Elton John's tragic real-life story

Sir Elton John's music might not be the heaviest in the world, but don't take that to mean the man is a lightweight. As one of the most popular performers in the world, he has spent decades as the top dog, and that's not the kind of life you win in a lottery. It takes talent, dedication, hard work, and sacrifice. Perhaps more than anything, it takes the ability to cope with the many, many tragedies that will line the road to success.

The artist they call the Rocket Man is no exception. He has faced countless hurdles to become the global superstar he is today. Some of his problems have been personal, others professional. Others still have been completely out of his reach, yet directed at him — or rather, the public's idea of him. The artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight has taken it all, and while he's still standing, he would probably be the first to tell you that his road to success has by no means been an easy one. This is the tragic real story of Elton John.

He wasted a huge part of his life on drugs and alcohol

Sir Elton John might be sober these days, but it's safe to say this hasn't always been the case. According to the Telegraph, he feels that drugs helped with his shyness as a budding artist, but he enjoyed them a little too much. As a result, addictive substances — cocaine in particular — ruined a big chunk of his best years, but he was too vain to deal with his issues even when he became so insufferable that his friends and family were disappearing from around him. The Queensland Times describes just how unhealthy his life at the height of his addiction was: He would do drugs, down a bottle of Johnnie Walker and stay up for three days without eating, then sleep for a day and a half, wake up to binge-eat and start the cycle all over again.

A big part of his issue was that he never saw his behavior as a problem at the time because he didn't view himself as an addict. For him, junkies were human wrecks who stuck needles up their arms, and since he never did that, he couldn't have been one. Of course, he now realizes his self-destructive behavior was "monstrous." Fortunately, he managed to clean up his act in 1990 and has been sober ever since.

His allegedly controlling husband with alleged infidelity issues

Sir Elton John and his husband, David Furnish (above), have been together for 25 years, and according to Harper's Bazaar, they still trade weekly love letters. However, sources close to the singer whisper that there are also less cutesy aspects to their relationship. In 2015, News Corp Australia reported that Furnish had essentially taken control of John's life, which caused some serious problems due to his inexperience in the fine art of superstar management. Many of John's trusty longtime staff have either resigned or been fired because of the situation, which has confused matters even further. Furnish is thought to be responsible for many of the embarrassing PR gaffes John has suffered in recent years, and there are even rumors that he's the reason Capitol Records — John's longtime label — decided to drop the artist.

In 2016, further reports about Furnish surfaced, as tabloids started running stories about an alleged longtime affair with businessman Daniel Laurence. According to Global News, the stories described unprotected trysts and even a threesome in a kiddie pool filled with olive oil. To be fair, though, this might not technically mean that Furnish was cheating on his famous husband. John has said that the two are in an open marriage, and in fact went so far to protect his husband that he secured a controversial court-ordered injunction that stops the notoriously scandal-happy British tabloids from even mentioning their names.

His tragic friendship with George Michael

When you're a famous English singer and a member of a sexual minority, there's a good chance that you meet other people who fit in that particular Venn diagram. One of Sir Elton John's good friends from that particular demographic was none other than the late, great George Michael. However, the Telegraph reports that their friendship was not always a happy one. Another thing John and Michael had in common was a propensity for heavy drug use, and since the older musician was already sober by the time the two recorded the hit duet version of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" in 1991, he tried to help the younger man away from the bad stuff. Unfortunately, he soon discovered that it's difficult to help those who don't want to help themselves, as Michael wanted little to do with his advice.

According to NME, the pair's roughest patch came in the 2000s, when the ever sharp-tongued John criticized Michael's new album and said that the younger musician seemed to be in a strange place. George Michael took offense, issued a statement downplaying their friendship, and said John had little knowledge of his private life apart from what he heard through the "gay grapevine." The dismissal broke John's heart, but he still considered Michael a beloved friend. After the "Faith" singer's untimely death in 2016, John praised his friend as an unbelievably talented, kind, and generous person.

His insufferable diva moments

Sir Elton John might be a legend in the music industry, but his other legendary trait might be his tendency to throw tantrums at the slightest provocation. His fans might be invited to dance onstage with him while he plays, but he will start screaming at them or storm off the stage in anger if they venture too close, which happened in Vegas once, according to the Telegraph. After that he stopped inviting people on stage.

Don't think that John reserves all of his diva antics for the common man, either. If you're a famous person who he doesn't particularly like, he'll let you know. Through the years, he has called Madonna a fairground stripper and a lip-syncer (and worse things). The bad blood didn't dissipate until 2013, when the two happened to visit the same restaurant and John took a moment to apologize and buy her dinner. Of course, Madonna isn't even the most powerful entity John has decided to take on. The Guardian recalls an incident from the singer's hazier days when a storm woke him up, and he called his people to demand that they do something about … the weather.

Death threats and bomb plots

Despite the fact that his music is not exactly designed to ruffle feathers, Sir Elton John is still a divisive figure. A successful, straight-talking, flamboyant, and openly gay man has been a hard pill to swallow for some people, who would like to see the Rocket Man considerably less alive than he currently is. Rolling Stone reports that in 2010, a 65-year-old man named Neal Horsley openly called for John's death on YouTube and was subsequently arrested. His death threats were motivated by a recent interview in which John speculated that Jesus Christ was a "compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems."

Online threats are one thing, but in 2016, things almost got a lot more serious when a 19-year-old man called Haroon Ali-Syed hatched a plot to bomb the singer's concert. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Ali-Syed was planning to detonate a nail bomb at the singer's concert at London's Hyde Park, but Scotland Yard and MI5 tracked him down before he could carry out his terrorist act.

His struggle with bulimia

According to the Telegraph, Sir Elton John and his partner at the time were in the preliminary therapy stage of getting sober in 1990. When they were asked to write a list of the other's worst faults as part of the process, John's partner wrote: "Elton does drugs, he's alcoholic, he's bulimic, he has terrible fits of rage." The singer, in turn, came up with this: "Hugh never puts his CDs away tidily."

Strange obsession with neat CD stacks aside, the fact that John's bulimia was called out along with his more famous faults was not an accident. Eating Disorder Hope says the singer struggled with the disorder for 16 years, telling himself it was nothing serious and thinking he could fix the issue on his own. He only got rid of bulimia once he accepted it as the serious condition it is and sought treatment for it at the same time that he kicked his cocaine addiction. The singer's battle with the eating disorder was ultimately successful, but it remained a sore point for him. UPI reports that a tabloid ran a story claiming John had relapsed in 1992 — and the artist immediately replied by suing the pants off the paper until they admitted the story was a lie.

​His involvement in a "child porn" scandal

Don't worry — Sir Elton John doesn't run a trafficking ring or anything. This is just a strange incident where, as ABC News reports, a particular photo from his vast art collection was reported to authorities, and the singer found himself in the compromising position of defending a picture that had been confiscated as child porn in a police raid. John, a notorious collector of art photography, had loaned 150 photos by famous photographer Nan Goldin to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, England, when one of the images was reported to authorities.

The photo in question was called "Klara and Edda Belly-Dancing," and since it depicts two young girls in states of undress, it's hardly a surprise that someone got in trouble over it. However, you can also see John's point of view, here: According to the Evening Standard, the image was part of an installation that John had purchased in 1999. It has featured in multiple works by Goldin and has been offered on sale at Sotheby's and exhibited in multiple cities over the years without anyone objecting. Yet, when he least expected it, a scandal slapped him in the face — and suddenly, the headlines were featuring his name in the same sentence as a really awful act. It seems John was never punished.

Overdoses and seizures

As NPR reminds us, Sir Elton John has been sober since 1990, but he still has vivid dreams (or rather, nightmares) that he just took cocaine and it's still in his nose. It's easy to see why he could be nursing a trauma or two about the drug because it nearly killed him pretty early on. According to the Queensland Times, the singer had a drug overdose way back in 1975, a good 15 years before he finally quit drugs. The Rocket Man is fully aware of how close he was to death during the worst depths of his drug craze, a stage he now describes as "tragic" and "bleak." It's hard to disagree with him when you hear him describes his worst incidents, where he would actually have an epileptic seizure and turn blue. Fortunately, he wasn't alone, so people would find him on the floor and tuck him into bed to sleep it off. Then, sometimes less than an hour later, he'd be up again and stuffing his nose with a fresh batch of drugs.

His coming-out was chaotic

Although it's difficult to imagine Sir Elton John as anything other than an out and proud gay man, there's no telling how long he might have stayed in the closet without a certain determined reporter. Ultimate Classic Rock says in 1976, Rolling Stone freelancer Cliff Jahr pestered John to give an interview during a pre-hiatus run of shows that had seen him largely avoid the media. Jahr had a hunch about the Rocket Man's sexuality, so he engaged the artist in an intimate conversation to see where it would go. This led to John openly musing about the nature of bisexuality and his own attraction to men.

The news caused a chaos. The impact on his record sales may not have been as huge as the press insinuated, but the news of a celebrity liking men in like that was shocking, and even Walter Cronkite reported it in the evening news. Yet, despite this outing, the Rocket Man was still figuring out what he wanted (and possibly, how he wanted to be seen). In 1984, he dabbled with heterosexuality and married Renate Blauel after a flash romance. This may or may not have been an attempt to keep up appearances, and as the Telegraph notes, it is now clear that the German sound engineer probably was not the love of John's life. The couple divorced in 1988 and in the same year, John stated that he was finally comfortable with his homosexuality.

His parental issues

Famous artists rarely come from well-adjusted homes, and Sir Elton John is no exception. According to the Independent, his childhood was shadowed by an uncaring father that the young superstar in the making blamed for his lack of self-esteem, weight issues, and other negative traits. John craved attention from his father but says he never received a single hug or the words of affection that he so sorely needed. Although he later realized that his father possibly did love him in his own distant way, the young John was so angry and frustrated with his dad that he ended up using that negative energy as fuel to drive him to success as a performer.

On the other hand, the singer's relationship with his mother, Sheila Farebrother, is decidedly not an emotionless one. According to People, the pair feuded for years, and it got so bad that when Farebrother turned 90, she actually hired an Elton John impersonator for her birthday party in lieu of her absent son. Although the mother and son mended fences before Farebrother passed away, the Telegraph reports that their differences continued even in death. Farebrother left a huge chunk of her fortune to her son's former assistant, who played a part in starting their feud in the first place. Meanwhile, she only left John … a couple of urns and some old family photos. He didn't need the money, of course.

His troubles with religious groups

Yes, religious groups have been known to condemn Sir Elton John. Shocking, right? The singer's sexuality and notorious tendency to throw gasoline on the flames make him a prime target, though one who is happy to criticize the believers right back. According to NME, John's main beef with most religions seems to be their attitudes regarding gay people. He says it promotes the "hatred and spite" against homosexuals and goes on to opine that organized religion is a dysfunctional thing that "turns people into hateful lemmings." Though he does think there are some positive things about religion, he feels it should be banned. Of course, civilized rhetoric won't get too much press, which may be why the singer sometimes likes to go all in. As the Guardian notes, one of John's most famous jabs at religion was his 2010 comment that Jesus was a gay man. Several religious authorities protested his comments with varyingly nasty remarks, though some managed to take it in stride: A Church of England spokesman merely gave a good-natured comment that such speculations are "perhaps best left to the academics."

Of course, Christianity is not the only religion that has problems with John. As the Telegraph and the Guardian describe, the artist's concerts have drawn significant protests in majority-Muslim countries like Morocco and Malaysia.

​His dramatic throat surgery

One of the most terrifying things that can happen to a singer is losing his voice. Not only did this happen to Sir Elton John, but the voice he got back was a very different one. As Ultimate Classic Rock describes, the Rocket Man's touring schedule in the mid-1980s was brutal. A 15-month, 200-concert stretch did not do any favors for his voice, and eventually, he started losing it and experiencing spasmodic bouts of pain in his throat. In early 1987, he checked in at a private Australian hospital, canceled his concert dates for the year, and underwent a throat surgery to fix what some said was throat cancer, but his publicist insisted was just a benign lesion.

John recovered from the surgery quite quickly and resumed touring, but the man who took the stage from that point on sounded very different from the one who had checked in the hospital. Many fans were unhappy about the singer's new voice, which had a significantly deeper timbre and had lost the famous falsetto.