Inside Elton John's Iconic Dodger Stadium Concerts

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Not all concerts are created equal: There are concerts, and then there are the sort of events that attendees know are going to go down in history.

We're looking at you, Sir Elton John. An absolutely singular artist, there's no denying that John is in the rather unique position of having fans that span not only countries but generations. While some remember the first time they ever heard "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Your Song," and "Daniel," there are plenty of other fans who don't know a life without a soundtrack that's heavy on both the classics and newer material, from the songs of "The Lion King" to collaborations with artists like Dua Lipa.

And that far-reaching popularity — and the ability to bring together the generations — is just part of the reason that John's concerts at Los Angeles's Dodger Stadium have become so iconic. Watch — or listen to — any clip, and it's clear that he's not just a musician and a performer, but it's also clear that he's a vehicle for something otherworldly: Those performances are enough to make even the most cynical person believe in a higher power. And clearly? That higher power is definitely a fan.

In 2022, John took the stage again for an epic, 3-night concert series reminiscent of those nights so long ago. Let's peek behind the curtain at some of the most iconic concerts in music history.

2022's concert came after years of delays

When Elton John finally took the stage at Dodger Stadium in the final days of 2022, he'd walked a very, very long road to get there. According to Billboard, it was the seventh time he'd performed at the venue, it was the 271st show of his farewell tour, and the 103rd time he'd performed in Los Angeles. And, he was supposed to have been there years ago. John's farewell tour actually kicked off in 2018, but as Reuters reports, his concerts were a small percentage of those postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After his final show on March 6, 2020, it was a full 745 days before he was on stage again, in New Orleans.

That wasn't the only issue: In 2021, The Telegraph reported that the concert schedule was going to be adjusted after the then-74-year-old star took a fall that resulted in a severe hip injury that required him to go through physical therapy. John was also forced to reschedule a few shows in New Zealand after being diagnosed with pneumonia (via USA Today). 

If eagle-eyed fans thought that John was looking a little less sprightly than usual when he finally made it to Dodger Stadium, here's why: USA Today says that he was still suffering from his hip injury. His words to the crowd took on a whole new meaning: "Tonight is a very special night, a very emotional night for me. It's been a long journey."

What was so important about LA?

Sure, Los Angeles is a great city. But is there a decades-long history between the city and Elton John that makes Dodger Stadium the logical choice to wrap up his American tour? Absolutely — and it goes all the way back to the earliest days of his career, and his attempts at making a name for himself in the U.S. He explained to the Associated Press: "I started off in Los Angeles at the Troubadour, and I want it to end here because it's been a magical place for me." It was echoed in one of the insights that John offered during the concert itself, saying (via the Los Angeles Times), "I first came to America in 1970 to the City of Angels ... and [the Troubadour] helped me by accelerating my career in America with a review I got from Robert Hilburn for the LA Times. So I'll never forget that."

While reading reviews of critics getting things wrong is hilarious, Hilburn ended up being so spot-on that it was prophetic, writing: "Rejoice. Rock music ... has a new star. He's Elton John, a 23-year-old Englishman whose United States debut Tuesday night at the Troubadour was, in almost every way, magnificent."

John filled Dodger stadium just a few years later. Then 28 years old, his rise had been meteoric: He had two No. 1 albums under his sparkly belt, and five years after performing in a small LA club, John sold out Dodger stadium for several nights in a row.

Shortly before the 1975 concert, he had tried to kill himself

It's impossible to imagine what it must have been like to become a massive superstar almost overnight. It wasn't all smooth sailing leading up to Elton John's 1975 Dodger Stadium concert, and he's been candid about the fact that just hours before he was due to go on stage, he tried to complete suicide.

According to the Los Angeles Times, he had flown everyone from England to LA: his then-partner, John Reid, their friends, their families, their coworkers, and a U.K.-based film crew. It was in the middle of that group that John — about a year into what would become a hardcore cocaine addiction — took 60 Valium, yelled, "I'm going to die!" and jumped into the swimming pool of the house he was sharing with his entourage. John was plucked from the pool, rushed to the hospital, and had his stomach pumped. Two days after his attempt — and a day after being in the hospital recovering from it — he marched onto the stage at Dodger Stadium and gave one of the greatest live performances in music history.

Years later, he explained to The Telegraph what had happened that day: "It was stress. I'd been working non-stop for five years. But it was typical me. There was no way I was going to kill myself doing that. And, of course, my grandmother came out with the perfect line: 'I suppose we've all got to go home now.'"

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The 1975 show was documented by one iconic photographer

Elton John's 1975 Dodger Stadium concert might be iconic, but so was the photographer that captured all of those famous photos. That was Terry O'Neill, who was known as the photographer who captured the music of the 1960s and '70s. He — and his cameras — had a front-row seat at Dodger Stadium. When he was interviewed for Elton John's official site, O'Neill said that it hadn't mattered that he'd been there for rehearsals ahead of time: "Those two days and nights, I never really knew what was going to happen."

Over the course of the two 1975 performances, O'Neill revealed that he had carried three cameras — one for color photos, one for black-and-white, and a backup. He shot a whopping 50 rolls of film, explaining, "I never knew what was going to be on the film until I developed it. ... your eyes saw the shot the second you hit the button, and you didn't see it again until days later."

One entire performance — the first — O'Neill shot from across the stadium and in the crowd, and it wasn't until the second that he got up close and personal on stage. While many of his photos ended up famous on their own, they were also released in a book called "Two Days that Rocked the World: Elton John live at Dodger Stadium." Sadly, O'Neill didn't get to shoot or see the 2022 farewell concert: The Guardian reported that he passed away in 2019.

Everyone knew they were witnessing history

Sometimes, a concert is more than just a concert — and during John's 1975 performances at Dodger Stadium, those who witnessed it knew that they had a front-row seat to music history. Especially, recalls the Los Angeles Times, John himself. Among those who took the stage with him was tennis star Billie Jean King, who recalled, "Elton was so happy that day. Everyone was so happy. I remember hanging backstage with Cary Grant and his daughter like it was yesterday."

Singer Cindy Bullens (then known as Cindy Bullens) recalled a similarly powerful vibe that washed over the entire stadium. From an incredible vantage point on-stage during "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," Bullens recalled the sun setting and the lighters coming out to wave by the tens of thousands. "I've done a lot of concerts in 50 years. That was the most profound moment I've ever had on stage. ... Elton cried after the concert was over. I loved him for that."

John's official site is filled with stories that show fans had the same experience. Many called it one of the most transformative moments of their young lives, one of their fondest memories, and one of the most important things they'd ever witnessed. And those who attended? They saw it all for a general admission price of just $10.

Sobriety in 1992

While Elton John's 1975 and 2022 Dodger Stadium concerts are by far the most iconic, he's played there a bunch of times — and in 1992, the time that he shared the stage there with Eric Clapton. It was part of a tour where he was playing in America for the first time after making some major changes in his personal life. When he spoke to the Los Angeles Times a few days before returning to Dodger Stadium, he said it had been somewhere around 10 years since he'd last played in America while fully sober and clean. Since the 1975 show, he'd had some difficult experiences, saying, "It's easy to lose your values and self-respect. I got to where I didn't know how to speak to someone unless I had a nose full of cocaine. Nothing could satisfy me. ... I had to change because I was frightened."

Coupled with his own unhappiness over his day-to-day, John also credited the influence of Ryan White as a major factor in getting him checked into rehab and clean. He not only reached out to the family but befriended them, spending the last weeks of White's life with his family, serving as a pallbearer at his funeral, and — he told The Telegraph — having his eyes opened by the family's resilience, kindness, and quiet strength.

When the Los Angeles Times reviewed the show, they lauded it as the return of a new, less flamboyant, but still mesmerizing John — who performed "Your Song" to harken back to earlier days.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The details of that iconic costume

The word "iconic" gets thrown around a lot — and still, it's the only way to describe one of his most famous costumes from that 1975 show. That is, of course, the relentlessly sparkly Dodgers outfit he wore as he danced his way across the stage with all the athleticism of an actual Dodgers player. The costume was one of many recreated for the film "Rocketman," and according to what costume designer Julian Day told Grazia, the film version used 240,000 Swarovski crystals: The one John wore at Dodgers stadium sparkled thanks to sequins.

Fast forward to 2022, and Bob Mackie was once again designing costumes for John's Dodger Stadium shows. There was no doubt, he told Vogue, that there was going to be some kind of throwback to the sequined baseball uniform. There were a few problems, though — starting with the fact that John's hat had been lost a long time ago. "We had to depend on our memory and photos," Mackie explained, adding that they had managed to duplicate the original closely enough that he was happy with the outcome.

As for the outfit? While John told Good Morning America that he wasn't going to be wearing it again — "I'm not the same size I was," — Mackie's Dodgers-inspired, sequined bathrobe was an appropriate substitute. Bonus fun fact? On June 28, 2022, John posted from the Hard Rock Cafe: He had swapped a more recent Gucci suit for his sequined Dodgers costume, and it had returned to his collection.

The 2022 technology was ridiculously complicated

While the 1975 concert at Dodger Stadium was documented most famously by a single photographer, a couple of cameras, and about 50 rolls of film, the scale of the tech necessary to pull off a live stream of Elton John's 2022 show was nothing short of mind-blowing. There was an army of people behind it, led by producers Ben Winston and Gabe Turner, along with director Paul Dugdale. Not only was there the pressure of doing justice to John's farewell show, but there was also a time crunch: Everything started at 8:15, and had to be done and dusted by 11 and the start of a police-enforced noise curfew.

The Hollywood Reporter says that six more cameras were added to the original 22 that were planned to cover the concert, in addition to drones and a helicopter used to capture aerial shots.

Then, there are going to be a few slightly different versions of it available for people to watch at home. While the live stream is obviously the biggest deal, Winston and Turner told Forbes that they're going to be going back and reassembling the concert from all the footage captured that night. "We're going to watch it again and we're going to take the best of the best. ... we'll have time to make it absolutely perfect, so it's a moment of history rather than a live cut."

The musicians in the final tribute

A lot happened in Elton John's life between the years 1975 and 2022, and according to the Los Angeles Times, he dedicated one of his most moving songs — "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" — to the four members of his band who were no longer with him. Who are they?

Dee Murray (pictured) was featured on the original versions of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," along with other massive hits. He toured with John during the 1970s and 80s, and in 1992 — at the shockingly young age of 45 — he passed away. According to the Associated Press, he had suffered a stroke while being treated for malignant skin cancer.

In 2009, The Guardian reported on the death of John's longtime keyboard player, Guy Babylon. He, too, passed away young — just 52 years old — from what was reported to be a major heart attack. A few years later, Billboard reported on the apparent suicide of bass player Bob Birch, who had toured with John since 1992 and had the distinction of being his longest-running bass player. When John released his official statement, he shared his devastation: They had performed together in more than 1,400 concerts.

Then, in 2013, the Independent reported on the death of Roger Pope, who had been a drummer for John since the early 1970s. Pope knew him when he was still Reginald Dwight, played alongside him at Dodger Stadium, and remained a close friend and collaborator.

The 2022 show celebrated decades of friendship

Elton John has been fortunate enough to be able to embrace some lifelong friends — and while the casual concert-viewer might not notice it, there are a lot of people who were either on-stage or back-stage at the 1975 Dodger Stadium concert that were on hand for the 2022 farewell shows. That includes tennis great Billie Jean King, who — along with her wife, Ilana Kloss — has been friends with John for decades. Although they lost touch during one of his darkest periods, their friendship has endured: She was at both shows, although she told the Los Angeles Times that her days of jumping off the piano were long gone.

Also there for a repeat? Kiki Dee, who once again joined him for their duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." Several members of John's backing band were also on hand to help everything go full circle, including Davey Johnstone (guitar, pictured in 1975) and Ray Cooper (percussion). Cindy Bullens — his one-time backup singer turned longtime friend — wasn't performing anymore, but was definitely there to show support. Also showing his support from the audience? Robert Hilburn, the LA Times writer who penned the review that John credited for giving him the momentum he needed to break into the US.

And, of course, longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin wasn't far from John's side for the series, explaining, "Our relationship with LA has always been sacrosanct. It was here we flourished and found our sweet spot. LA embraced us before anyone, so we're indebted."

What's next for Elton John?

One of the most touching moments of the 2022 show was when Elton John brought his husband and their sons out on stage, saying (via VOA News) "I want to spend time with my family, because I'll be 76 next year. I want to bring them out and show you why I'm retiring."

But there's good news that comes along with this farewell tour, and that, reports The Sun, is that while he might not be performing anymore, he's still going to be releasing music. They quoted him as explaining, "Even after all this time there is still the utter thrill of when you hear your new music played on air for the very first time. The fact that I get to reach a whole new generation of listeners is very special to me."

And that's where a special appearance at the final of his Dodgers Stadium shows comes in. One of his most recent collaborations had been with Dua Lipa, who appeared on-stage for a duet of their "Cold Heart." Variety called the partnership one of many instances of his mentorship of up-and-coming artists, with it remaining very likely that he'll continue to do just that. As he told CBS News: "I've been touring since I was 17, in the back of a van. I've had the most incredible life. ... But I've had enough of that applause, and ... I want to do something different with the rest of my life."