Multiple Grammy award-winning British singer, Elton John has been clean and sober for almost 30 years but he still wears his badge of sobriety proudly.
The “Candle In The Wind” singer has always been open about his past struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. In 2015, he took to his Instagram page to reveal that he has been clean for 25 years. He made the announcement with a picture of a cake topped by the number and the phrase “One day at a time.”
Very early in his career, John says he was naïve about drugs and didn’t try cocaine until his manager brought it into the recording studio in the early 70s. In the beginning, he said cocaine was the drug that helped him overcome his shyness.
“I always said cocaine was the drug that made me open up. I could talk to people,” he told NPR. “But then it became the drug that closed me down, because the last two weeks of my use of cocaine I spent in a room in London, using it and not coming out … So, it started out by making me talk to everyone and then ended up by me isolating myself alone with it, which is the end of the world, really.”
In a chat with NPR in 2012, he revealed that his past addictions still have a hold on him. He said:
“I still dream, twice a week at least, that I’ve taken cocaine and I have it up my nose. And it’s very vivid and it’s very upsetting, but at least it’s a wake-up call.”
According to him, he turned to drugs to combat his shyness. Although known to be a flamboyant rock legend who could mesmerize the crowd on stage in the 1970s, he was a shy and reserved individual offstage. He turned to cocaine to overcome this and for over 16 years, he experienced life through a drug-fueled haze. His addiction during the earlier decade will be represented onscreen in the biopic Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton as John and Jamie Bell as his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.
In a 2010 TV interview with Piers Morgan, he made it known that cocaine wasn’t his only drug of choice.
“And I’m not being flippant when I say that, when I look back I shudder at the behaviour and what I was doing to myself. This is how bleak it was: I’d stay up, I’d smoke joints, I’d drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker and then I’d stay up for three days and then I’d go to sleep for a day and half, get up, and because I was so hungry, because I hadn’t eaten anything, I’d binge and have like three bacon sandwiches, a pot of ice cream and then I’d throw it up, because I became bulimic and then go and do the whole thing all over again.”
His drug addiction almost ended his life.
“Very close,” he said of how near to death he became. “I mean, I would have an epileptic seizure and turn blue, and people would find me on the floor and put me to bed, and then 40 minutes later I’d be snorting another line.”
The singer credits meeting Ryan White, the American teenage haemophiliac who contracted HIV through a contaminated blood transfusion, with providing the impetus for his start on the path to sobriety.
“I had the luck to meet Ryan White and his family,” he said during a Harvard University talk in 2017. “I wanted to help them, but they ended up helping me much more. Ryan was the spark that helped me to recover from my addictions and start the AIDS foundation. Within six months [of White’s death] I became sober, and clean, and have been for 27 years.”
John first became aware of White in 1985. He visited with White and became close with his family, and was at the hospital bedside when the teen died on April 8, 1990. The singer was a pallbearer at White’s funeral and performed “Skyline Pigeon” at the service before 1,500 gathered mourners. White’s legacy was to help change the perception of the disease and to inspire John to create the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, which has raised more than $400 million over the past 25 years to challenge discrimination against people affected by the epidemic, prevent infections, provide treatment and services, and motivate governments to end AIDS.
Asking for help, John says, is the hardest part of overcoming your drug problem.
“Took me 16 years to say it,” the singer recalled of his addiction in 2018. “I know I’m intelligent, I know I have a problem and I can go six months without it, but it always got worse when I started back on it. … Addiction is a very serious problem and it needs to be addressed by yourself and you need help from people.”
Though now sober and dad to two sons with husband David Furnish, John admits he still battles addiction, only not in the form of drugs. After nearly dying when appendicitis was misdiagnosed in 2013, the same year his second child was born, he had to reassess his life choices once again. Only this time it was the nonstop touring and seemingly constant global appearances that had gotten out of hand.
“It was a sign. I’m addicted to working,” he said during an interview with the Guardian. “I’m basically killing myself by traveling so much, for no reason whatsoever. As you know, I can’t have one pair of shoes, I can’t have one CD, I can’t have one bunch of flowers, one car, one ornament, I mean, that’s my mindset. … I always run away with it. The horse bolts, like me with cocaine and everything like that. So, it’s just a wonderful wakeup call.”