The quiet life of Elton John, the singer who resists becoming a legend

The recording artist, who recently became one of 19 people with an EGOT to their name, has said goodbye to the stage so many times that it sounds more like a see you soon. His retirement is not a homebound one but rather a tactical withdrawal: he has announced a book and is preparing a new album and a new musical

Elton John
Elton John during his performance at the Glastonbury Festival in 2023.Jim Dyson (Redferns)
Rafa de Miguel

Sir Elton John’s outlandish life can hardly be described as domestic, even the most British universal artist in existence (next to Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart) cited spending more time at home in the future as the reason for his retirement. These days, he is about to turn 77, but Reginald Kenneth Dwight, his real name, keeps racking up awards.

The U.S. Library of Congress just announced that it is awarding its 2024 prestigious Gershwin Prize in the Popular Song (Pop) category to the British artist, and, Bernie Taupin, the lyricist behind the vast majority of Elton John’s hits. Shortly before this most recent recognition, Elton John completed the EGOT, winning an Emmy (television), Grammy (music), Oscar (film) and Tony (theater). That’s a special accomplishment in the entertainment industry, and there are only 19 people who have done so. The live broadcast of his concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the last U.S. stop on his swansong Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, earned the artist the coveted Emmy that he was missing. At the end of a tour of 330 performances, the concerts are estimated to have grossed close to $987 million (€920 million). Just a week ago he announced a book in which he will recount all the details of his farewell tour: “It’s been a beautiful journey creating this book and remembering the people and places that shaped an incredible chapter in my life. As well as the stories and memories, not just from this tour but from throughout my career, I’ve included unreleased photography and memorabilia that I hope give you never-before-seen insights of my life on the road,” he explained on his Instagram of Farewell Yellow Brick Road: Memories of My Life On Tour; the title will be available for purchase on September 24.

It would not be the last goodbye. There were more, and none of them sounded definitively final. A year later he would perform at the legendary Glastonbury Festival in the southwest countryside of England. “It’s been an incredible journey. I’ve had a great time, and I’ll never forget you guys. You are on my mind, in my heart and in my soul. You have been an incredible audience tonight, and I wish you love, health and happiness,” Elton John told the nearly 200,000 spectators who enjoyed his music live that night. Between seven and eight million more watched on the BBC, an audience share (48.9%) that is hard to beat.

“I’m a bitch, I’m a bitch, the bitch is back.” That was one of the hits the singer chose for a concert that was a nostalgic retrospective on half a century in the business; it also made it clear that he did not plan to leave the scene completely. He wore a gold-colored suit and black horn-rimmed glasses with pink lenses, a rather discreet outfit for the artist who made his attire a fundamental part of his personality. In the era of rock guitars, when Elton John was just getting started, he chose flashy ensembles to constantly attract the attention of the audience as he was behind his piano. Crocodile Rock, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Your Song, Candle in the Wind... He included all the hits in his repertoire. And he demonstrated the same generosity as always. He did not resort to having surprise guests join him on stage; he used his overwhelming influence to promote young and promising up-and-comers like Stephen Sanchez and Rina Sawayama.

In Windsor with the kids

Elton John married Canadian David Furnish almost 10 years ago, when the United Kingdom finally legally recognized same-sex marriages. They have two sons, Zachary, 12, and Elijah, 10, who were born to the same surrogate; her identity is unknown, but the couple claims to maintain cordial and constant communication with her.

Elton John and David Furnish at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, at St. George's Church, Windsor Castle, May 19, 2018.
Elton John and David Furnish at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, at St. George's Church, Windsor Castle, May 19, 2018. Pool (WireImage)

The singer says that he wants to devote most of his time to his family and domestic life at his mansion in Windsor. It is easy to see him with his two kids at the Pizza Hut or at Waterstones bookstore in the picturesque British town. “It’s always hard to say goodbye. But the truth is I miss him, the kids miss him, and he misses us,” Furnish said during the final weeks of the farewell tour. “He’s had enough. It’s time to spend more time together as a family.”

However, Elton John’s farewell suggests that it will be something more than his famous Candle in the Wind, whose flame, the lyrics said, was extinguished long before the legend. The singer is reluctant to move into the legend category. He is working on a new album and a musical and has not ruled out occasional appearances on stage.

Gone with the wind

Elton John has also said goodbye, 30 years later, to his mansion in the elegant Buckhead neighborhood of southern Atlanta. The singer decided to take up residence in the city of Miss Scarlet from the movie Gone with the Wind, instead of moving to more popular options at the time, like Los Angeles or New York. This boy from the London suburb of Pinner set down roots in the same city that is home to Coca-Cola and CNN for a thousand reasons: the undeniable warmth and hospitality of the old South; the city’s unbeatable cultural and musical vitality; and the prosperity and racial coexistence of a capital that is home to the largest African-American middle class and the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change.

Rina Sawayama and Elton John perform during the Elton John AIDS Foundation's benefit gala on March 12, 2023, in West Hollywood, California.
Rina Sawayama and Elton John perform during the Elton John AIDS Foundation's benefit gala on March 12, 2023, in West Hollywood, California.Michael Kovac (Getty Images for Elton John AIDS)

However, there is another reason, more closely tied to the singer’s personal history and philanthropic efforts. Home to the largest gay community in the American South, Atlanta is also where the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is located. Along with the Pasteur Institute, the CDC spearheaded research and the fight against AIDS, when HIV was terrorizing, stigmatizing and killing the gay community.

Elton John has now cast off his ties with Atlanta, and at Christie’s in New York this February, he will auction the over 1,000 pieces of art and personal objects from his mansion. But he remains firmly entrenched at the helm of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, one of the non-profit institutions that raises the most money for the research still needed to eradicate the disease.

“I’m still standing,” Elton John shouted in one of his catchiest and most inspiring songs. His retirement does not suggest a domestic retreat, but merely a tactical one before going on stage once again.

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