Well into his fourth decade as a superstar, Elton John is still selling out concert halls. With Oscars, Grammys and Tonys and a knighthood on his résumé, what's left for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend to conquer? Las Vegas, of course.
Watch Barbara Walters' full interview with Elton John on 20/20 at 10 p.m.
He's booked to perform 75 shows at Caesar's Palace Colosseum over the next three years for a reported $50 million. Not bad for little Reginald Dwight of Middlesex, England, whose musical talent was obvious by the age of 4.
As a teenager he joined a band, played in pubs — and starved. He changed his name to Elton John in 1967 and, in a gamble he says could rival any Vegas roll of the dice, he answered an ad to be a songwriter. He was paired with lyricist Bernie Taupin and together they created rock 'n' roll magic.
The words were Taupin's, but we heard and watched Elton. His eyeglasses and wigs were larger than life, and his outrageous wardrobe fueled the act and the image. But out-of-control behavior offstage led to drug and alcohol addictions that would take him years to kick.
On Addiction, His Relationship and Marriage
Ten years ago John spoke about the turning point that spurred him to tackle his addictions. "Somebody that I was in a relationship from America, he said that I was a drug addict, that I was an alcoholic, that I was bulimic, I was a liar … he didn't leave anything … And I sat there and I was trembling and I cried and he cried … And I was so relieved and I said, 'Yep, you're right. I'll go, I'll get help.' "
John says he's been clean and sober now for the past 13 ½ years, and feels he's a much wiser person. He's also been in a committed relationship with his partner, David Furnish, for more than 10 years.
John and Furnish, a 41-year-old former advertising executive who is now a filmmaker, met at a dinner party in 1993 and have been together ever since.
"It's a 50-50 relationship. I'm happier now than I even was when I saw you last. My sobriety has brought me everything that I could possibly wish for," John said.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, he said: "I think it's a hot potato. David and I have lived together 10 years, 10 and a half, really. If I died tomorrow and I have a will, it leaves something, you know, everything to David. My family could come in and contest it. And I've seen it happen to so many gay couples."
As in the United States, Britain is grappling with legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage. "In England," John said, "the civil liberties act is coming in where David and I will be able to go and register as a couple and we will have the same rights. I don't want to get married. It's not my choice. That's an individual thing. But I think people have the right as gay or straight, or whatever, if they live with people to be protected, to protect their other half."
On Diana and Michael and Defending His Name
While he has found stability and happiness in his personal relationship, John has also gone through a great deal of tragedy in recent years.
When his friend designer Gianni Versace was gunned down in Miami in 1997, Princess Diana was at John's side at the funeral. Less than two months later, Diana died in a Paris car crash. John re-released his song "Candle in the Wind" — written as an elegy to Marilyn Monroe — as a heartfelt tribute to Diana. At her funeral he sang a touching new lyric for the princess — "Goodbye England's rose."
John says he will never sing those lyrics again unless Diana's sons ask him personally to sing it.
"I think the chances of that will probably be a trillion to one against," he said.
He said pop icon Michael Jackson sought refuge with him in 1994. "He stayed at my manager's house, which was near to me, but he'd come over to have lunch and spend the day at my house when he was rehabilitating from pain pills or whatever or something. … He was in a terrible state."
At that time, Jackson had reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of a boy who accused him of sexual molestation. Jackson was never charged, and has said he settled the suit simply to get it over with. John said he would have battled the suit to prove his innocence if he had been in Jackson's shoes.
"Never settle. Your pride and your honor is at stake. No, I would never settle anything like that. I'd always want to prove my innocence."
In fact, John was himself in a similar situation. England's Sun newspaper printed accusations that John had slept with underage boys and given them drugs. "I went through two years of hell practically," he recalled. But he put up a fight — and won.
"I won a million pounds and a front-page apology in the same typeface … that was the thing I wanted most. … But it took a year and a half to two years of my life, which was hell," he said.
As he battled the tabloid, John's legal bills mounted, as did rumors that he was broke. John says those rumors were also untrue.
"You don't have to worry about me. I have my publishing, that's my nest egg. And I a wonderful life. I have five homes full of beautiful art. I'm solvent, I'm very healthy, I'm getting paid a fortune here," he said.
Fame Is a Young Man’s Game
John says he doesn't really relish his fame any more — as he did when he was younger. "It's a young man's game," he said.
But it is John's fame that has helped raise more than $25 million for the Elton John AIDS Foundation through events like his annual Oscar night gala. At this year's party, Furnish was at his side.
Furnish has talked about wanting to adopt a child, but John said, "It's not gonna happen … if I was 15 years younger, maybe."
Now almost 57, John said he's quite proud of getting older and still being able to put on major shows like his current Vegas gig.
And the Elton empire continues to roll along. He plans a new album, more concerts, and two stage musicals to add to the long-running Broadway hits Aida and The Lion King. One musical is based on the movie Billy Elliot; the second, The Vampire Lestat, is based on the books of Anne Rice.
What does Elton John believe is behind his enduring success? "It's all down to the songs," he said, "If you write a good song, the song will endure forever."