False Facts About Elton John You Always Thought Were True

Sir Elton John is one of the most successful entertainers in the world. He has been in the spotlight for decades, and much like any celebrity who's in it for the long haul, he has a pretty well-established public image. John has given hundreds of interviews, and thousands of news stories have been written about him. He's done some good and some bad, and somewhere between those extremes, the public image of the singer has formed. In fact, at this point, anyone who's even passingly familiar with Elton John can probably name some basic trivia or give a pretty decent description of the superstar.

Here's the thing, though: A whole bunch of those well-known facts are actually anything but true. It turns out the real Elton John is a fairly different person from the one the world thinks it knows, and a whole lot of the things you thought you knew about him may be slightly less accurate than you think. Let's fix some of the misconceptions about Elton John you probably always thought were true.

His love of limelight

Watch any of his performances and you can probably agree that Sir Elton John is one of the most flamboyant entertainers to ever polish the piano bench. It doesn't take a mind reader to see that this is a man who clearly loves what he's doing. Additionally, as the Guardian attests, he has a tendency to blurt out controversial opinions in interviews. Everything about him seems carefully primed to attract every last lumen of every available spotlight at any given moment — which is why it's so surprising to hear that he actually hates the whole cult of celebrity.

In 2016, John said in an interview that his younger self used to attend "the opening of an envelope" if it meant he'd be seen, but he also admitted that he finds the limelight genuinely uncomfortable and is constantly thinking of slipping away from the public eye. He is even somewhat weirded out by his status as a lightning rod who attracts sensational headlines, and points out that in the very beginning he didn't actually set out to be famous. He was just a small, shy, overweight guy who replied to an ad to become a songwriter for Liberty Records, and once he teamed up with Bernie Taupin by sheer chance, an avalanche of good fortune and hard work sent him careening toward a stardom that he had neither expected nor planned.

He doesn't think quite as highly of the piano as you might think

Sir Elton John has played a lot of piano in his life. Eltonography estimates he has played over 3,000 concerts since 1970, and the Guardian reports that his ongoing farewell tour alone has a whopping 300 dates. Surely, a man with so many performances under his belt loves his instrument like a craftsman loves his tools. It's not hard to imagine John waking up and dropping a few playful arpeggios on a gleaming grand piano while sipping his morning glitter latte.

But the reality is quite the opposite. In 2016, when a Guardian journalist visited his home and noted that there are no pianos in the building, John explained his feelings about the instrument: "I play 107 shows a year, why am I going to go home and play the f*cking piano?" While he notes that other pianists like Rufus Wainwright indeed play every morning when they get up, he can't stand the idea of touching a piano when he's not working: "God, I couldn't think of anything worse. I have leisure, and I have work. And I do enough work. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is play the piano." Tough words.

Still, in a way, the metaphor about the craftsman and his tools does apply. John just happens to be the kind of artisan who makes sure to leave his tools in the workshop when he kicks off his platform shoes for the day.

His relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin

Apart from himself, the most important person in Sir Elton John's career is probably his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the pair met in 1967 when John answered an ad by Liberty Records. After the interviewer heard that young John could write music but not lyrics, he handed John a stack of poems by Taupin, another budding talent who had also answered the ad. Elton loved what he read, contacted Taupin, and the rest is history. The pair's peculiar songwriting process — Taupin writes the lyrics by himself, then sends them to John, who writes the songs around them — has created scores of hits.

As public perception of the pair goes, they have been inseparable. "I've never had an argument with him in my life," John once told the Guardian. However, the two have not always been quite as joined at the hip as legend would have you believe. In the late 1970s, they even split up for a few years. Though both of them insist this was less about personal differences and more about the desire to work with other people for a change, there was certainly a period in their careers where they weren't too close. Taupin has even said a lot of their work in the late 1980s and early 1990s was sub-par because their lives drifted in different directions and they weren't communicating enough.

He's not just a solo artist

Elton John has always been the one and only Elton John, and everyone else has been backup. Well, that's the general perception, anyway. According to Britannica, John actually has a solid band background and spent his mid-1960s in Bluesology, a group that later became a backing band for John Baldry (the "John" in "Elton John"). Apart from Bluesology, Ultimate Classic Rock notes John was pretty close to joining King Crimson (at least as a session vocalist). As Gentle Giant's Derek Shulman has explained, John also used to be in the band's poppy predecessor, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, but was cut from the lineup when they morphed into their proggier form.

John also likes to take time off from being a solo act by collaborating with other artists and bands. According to John's official website, he has collaborated with over 175 artists, playing with everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Queens of the Stone Age to Tom Jones and Kate Bush, and singing with artists as different as Bob Dylan and Luciano Pavarotti. In fact, some might argue that even John's "solo" act is something of a band. Rolling Stone reports that as of 2016, guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson had been playing with John for over 40 years, and in his own Rolling Stone interview in 2018, Johnstone certainly comes across as more of a band member than a timid background musician.

His famous tantrums and diva antics

Let's be clear here. No one is saying that Sir Elton John can't throw a tantrum when the mood strikes. When his own husband David Furnish directed a documentary about him in 1997, its actual name was Elton John: Tantrums & Tiaras. However, he's not quite the unapologetic, insult-tossing diva that his numerous public feuds might make him seem. Yes, it all happened. But it wasn't necessarily all him.

A lot of John's rabble-rousing reputation can be attributed to his days as an addict. He has told the Guardian that there was a "monstrous side" to him when he was on drugs. His late friend Dusty Springfield told him to try avoid smashing anything expensive during his outbursts, and he once demanded that his tour staff do something about the weather. However, John says that while he can have a temper, his usual self is far more mellow, and that the craziness of show business would cause anyone to lash out on occasion.

In 2016, John told Rolling Stone that while his extremely blunt, British sense of humor doesn't exactly help soften his image, he's actually far from a shameless diva. He's extremely self-aware about his temper ("we're all f*cking monster sometimes"), and recognizes when he's gone too far. He has even been known to make amends with people — John was actually the one who ended a decade-long feud with Madonna (which he had started) by reaching out and admitting he had overstepped.

He's not all about kitsch and camp

You don't need to look at a photo gallery of Elton John's outfits throughout the years to know the man's style is not exactly restrained. His outrageous glasses, flamboyant outfits, and kitschy sheep and duck costumes are more than enough to make Liberace hang his head in shame, and they paint a picture of an artist who is incredibly dedicated to be as camp as humanly possible, both onstage and in his other appearances.

However, when the camera flashes fade away, the artist is a very different man. According to the Guardian, John has been known to grant interviews wearing an unassuming tracksuit and coming across like any ordinary guy you might meet at the pub, with only the crazy facts about his life that he occasionally brings up (and the lavish home where the interview is happening) revealing the superstar life he leads. As BBC notes, this grassroots mentality also affects his public image, as he's a massive, lifelong soccer fan (though, admittedly, one who has a stand named after him at the stadium of a club he used to own). And while John is, appropriately enough for his public image, a huge art collector, even his preferred artform is noticeably less gaudy than you might expect. As the Guardian reports, the singer is a renowned collector of somber modernist photography, and parts of his notorious collection have been on display in major art galleries such as Tate Modern.

He's not just a pianist

How many instruments can Sir Elton John can play? For many people, the answer is going to be something along the lines of "piano, grand piano, electric piano and ... uh, the organ, maybe? Pretty much just anything with a keyboard?" He's such an iconic and talented pianist that it's borderline impossible to imagine him with any other instrument, especially some of the more traditional rock ones like the guitar.

While the piano is undoubtedly John's primary instrument, it's a bit unfair to say he can't play anything else at all. John's own guitarist has told Rolling Stone that Elton is fascinated by the guitar. And as Paste reports, the musician did play the guitar on occasion in his concerts. But obviously Elton John can also see what the world knows — the six-string is far from his primary instrument, and he's been known to maintain a healthy dose of self-irony while wielding it. In one 1986 concert, he said before a song: "You don't often see me playing guitar ... because I can't." Of course, he then went on to play it anyway, so who knows what killer riffs the man has been hiding? How much of his self-deprecation is deserved? Maybe he just means he can't play the guitar as well as he can play the piano.

Not just a stage name

"What's the real name of this famous musician?" is a tried and tested pub trivia staple, and when it comes to Sir Elton John, a whole lot of people would probably answer that question with his birth name, Reginald Dwight. However, that would be incorrect and it would be a good lesson in the particularities of pub trivia question formats, because as Zoomer Radio notes, John's real name is ... Elton John. Yeah, it's not just a stage name, and it's not just Elton John. His full name is Elton Hercules John.

While the artist was born Reginald Dwight, he eventually came up with a catchier name, and unlike other artists who use stage names, he didn't intend to take half measures. According to Lifetime, he submitted the document to legally change his name to Elton Hercules John way back in 1972. The name was a portmanteau of musicians Elton Dean and Long John Baldry and, oddly, the Hercules middle name came from a horse on a British sitcom called Steptoe and Son.

As to why plain old Reginald Dwight decided to officially turn himself into Elton John, probably the closest thing to an explanation comes in the Elton John biopic Rocketman: One scene has John's songwriting partner Bernie Taupin ask the typically outrageously dressed musician, "Don't you want to just sing without this ridiculous paraphernalia?" John's angry reply says it all: "People don't pay to see Reg Dwight! They pay to see ELTON JOHN!"

Not such a huge hedonist after all

When you look at his outrageous costumes and generally extravagant attitude, could you really think of Sir Elton John as anything but a complete and utter hedonist? This is one of those facts that used to be true about the singer, but he hasn't been like that in a good while. Biography says John was a self-admitted drug and drink fiend with horribly self-indulgent habits throughout much of the 1970s and the 1980s. His attitude started to change after he met Ryan White, an American hemophiliac who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. White provided Elton John with the motivation to start his AIDS activism, and when White died in 1990, John pulled his act together and sobered up.

Throughout his career, the formerly hedonistic John has also had a marvelous work ethic. Eltonography estimates he's played over 3,000 concerts. Even today, John is a workhorse of an entertainer; his farewell tour has a ridiculous 300 dates and will take until 2021 to wrap up.

While John is not quite as limber as he was during the height of his fame, that doesn't mean he's been destroying his body with every vice known to mankind (since he sobered up, that is). He's just 72 years old. Rolling Stone also notes he's had surgery on both of his knees, a combination of playing too much tennis and doing too much piano-jumping.

He's not as comfortably wealthy as you'd expect

Sir Elton John has been playing his beautiful and beloved songs to the world for quite some time, and as you might imagine, he has cashed in some pretty massive paychecks. Estimates vary, but Elton John's net worth is probably comfortably in the $500 million range, so it's safe to assume that he won't find himself in the poorhouse any time soon. Still, don't take that to mean that he has enough in his bank account to keep living that famously opulent Elton John lifestyle all the way to the grave.

In 2016, John told Rolling Stone that a whole lot of people running the companies around him hadn't been pulling their weight, and that every year, they actually had to scramble just so they could have enough money for taxes. However, recent years have seen drastic changes to the way John's people manage his finances. He credits husband David Furnish with streamlining the organization so the financial side of things is easier, and they have said that the goal is to bank enough money within a few years that John can finally start spending more time with his children and less on the road, while still maintaining the lifestyle he's accustomed to. Which, considering the fact that John's last remaining addiction is shopping, is likely to take quite a hefty bank account. Hey, there are always deodorant endorsements!