades prior, he battled numerous addictions, manipulative management, hidden romances, and a loveless marriage. From a shy, timid child to the flamboyant icon he is today, Elton’s path was an emotional journey of hardships, recovery, and finally, acceptance.

Meeting John Reid

The threats you made were meant to cut me down

And if our love was just a circus, you’d be a clown by now

You know I’m still standing better than I ever did

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid

I’m still standing after all this time

Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind

“I’m Still Standing” by Elton John

In 1970, at the very beginning of his career, Elton John met his future manager, John Reid. After their first encounter at a Christmas party, the two men embarked on a covert romantic relationship while John simultaneously became Reid’s first client. In the years that followed, their relationship become one of deceit, exploitation, and misuse. At the time, Elton John was not out to the public, and their romance was forcefully hidden. Despite being regarded as Elton’s first love, Reid also faced a notorious reputation for abuse and anger. 

During this clandestine partnership, one of Reid’s former employees reported to Rolling Stone in 1974, speaking out about the manager and describing him as “diminutive, but a killer,” then further clarifying that “he’d punch anyone.” This characterization was further supported and reinforced by similar narratives and aggressive incidents. Numerous occurences were reported, such as Reid throwing champagne glasses at strangers, slapping a female journalist, hitting a hotel doorman, and being charged with assault after beating a journalist in New Zealand. 

In addition to his abusive nature, Reid also introduced Elton John to cocaine, starting him on a long struggle with addiction to the drug and opening the door to other harmful vices. After three decades of power imbalance and Elton’s mistreatment, the two men ultimately had their final falling out toward the end of the 1990s. Both parties went to court after Elton accused Reid of negligence and breach of duty. During his testimony, Elton told the jury, “I trusted him. I never thought he would betray me, but he has.” Sadly, the court ruled against Elton, and he lost the case. Still, the two finally went their separate ways and never connected again. 

In Elton’s 2019 biopic film, Rocketman, there is absolutely no sugarcoating the portrayal of John Reid. He is thoroughly presented as the manipulative antagonist who used and abused Elton for many years. 

Marrying Renate Blauel and Coming Out

I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife

It’s lonely out in space

On such a timeless flight

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

‘Til touch down brings me ‘round again to find

I’m not the man they think I am at home

I’m a rocket man

Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone

“Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)” by Elton John

In the year 1984, Elton surprised those who knew him by proposing to and marrying a German recording engineer, Renate Blauel. Those close to Elton at the time were aware of his hidden sexual identity and were taken aback by this seemingly random and impulsive decision. Elton and Renate had only known each other for roughly a year, and despite staying married for four years, this marriage was not a commitment made out of mutual love and desire. While it has never been confirmed or denied, many believe that this marriage was done to cover up his sexuality, and some say that Elton was told the wedding was necessary to keep his career afloat and social acceptance intact.

Needless to say, the marriage was not a happy one. Blauel has since stated that she attempted suicide when Elton told her he wanted their union to end. Sleeping in separate rooms and mainting a solely platonic relationship led them to an inevitable divorce in 1988. Today, Elton has only spoken highy of Renate, but he feels remorse over the situation. After remarrying decades later, Elton stated, “Many years ago, I chose Australia for my wedding to a wonderful woman for whom I have so much love and admiration. I wanted more than anything to be a good husband, but I denied who I really was, which caused my wife sadness, and caused me huge guilt and regret.” The year the divorce was finalized, Elton officially revealed to Rolling Stone that he was an openly gay man.

Elton’s journey to coming out was a long one. Despite being publicly bisexual as early as 1976, it took twenty more years for him to proclaim that he truly identified as gay. After his one year stay in rehab, Elton ended up meeting David Furnish in 1993, and the two men immediately embarked on a romantic relationship. In 2005, they became one of the first couples to form a civil partnership once it became legal in the United Kingdom. When same-sex marriage was finally legalized in 2014, they got married that year on the ninth anniversary of their civil partnership. They are still together today and are happily raising their two sons. For over thirty years, Elton has also initiated numerous philanthropic endeavors to support the LGBTQIA+ community, including his establishment of the Elton John AIDS foundation which serves to support HIV prevention and treatment, as well as reduce the stigma surrounding the diagnosis.

Connections and Similarities

So goodbye yellow brick road

Where the dogs of society howl

You can’t plant me in your penthouse

I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods

Hunting the horny back toad

Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies

Beyond the yellow brick road

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John


Currently, there are many resemblances between Elton’s past treatment and patterns that the general public are witnessing today. The maltreatment caused by management, active closeting, and internal demons are sadly still vividly present in the music industry now. 

When looking at the 1976 Rolling Stone interview that confirms Elton’s bisexuality, there are numerous parallels to be made between his responses and the responses given by popular musician Harry Styles. For instance, when the interviewer asked Elton to confirm that he was bisexual, Elton replied “I think everybody’s bisexual to a certain degree. I don’t think it’s just me. It’s not a bad thing to be. I think you’re bisexual. I think everybody is.” This reply reads similar to a remark made by Styles at one of his 2018 concerts, in which he told the audience, “I mean, we’re all a little bit gay, aren’t we?” 

In addition, Elton explanded in the interview after being asked whether he thought readers of the magazine would be surprised to learn of his sexuality, saying, “Well, I don’t think so, there shouldn’t be too much reaction, but you probably know those things better than me. I do think my personal life should be personal. I don’t want to shove it over the front pages.” Similarly, when Harry was asked about his own sexuality during a 2022 interview with Better Homes & Gardens, he replied, “I’ve been really open with it with my friends, but that’s my personal experience; it’s mine.”

With these parallels and many others in mind, it becomes clear that the music industry and beyond still have a long way to go in regards to embracing queer artists and allowing them to live authentically. The conditions Elton endured have been faced by many others in similar scenarios, and they are continuously happening today. Elton’s journey is an eye-opening reveal of the atrocities that management and higher-ups have over their artists, and it shows the resilience and strength that it takes to overcome such treatment. 

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