Rocketman premiere in Sydney should be a huge success because Elton John’s story is legendary: Angela Mollard
By all accounts — even his own — Elton John was a monster.
High on fame, drugs and his own stupendous ego, the singer could so easily have become another of rock’n’roll’s casualties.
History certainly hasn’t treated kindly those who thought success might somehow inoculate them against tragedy. Chronicle the last half century and it reads like a seamless obituary to those who played a game of excess and lost.
To be famous was to be flawed and dysfunctional; it’s a narrative that’s become as well-worn as it is compelling.
But that’s not why I can’t wait to see Rocketman which premiered in Australia on Saturday (I was invited and would’ve killed to have gone but mates from my old street threw me a leaving dinner and as guest of honour it’d have been bad form to pull out).
Rarely does a movie command such hype but Rocketman, billed as a true fantasy, has been nearly a decade in the making and it enters the biopic marketplace sharp on the heels of Bohemian Rhapsody’s success.
Naturally, the two will be compared and much is being made of the fact it precedes a string of forthcoming movies built around the song catalogues of Britney Spears, Madonna, David Bowie and, wincingly, Celine Dion.
Those involved are on tenterhooks; multiple movie studios passed on the opportunity to tell the story of John’s years of hedonism including his drug-taking, homosexuality and dubious Australian marriage to Renate Blauel.
As the New York Times opined, Rocketman was viewed as “too gay, too expensive, too reliant on an unproven star”.
They’re missing the point. I predict Rocketman will be a global blockbuster, not because it’s an over-hyped hagiography of some dead rock legend but because it tells the raw, complex, and painfully true story of a living man.
The boy born Reginald Kenneth Dwight who trod the yellow brick road to become Elton John is one of music’s most extraordinary tales not just because of the songs or the celebrity or the wall-to-wall sequins but because he survived.
Rocketman deserves our reverence not because the singer spectacularly burned the fuses of stardom but because he did the hard work necessary to bring himself back down to earth.
For too long we’ve worshipped mindlessly at the altar of fame. We’ve watched breathlessly as ordinary people with talent are propelled into the strange unchecked stratosphere of acclaim where nobody tells you you’re an arsehole because to do so might see them struck off the payroll.
The agents, publicists, studios, record companies and even doctors continue to prop up their stars and we — the adoring fans — watch on ghoulishly even as they crash and burn.
Social media has made it so much worse. In John’s heyday, you could wake in a drug stupor and demand someone stop the rain because it was too noisy (true story) and the yarn would only surface years later, softened by time.
Indeed, when I interviewed the singer’s former lover and manager, John Reid, he told me many amusing tales which at the time he’d quietly buried. Not so now.
YouTube, Instagram and Twitter have given stars their own megaphones but not the wisdom to employ them judiciously.
And so recently we’ve seen the likes of 19-year-old make-up artist James Charles in an excoriating stand-off with his former mentor, and old hands like Britney Spears posting such bizarre content that there are concerns for her wellbeing. Kanye West, who’s been diagnosed as bipolar, ranted regularly on Twitter before recognising social media was a threat to his mental health.
Rocketman is a film we should all see because while it focuses on John’s years of living indulgently it forecasts more important truths.
It is too easy to lionise the ones we lose — Elvis Presley, Michael Hutchence, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Sid Vicious — honestly, the list is heartbreaking.
I want John’s movie to rate its socks off not because actor Taron Egerton is apparently brilliant or because director Dexter Fletcher deserves the acclaim he was denied when he stepped in to rescue Bohemian Rhapsody or because it celebrates the lasting friendship between the singer and his loyal songwriter Bernie Taupin.
Rather, I want to salute a 72-year-old man who has something to teach all of us. A man who still sings the exquisite Tiny Dancer, and honoured Princess Diana, and makes millions for charity and is raising two children with his wonderful husband, and let Egerton stay at his house so he could fully capture his character.
I want it to be possible that “a fat boy from nowhere” can be both creative and endure. As John said last week, wearing his trademark crazy glasses and a jacket the blue of a spring sky, his is a story of redemption.
“If you’re in a bad way and you’re unhappy, ask for help. It really is so difficult sometimes to do that but when I did a lot of help came my way.” Legend.
Originally published as Elton John’s story is legendary. Mostly because he survived