Elton John, Queer Icon: 10 Takeaways From His Memoir

Elton John Cannes
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Sir Elton John attends the screening of "Rocketman" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. 

From his effortless melodicism to his deliciously campy fashion, the world has known Elton John for the better part of a half century. But given that many of his best-known hits feature lyrics from longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin (Sir Elton is the musical half of their genius), fans cracking open Elton's new memoir Me might be curious to see what he himself can do with the written word.

Well, much like the man himself, Me is a warm, candid, dryly witty and oftentimes heartbreaking account of a life that's as inspiring as it is unlikely. From his childhood to becoming a father himself, Elton John unspools the story of his life at a brisk pace. And as one of the most internationally visible members of the LGBTQ community, there's a fair share of queer history in the pages of Me.

While by no means comprehensive, below are 10 moments in the book where Elton talks about everything from coming out publicly to his marriage to David Furnish to his last meeting with fellow U.K. rock icon Freddie Mercury. But for the full story? Well, ya gotta take a literary trip down Elton's Yellow Brick Road in the book itself.

Gay Awakening

Elton, who has been candid about sleeping with both men and women in his past, writes in Me that he "wasn't really interested in [sex] at all until I was well into my twenties." Eventually, a group of "sophisticated and smart" friends helped him come to a few realizations about his identity. "Twelve months after John Baldry [a queer musician who worked with Elton in the '60s group Bluesology] had drunkenly announced that I was gay to everyone within earshot at the Bag O' Nails, I decided he was right…. At twenty-one, I suddenly seemed to be undergoing some kind of belated adolescence. There were suddenly a lot of quiet crushes on men."

That Time Elton & Divine Hit the Town…

And the town hit back. Yes, apparently Elton and John Waters' muse/drag music pioneer Divine were pals back in the day, and they tried to get into the now-defunct New York City gay bar Crisco Disco together. Shockingly, the bar actually turned them away. Yes, a gay bar (with a NSFW name) said 'sashay away' to two iconic LGBTQ figures at the same time. Why? "He was wearing a kaftan, I had on a brightly coloured jacket and they said we were over-dressed. 'Whaddaya think this is? Fuckin' Halloween?'" John recalls.

The Real Story Behind His Coming Out

Elton John famously came out as "bisexual" in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone. As John tells it in Me, the journalist, Cliff Jahr, had "an elaborate plan to wheedle the information out of me," but John volunteered what was then a bit of an open secret in the music industry. "I despairingly wondered aloud if relationships with women might not be longer-lasting than the relationships I'd had with men," he recalls. Elton, who would later specify that he identifies as gay, also explains labeling himself bisexual at the time. "He asked me if I was bisexual and I said yes. You can see that as fudging the issue if you want, but in fairness I'd had a relationship with a woman before, and I had a relationship with a woman afterward."

When He Married a Woman… While Dating a Boy

Elton John married friend and sound engineer Renate Blauel in 1984; the two divorced in 1988, and in Me, he has only good things to say about her. One surprise, though, is that when he proposed to Blauel, he was dating a man, Gary, at the time. Of the marriage announcement to his friends: "It was greeted by a sea of aghast faces, not least Gary's, who'd travelled to Australia with us and now suddenly found himself my ex-boyfriend once more." The ceremony, he writes, "was as straightforward as any wedding can be at which one of the groom's best men is his former lover, to whom he lost his virginity" (that being John Reid, his manager at the time).

Fighting Tabloid Homophobia

The U.K. tabloid Sun – which has a troubling history of homophobia, having run a 1989 headline that incorrectly promised "Straight Sex Cannot Give You AIDS—Official" – went after Elton in 1987, alleging he was part of an orgy with male prostitutes at the home of Rod Stewart's former manager. John, who was in New York at the time and had receipts to prove it, sued the paper. They continued to go after him, eventually publishing some 10-year-old Polaroids of him they had acquired. "One of them featured me giving a guy a blow job. They printed them in the paper, which was mortifying," John recalls. Despite that trauma, Elton concludes that episode with characteristic wit: "Gay man sucks penis: It's not exactly a Pulitzer-winning scoop."

Sweet Victory

Eventually, Sun settled the libel case with John, paying him £1 million and printing a front-page "Sorry Elton" apology. How did he celebrate? As any queer icon might: Going to a drag show. John went to see Barry Humphries, who has sizzled as the outlandish, caustic Dame Edna Everage for decades, and "laughed myself stupid."

Finding Furnish

While future husband David Furnish wasn't interested at first ("he'd heard a lot of gossip on the London gay scene about the inadvisability of having anything whatsoever to do with Elton John," he writes), they started dating in 1993 and entered into a civil partnership in 2005, the first day it became legal in the U.K. Their joint stag party is the stuff of dreams. Sir Ian McKellen came dressed in drag. Bryan Adams performed. Best of all, John writes, "Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters got so overexcited he ended up taking all his clothes off and demonstrating the pole-dancing skills he'd learning working in New York strip clubs before the band became successful." Good luck topping that at your bachelor party.

Controversial Co-Signs

Elton has taken some flack over the years for performing with Axl Rose (Guns N' Roses' "One In a Million" has homophobic lyrics) and Eminem, who's dropped the homophobic f-word more than a few times. John explains his decision to work with them: "It was obvious that his lyrics were about adopting a persona – a deliberately repugnant persona at that. I didn't think either of them were actually homophobes and more than I thought Sting was actually going out with a prostitute called Roxanne, or Johnny Cash actually shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."

His Charity Work – And Saying Goodbye to a Friend

One of Sir Elton's biggest accomplishments is the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $450 million – and put on several unforgettable charity fundraisers. At its 25th anniversary gala at a New York cathedral, John recalls watching a "frail and unwell" Aretha Franklin summon her substantial vocal prowess for one final "astonishing" public performance. "I stood at the front of the stage watching the greatest singer in the world sing for the final time, crying my eyes out," he recalls.

The Last Goodbye With Freddie Mercury

John also writes about visiting fellow queer pioneer Freddie Mercury while the Queen frontman was dying in the early '90s. And even though Mercury couldn't get out of bed, John shares that "he was still definitely Freddie, gossiping away, completely outrageous: 'Have you heard Mrs. Bowie's new record, dear? What does she think she's doing?'" After his passing, John received a painting from his late friend on Christmas Day. "He was thinking about Christmas presents for a Christmas he must have known in his heart he wouldn't see; thinking about other people when he was really too ill to think of anyone but himself."


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.