Rocketman movie: Why Elton John finally checked into rehab
Rocketman’s filmmakers never said everything in it is exactly how it happened.
The movie is meant to be a fantasy musical.
And one of the things it changed is the circumstances in which Elton John finds himself in rehab after years of substance abuse,
The way it’s portrayed in the movie, John has a breakdown right before he’s due on stage in Madison Square Garden, after years of alcohol and drug abuse.
He bursts out onto the street in full costume and hops into one of New York’s yellow cabs, which drives him to a countryside rehab centre, where he learns to deal with his many addictions (sex, drugs, alcohol) and demons.
But did that really happen?
“But I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life. I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a lot both during the 70s and 80s, so there didn’t seem to be much point in making a movie that implied that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my hotel room with only a glass a milk and a Gideon’s bible for company.”
According to many reports, John’s drug and alcohol abuse started in the 1970s as part of the rock and roll lifestyle, but escalated in the 1980s.
He wrote in his memoir, Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS: “I was consumed by cocaine, booze, and who knows what else. I apparently never got the memo that Me generation had ended.”
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1992, John detailed the events that led to him checking in to a Chicago rehab in July 1990, and a one-year moratorium on his career while he sorted himself out.
It wasn’t just that years of substance abuse was finally coming to a head, there were also two precipitating factors.
The first was the death of Ryan White, an American teenager who had AIDS and had, earlier, filed a lawsuit against his local school district that barred him from attending classes.
John was one of several celebrities that tried to comfort White in the days before his death in April 1990.
“I was pretty screwed up at the time, getting angry at the littlest thing,” he told the LA Times. But he also abstained from drink and drugs for a week. It was his attendance at White funeral that became a wake-up moment. “When I saw footage of the funeral, I thought ‘my god’. I was so fat, so old.”
Elton John Ryan White
Not long after, John’s lover at the time checked into a detox centre. Initially, John said his reaction was anger, as if his lover was too “weak” to sort his own problems out.
But he soon changed his mind about his friend’s action and his own denial.
“I thought ‘this person tried to do something for himself and here you are, just sitting here, fat, haven’t washed for two weeks, vomit all over your dressing gown’.”
Once he decided to seek help, no clinic in LA would take him because he needed treatment for both drugs and bulimia. Eventually, he found a hospital in Chicago that could take him, and he checked in in July 1990.
John told the LA Times he tried to run away twice: “I packed my suitcase on the first two Saturdays and I sat on the sidewalk and cried. I asked myself where I was to run, ‘Do you go back and take more drugs and kill yourself, or do you go to another centre because you don’t quite like the way someone spoke to you here?’
“In the end, I knew there was really no choice. I realised this was my last chance.”
John has been sober ever since.
Rocketman is in cinemas now
Originally published as Rocketman: Why Elton John finally checked into rehab