By Shana Naomi Krochmal
October 15, 2019 at 11:25 AM EDT
05/31/19
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  • Movie
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It might be hard to believe that an R-rated biopic like Rocketman — a movie that includes lavish, full musical-fantasy song-and-dance numbers, a suicidal duet at the bottom of a swimming pool, and a scene in which Elton John literally takes flight from Dodger Stadium up into the stratosphere — has left any potential drama on the cutting room floor. 

But a few pages into Me, John’s new, first-ever autobiography, it’s clear that there’s enough material for a whole other miniseries worth of highs and lows in the singer’s life. There are Forrest Gump-esque celebrity cameos ranging from the Royal Family to Katharine Hepburn, dozens of bitter fights and binges that were combined into quick-action montages in the film, and almost 30 years’ worth of events that occurred squarely after the movie neatly wraps up with John emerging clean and sober from rehab.

Here are some of the absolutely most astounding scenes that you won’t see — or won’t see all of — in Rocketman, which despite being determined not to soften any hard edges, somehow actually turns out to be a little bit tame compared to the real story. (These aren’t all new tales, per se — many bon mots dropped into confessional interviews over the years have made the requisite headlines — but they all contain fresh, confirmed details from the man himself.)

Elton John drops out of school to work at a music publishing company

John’s always-disappointed dad was particularly upset at what comparatively speaking seems like a relatively minor youthful offense: deciding to leave school before taking his A-levels (college prep/entrance exams). Joke’s on pop, though, as John writes: “It made me driven. I thought the more successful I got, the more it proved him wrong, whether he acknowledged it or not. Even today, I still sometimes think that I’m trying to show my father what I’m made of, and he’s been dead since 1991.”

Elton John’s first single is hugely hyped — and totally flops

Label head Dick James selected a song called “I’ve Been Loving You” for John’s first solo career single in 1968, which he agreed to do largely in hopes it would bring more attention to his and Bernie Taupin’s songwriting efforts — and potentially a famous singer to record one of their works. The track wasn’t even co-authored by Taupin. “The adverts claimed it was ‘the greatest performance of a ‘first disc,’ that I was ‘1968’s great new talent’ and concluded ‘YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED,’” John writes. “The British public reacted as if they’d been warned every copy was contaminated with raw sewage; 1968’s great new talent went back to the drawing board.”

Elton John gets engaged to a woman and attempts suicide (for the first time)

In Rocketman, John dates his landlord, a Bohemian girl named Arabella, until his friends question whether he’s a little too gay for such an arrangement, at which point he bravely breaks up with her and he and Taupin are promptly kicked out. In reality, 21-year-old John (and Taupin) lived with a woman named Linda Woodrow, John’s girlfriend and then fiancée — though they never had sex. (He says Linda took it as old-fashioned chivalry, and that the more pressing conflict was she didn’t like their music.) “I started to panic,” John writes. “The obvious course of action was simply to be honest. But the obvious course of action didn’t appeal — actually telling Linda how I felt was beyond me. So I decided to stage a suicide bid instead.” The attempt, which inspired the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” was as described by John dramatic but ill-planned: “I’d taken the precaution of turning the gas to low and opening all the windows…there wasn’t enough carbon monoxide in the room to kill a wasp.” It didn’t do the trick, exactly; Linda thought it was his stalled career that was making him depressed, and only after a much more adamant intervention by another gay friend and former bandmate, Long John Baldry, did he finally get drunk enough to break up with Linda, who (like Arabella) promptly kicked him and Taupin out, sending them back to live with John’s mom. (The Rocketman digital and Blu-ray release contains some deleted scenes that more closely mirror these events.)

Elton John is welcomed to America by a giant, gaudy double-decker red bus

All the hype of John’s first failed single couldn’t compare to how he and Taupin were welcomed when they first landed in Los Angeles — greeted by a giant double-decker red bus that had ELTON JOHN HAS ARRIVED painted on its side. John writes, “Bernie and I exchanged a dismayed glance: oh, for f—’s sake, this is our limo, isn’t it?” Stunts aside, the American PR team did manage to pack those early Troubadour shows with celebrities and key music journalists whose buzz catapulted John into fame.

Elton John and John Reid go from first date to living together within weeks

John’s relationship with John Reid, his first boyfriend and manager for many decades, is portrayed in Rocketman (by Taron Egerton and Richard Madden) as at first a sweet, seductive sexual awakening for John that descends into toxic, sometimes violent co-dependence. But in Me, John — who’d actually met Reid earlier in London — outlines how, flush with confidence from the Troubadour shows, he decided he was ready to have sex, called Reid up and invited him to his San Francisco hotel. “I breathlessly told him about what had happened in LA, and then, as nonchalantly as possible, suggested we should meet up,” John writes. Within a week they’d decided to move in together back in London. “I really was in love…that intense, guileless, naive kind of first love,” John writes. “And I’d just discovered sex. It made sense to move in together.” 

Elton John tries cocaine, throws up, and immediately does it again

John had been a rock star for some time, often surrounded by people doing drugs, before he ever tried much himself. The story he tells of trying cocaine for the first time — while making 1974’s Caribou in the Rocky Mountains — is utterly heartbreaking and yet also cinematic. It could also easily be the entire first act of its own feature film. (In Rocketman, we see Elton take his first snort mid-lyric during “Honky Cat.”) “I wandered into a room at the back of the studio and spotted John [Reid] fiddling with something on a table. He had a straw and some white powder. I asked what it was, and he told me it was cocaine. I asked what it did and he said, ‘Oh, it just makes you feel good.’ So I asked if I could have some, and he said yes.” John immediately threw up, then came back and asked for another line. “My appetite for the stuff was unbelievable — enough to attract comment in the circles I was moving in,” he writes of his 16-year, nearly fatal addiction. “Given that I was a rock star spending a lot of time in seventies LA, this was a not inconsiderable feat.” Another hundred-odd pages of the book chronicle the series of terrible decisions John makes under the influence of cocaine — and the acute self-awareness that hard-won sobriety has brought him. “I’d made the worst decision of my life,” he writes, “but I didn’t realize it then.” 

Elton John and John Reid get arrested in New Zealand

During a 1974 tour of New Zealand, Reid’s legendary temper landed both of them in jail. Reid had, John writes, thrown “a glass of wine in the face of a local record label promotions guy when the party they’d thrown for me ran out of whisky.” Then Reid punched a reporter when she tried to intervene. Then at a later party, when John got in an argument about that earlier fight, Reid “came flying across the room, knocked him to the floor and started kicking him.” Both were arrested and charged with assault; John got off with a fine, but Reid served 28 days in a New Zealand jail. “It wasn’t until John hit me that I came to my senses,” John writes. “I couldn’t make excuses for John’s behavior any longer. I couldn’t stay with someone who hit me.” They broke up, but Reid remained John’s trusted manager until 1998.

Elton John comes out in Rolling Stone because he’s bored and lonely

In 1976, Elton John sat down with an inquisitive gay writer from the music magazine at either exactly the right or wrong time. “He asked me if I was in love with anyone, which was very much the wrong question to ask me in those days,” John writes, “unless you had a few hours to spare and a burning desire to fill them listening to me moaning about the terrible state of my personal life.” John’s candid answers about his relationships with men (and women, sort of) made headlines and history. “I didn’t feel relieved, or nervous, or proud,” John writes. “I’d done all the fretting I had to do about my sexuality and what people might think about it years ago.”

Elton John sleeps with a KGB officer while touring Russia

During a 1979 tour in the former Soviet Union, John was assigned a minder — a presumed KGB officer — named Sasha. As the rest of the road crew partied with hotel staff, Sasha propositioned John. “I don’t know exactly what I’d been expecting from my first forty-eight hours in Russia, but this definitely wasn’t it.”

Elton John gets wasted with Duran Duran and crashes his own video shoot — naked

One darkly funny but very low point in John’s book is especially ironic given that in Rocketman, the single “I’m Still Standing” is framed as his triumphant graduation from rehab, his comeback calling card. In fact John was still deep in the grips of drug addiction. While in France to film the iconic boat-hatted video, he ran into Simon Le Bon, who invited him out to a bar with the rest of Duran Duran. “Simon asked if I’d ever had a vodka martini. I had not,” John writes. “Depending on who you believe, I had either six or eight more of them in the space of an hour, and a couple of lines of coke. I apparently returned to the video set, demanded they begin running the cameras, took all my clothes off and started rolling around on the floor naked.” (That’s really only the first half of the story; the second half involves John punching Reid in the face, a clown suit and a convertible.)

Elton John hosts orgies and takes Polaroids — one of which gets published in a tabloid

John writes that unlike most cocaine addicts, he had no trouble with sexual performance while high on the drug — but that he preferred to be “an observer, a voyeur.” He brought people back to his house, and then, he writes, “I just watched, took Polaroids, organized things.” In 1987, the UK tabloid The Sun published a series of made-up stories about John’s exploits — and despite there being plenty of true fodder from which to draw, the only real evidence they found were some of those Polaroids, including one of John performing oral sex. John filed lawsuit after lawsuit against the paper and eventually won.

Elton John and Ryan White’s unlikely friendship sparks lasting personal change

This one’s a different kind of dramatic — maybe more suited for a heartwarming movie of the week — but when John befriended the young Ryan White, an Indiana kid with AIDS whose battle with local schools, townspeople and the government for fair treatment drew worldwide attention to the epidemic, he also began to understand how badly his life needed to change. “I should have been using my fame as a platform to gain attention and make a difference,” he writes. “I felt sick.”

Elton John announces on camera he’s adopting a Ukrainian orphan

John’s work with AIDS charities brought him in contact with a number of young orphans around the world — several of whom tugged at his heartstrings and led him to begin questioning whether he wanted a family. At one Ukranian orphanage, he turned to his husband, David Furnish, and asked whether they might adopt a boy he’d bonded with immediately. Then, moments later and in front of cameras for a press conference, he suggested that was what they were about to do. (They didn’t, ultimately, for good reason — the child had family and could be supported in other ways, but it set John and Furnish on a more determined path to have children.) If they’d had a reality TV series this would have been the season finale cliffhanger.

Elton John’s mom tries to ruin his civil partnership ceremony

For as awful as his mother (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) comes across in Rocketman, the evidence against her in the book is actually far worse. Among a lifelong campaign to belittle John and bemoan every success he achieves, the most upsetting might be when she nearly ruined John and Furnish’s civil partnership ceremony in 2005. “When David and I exchanged our vows, she started talking, very loudly, over the top of us: rattling on about how she didn’t like the venue and how she couldn’t imagine getting married in a place like this.” She continued to behave badly through the reception — drawing even Sharon Osbourne’s ire, who told John, “I know she’s your mother, but I want to kill her” — and later telling reporters she didn’t approve of two men getting married, though John writes she’d never been overtly homophobic to him before. 

Related content: 

Elton John biopic 'Rocketman' stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
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  • Movie
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release date
  • 05/31/19
director
  • Dexter Fletcher
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  • Paramount Pictures
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