The People Elton John Credits With Helping Save His Life

Elton John is a pop music icon and throughout his career — which has spanned 50 years — he has lived the life of a rockstar in just about every facet of the term. This of course includes indulging in the excesses that often come with that level of fame, like drugs and alcohol.

According to PBS, while on his Farewell Yellowbrick Road Tour in 2022, John performed at Indianapolis' Gainbridge Fieldhouse, and that night he told the show about a connection he had to the state of Indiana. The singer told the crowd that he had spent time with the family of Ryan White, the late teenage AIDS activist who died in 1990 at just 18 years old. 

"I knew that my lifestyle was crazy and out of order," he said. "And six months later, I got sober and clean and have been ever since," he said. "I cannot thank them enough, because, without them, I'd probably be dead." According to WTHR John then dedicated a song — 1974's ​​"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" — to White's mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, who was in attendance at the show in Indianapolis.

Who was Ryan White?

Ryan White was born on December 6, 1971, in Kokomo, Indiana. According to PBS, White was born with hemophilia A, a disorder that prevents blood from clotting normally. This is due to a lack of a protein called factor 8. There is no cure for hemophilia and those with it face dangers of extreme blood loss from even the smallest cuts or bumps.

There are however treatments designed to help those with hemophilia A, and one of them is giving a patient a blood transfusion with factor 8 in it. This is the treatment Ryan White received when he was 13 years old. However, there was a major problem: the transfusion he received was contaminated with HIV.

This was a relatively routine procedure but the problem stemmed from how the blood was collected. It wasn't tested and the donations were mixed, meaning one infected donor could taint an entire batch of donated blood. Sadly, hemophiliacs becoming infected with HIV because of a blood transfusion happened quite a bit, and Ryan White was one of those cases.

Ryan White's case draws national attention

Several years after receiving a tainted dose of blood White and his family moved to the town of Cicero, Indiana, and seeing as he was still a teenager, they enrolled him at the local high school. According to PBS, the school's principal was very welcoming to White and even saw it as an opportunity to foster fact-based discussions related to the HIV/AIDS crisis that was frequently in the headlines.

Sadly, some of the school's students and their families were not pleased that White was enrolling in the school because of his diagnosis. There was a lot of homophobia and misinformation about HIV and AIDS at the time, and unfortunately, it caused people to lash out at people — even kids, like Ryan White — who had tested positive for the virus or the disease.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, those uncomfortable with the idea of an HIV-positive student attending school fought to keep White from attending. He and his family fought back and in the process shined a light on the struggles faced by those who contract HIV and AIDS and their families. Many celebrities became interested in White's story, including Elton John.

Elton John and Ryan White's family

Many celebrities became interested in White's story, including President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, and of course, Elton John. Celebrities caught word of White's story and then turned up at benefits which in turn drew more eyes to the benefits and the cause they were trying to raise awareness for. White's story was even turned into a made-for-TV movie, "The Ryan White Story," which aired in 1989 (via PBS).

"The longer he lived the more famous he became because of the more he accomplished," White's mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, told WTHR in 2020. However, White had said that he would've given up his fame just to be healthy and live the life of a regular teenager.

In 1990, White's health to a drastic downward turn, and he died on April 8 of that year. He was just 18 years old.

John had struck up a relationship with the family by then, and according to White-Ginder, the star was involved in helping them through their tough time. "From going to look at caskets to picking a church, Elton did all of that and there wasn't a want or a need at the hospital that Elton didn't try to take care of."

Apparently, this relationship helped John in his personal life. His words at his 2022 show in Indianapolis seemed to indicate that the Whites helped him through a difficult time too.