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John, Sir Elton (b.1947)  
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Elton John has, over five decades, achieved an amazingly successful track record in the music industry. He was not only the biggest-selling pop superstar of the 1970s, but, more surprisingly, he continues to retain popularity among his fans and respect from music critics.

Elton John holds a music industry record for most consecutive singles placed in the Top 40, a string that began in 1970 and was broken only in 2000. Stephen Erlewine has noted that, although Elton John has endured temporary slumps in creativity and sales, he continues to craft contemporary pop standards that showcase his musical versatility.

John's combination of melodic skills, dynamic charisma, and raucous performance style has made him a remarkably popular musical artist.

Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex, England on March 25, 1947. Dwight began playing piano at age four and, when he was eleven, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. After six years at school, he left in order to break into the music business.

In 1961 he joined his first band, Bluesology, but left in 1966 because of creative differences with bandleader Long John Baldry. During this time Dwight had answered a Liberty Records advertisement for songwriters; and, though he failed the vocal audition, he was given a stack of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin, a young songwriter from Lincolnshire who had also answered the ad.

Dwight wrote music for Taupin's lyrics, and the two young men soon began corresponding. Six months later, after Dwight had changed his name to Elton John (taking his stage name from the first names of Bluesology members Elton Dean and John Baldry), he and Taupin finally met.

The collaboration between John and Taupin proved to be lucrative for both men. According to Ed Decker, Taupin would write the lyrics first, then John would compose music to them with incredible speed, sometimes in less than an hour.

By 1969 John had his first hit album, an eponymous LP that contained the touching ballad "Your Song," which climbed both the American and English record charts. Although John had a retiring personality, he hid his shyness on stage by adopting an outrageous performance style, including wearing outlandish clothes and leaping around as he played the piano.

Throughout the 1970s, John's concert attire would become more and more campy. He pranced across the stage wearing everything from huge feather boas to astronaut suits, almost always highlighted by a selection from his endless collection of bizarre eyeglasses.

From 1972 to 1976 the writing team of John and Taupin scored sixteen Top 20 hits in a row. In 1976 John, citing exhaustion, curtailed his rigorous concert and recording schedule. That year, as Colin Larkin has noted, he then entered an uncomfortable phase in his life. John not only acknowledged his bisexuality, but also confessed to personal insecurities about his weight and baldness.

These personal problems also affected his working relationship with Bernie Taupin, who broke with John and began working with other musicians. In 1980, however, the pair reunited, and their string of hits continued unabated. But John's personal life remained in turmoil. According to Erlewine, John had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol since the mid-1970s, and the situation only worsened during the 1980s.

John surprised the media and his fans by marrying Renate Blauel in 1984. The couple remained married for four years, although John later admitted that he had known he was homosexual long before his marriage.

John performed at Wham's farewell concert in 1985 and appeared at the historic Live Aid concert that same year. However, at an Australian concert in 1986, he collapsed on stage and subsequently underwent throat surgery.

During the mid-1980s, John developed a close friendship with Ryan White, a teenage hemophiliac who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. White attracted international attention when he was barred from his Kokomo, Indiana middle school in 1985. John not only befriended the courageous young man but also provided financial help and emotional support for White's family.

Ryan White died on April 8, 1990. John had dedicated "Candle in the Wind," the song he and Taupin had written as an elegy for Marilyn Monroe, to Ryan at the Farm Aid concert in Indianapolis the night before Ryan's death. In a touching performance, he reprised the song at White's funeral.

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Sir Elton John on stage in 2008. Photograph by Richard Mushet.
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