Twenty years after her tragic death, Princess Diana’s legacy still endures in many ways.
While images in the following days of a heartbroken England are hard to forget, one indelible moment from her Sept. 6, 1997 funeral is Elton John’s performance of “Candle in the Wind.” With just his piano as accompaniment, John’s heartrending performance transcended the 2,000 mourners in attendance at London’s Westminster Abbey, moving the entire world that was watching.
Originally written in 1973 as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, John, who had been a close friend of the princess, reworked the lyrics with frequent collaborator Bernie Taupin to reflect Princess Diana’s life, changing “Goodbye Norma Jean” to “Goodbye England’s Rose” and adjusting the verses to speak to her charitable work. New lyrics spoke to the joy she brought England and the world, also noting how the nation would miss “the wings of [her] compassion.”
The chorus was changed to highlight her enduring legacy, noting, “Your footsteps will always fall here, along England’s greenest hills.”
The song, initially a slightly less memorable track off John’s 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, became one of the most enduring musical tracks of all time. John released the single (with all proceeds going to Diana’s charities) on Sept. 13 with the title “Candle in the Wind 1997,” and it quickly shot to the top of the charts.
It went on to win a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal, as well as becoming the best-selling single of all time in the U.K. and the second-highest selling single worldwide behind Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
John honored the 20th anniversary of the Princess’ death last week, posting a photo with the caption, “20 years ago today, the world lost an angel.”
John has never performed “Candle in the Wind” again since his emotional rendition at Princess Diana’s service, vowing he won’t perform it ever again unless explicitly asked to do so by her sons, Princes William and Harry.
Watch the video above for the full version of the heartbreaking 1997 performance.