Sir Elton John's Journey From Addiction to Sobriety

Sir Elton John's Journey From Addiction to Sobriety

(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. These people are not necessarily connected to Novus Medical Detox Center – instead, these stories are intended to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)

Sir Elton John, CBE, is among the most celebrated and recognizable popular music stars in the world. In his five-decade career the English singer-songwriter, musician and composer

"has sold more than 500 million records, had more than fifty Top 40 hits including seven consecutive No. 1 US albums, 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 Top 10, four No. 2 and nine No. 1. For 31 consecutive years (1970-2000) he had at least one song in the Billboard Hot 100."

A special version of his hit single "Candle in the Wind" that he rewrote as a tribute to his friend, the late Princess Diana, and that he sang at her funeral in Westminster Abbey, became the best-selling single in the history of the UK and US, selling over 33 million copies worldwide. John has been the recipient of countless awards and honors for his work in films, television and theater as well as the music industry. Some of the many include:

  • An Academy Award and two more nominations for his music for The Lion King
  • Five Grammy Awards and 29 more nominations from 1971 to 2011
  • A Tony Award for Aida, and three nominations for Billy Elliott, The Lion King, and Next Fall
  • Five Brit Awards for outstanding contribution to music and the first Brits Icon Award for "lasting impact on British culture"
  • A Golden Globe Award, a Disney Legends Award, and a Kennedy Center Honors award

John was named a "Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" (CBE) in 1996, one of the five designations of the Order of the British Empire. He received this title for his contributions to the arts and sciences, public service, and work with charitable and welfare organizations. Two years later, he was made a "Knight Bachelor" by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to music and charitable services," becoming Sir Elton John, CBE.

A Knighthood from the Queen… And Bad Dreams?

John has received official recognition from his Queen and country, continuing world-wide popularity and vast wealth estimated at nearly $500 million, part of which he spent on palatial homes in London, Beverly Hills, CA, Atlanta, GA, and Nice, France.

Despite of all this wealth and success, the 69-year-old musician told a National Public Radio (NPR) host in 2012 that what he remembers almost every day, whether he wants to or not, is his former life as a drug addict. John has spoken openly about his years of drug and alcohol addiction, which lasted from the mid-'70s until 1990.

"I still dream, twice a week at least, that I've taken cocaine and I have it up my nose," John told Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition in 2012. "And it's very vivid and it's very upsetting, but at least it's a wake-up call."

He told MSNBC that he was a self-absorbed drug addict in the '80s when the AIDS epidemic was starting.

"You know, I was having people die right, left and center around me, friends. And yet I didn't stop the life that I had, which is the terrible thing about addiction. It's that – you know, it's that bad of a disease."

TV interviewer Piers Morgan asked him in 2010,

"How close did drugs come to killing you, do you think?" "Very close," John replied. "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 [of cocaine]."

16 Years to Say the Words “I Need Help”

John’s addictions weren't really interrupted in any meaningful way until the death of an Indiana teenager named Ryan White, who had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion in the 1980s. White became a media cause célèbre when his school and neighbors ostracized the family.

When John heard about it, he stepped in and helped the Whites move to a new, safer location. But when Ryan White died in 1990, Sir Elton says it forced him to reconsider his own life.

"It got me to realize how out of whack my life was, because I was just in and out of a drug-fueled haze in the '80s. I did nothing to help people with AIDS," he said. "I was a gay man who really sat on the sidelines."

In 2002, a decade before his NPR interview, John told CNN's Larry King that his battle with drug and alcohol addiction was out of control for 16 years.

"It took me 16 years of drug addiction and alcoholism to actually have the humility to say, 'I need help.' Because, I figured that, because I was a successful man, I was wealthy, I was, you know, seemingly intelligent – even then I wasn't intelligent enough to ask for help. It took me 16 years to say those three words – I need help. As soon as I said those words, I knew that I was going to get better, and I was determined to get better. But it was just a relief to be able to say those [words]. My pride was killing me. It's – you think you don't have a problem. And then you think, if I do have a problem...and I'd stop for a while, and then... when I went back to it, it got worse..."
"What took 16 years?" King asked.
"It's 16 years of [not] being able to say, I've got a problem here!” John responded. “It was a friend of mine, a relationship that I was having with someone in Atlanta who was the catalyst for me getting sober, who actually went into a treatment center first, which I was very angry about, because, hey, it was like telling me that I had a problem as well, which of course I did."

But then, John told King,

"When I was with the Ryan White family in Indianapolis when Ryan died...and then I played [Princess Di's] funeral and I was probably at the height of my unhappiness. If you look back at footage of me there, I looked like a 75-year-old white-haired man, about a 300-pound man playing the piano. And I was really ashamed of myself.”

Rehab Was “The Best Thing I Ever Did”

"And as soon as I got my courage to say I need help, I went to a facility in Chicago, which was excellent – it was a hospital,” John said about his acceptance that he needed help recovering from addiction. “It wasn't a treatment center, not like one of the posh ones anyway, which is not what I needed. I needed just to, you know, to share my room, my small room with someone. I wasn't ashamed about going in and talking about my drug addiction. I was more ashamed that I couldn't work the washing machine than the fact that I was taking drugs."

John recalls that his rehab therapist suggested he write a good-bye letter to cocaine. He did, and "it was a hit," he said. His songwriting partner for 40 years, Bernie Taupin, said it was "some of his best work." John has been clean and sober for nearly 26 years, and he doesn't regret a minute of it. He says his treatment at the Chicago hospital,

"was the best thing I ever did… But, you know, those three words – I need help. If only I'd said them earlier."

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