Reginald Kenneth Dwight may not be the name you know him by, but you surely do know him -- Sir Elton Hercules John, that is. Having sold more than 250 million albums worldwide, he's one of the most successful artists of all time and he's not quite finished. Among his greatest achievements was 1997's “Candle in the Wind” which sold more than 37 millions copies making it the top-selling single of all time.
John began pounding the keys at the age of 3 and was playing by ear within a year with formal tutelage starting at age 7. When he was 11, he earned a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he was able to play by ear a four-page Handel composition after hearing it only once. Of his less-than-challenging experience, John once said, "I kind of resented going to the Academy. I was one of those children who could just about get away without practicing and still pass, scrape through the grades."
A 15-year-old Reggie took up playing pubs on weekends. Within a few years, he'd formed the band Bluesology and had a day job at a music publishing company. In the mid-'60s, the band backed touring American artists like The Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle, before signing up with Long John Baldry.
It was when he answered an ad in New Musical Express, that Dwight was connected with lyricist Bernie Taupin who would become his lifelong writing partner. Their first collaboration, “Scarecrow,” was recorded in 1967, before they even met in person. By then, Reggie had transitioned into Elton.
The John/Taupin team became staff songwriters for DJM Records in 1968, churning out tunes for stars of the day, like Lulu and Roger Cook. They eventually began composing songs for John to record. Their first release, Empty Sky, garnered favorable reviews and lackluster sales.
Recruiting Paul Buckmaster as musical arranger for the next outing, the eponymously titled Elton John which spawned the team's first Top 100 single in the U.S. -- “Border Song.” The follow-up single, “Your Song,” made the Top 10 with the album following suit in short order.
That same year, 1970, also saw the release of Tumbleweed Connection, a concept album that also cracked the Top 10. Madman Across the Water, on the strength of the song “Levon,” did the same sort of business, establishing John as a superstar in pop music. The follow-up, Honky Chateau, was John's first number one album in the U.S.
More hit records followed in quick succession -- Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Caribou – each of which held popular hits within their confines. “Rocket Man,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Daniel,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and “Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me” would go on to become classics.
The 1975 autobiographical set, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, portrayed John and Taupin's early years in a stark musical relief that hadn't previously been present in their work. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was the iconic signature song in that collection. The album, as well as its successor, Rock of the Westies, debuted at the top of the charts.
By that point in his career, Elton's flamboyant stage performances were filling arenas, like the 75,000-capacity Wembley Stadium. Statue of Liberty, Donald Duck, and Mozart costumes filled his wardrobe. John would eventually confess in a Rolling Stone interview that he was bisexual, a move which marked an obvious downturn in his success.
After taking a short hiatus and a break from his partnership with Taupin, John released A Single Man in 1978 using Gary Osborne as the lyricist. The album floundered commercially. Re-teaming with Taupin for 1979's 21 at 33 helped Elton get his groove back.
The 1980s proved to be fairly tumultuous for John's personal life. A marriage followed by a divorce upon his realization (and subsequent proclamation) that he was, in fact, gay rather than bisexual, throat surgery which altered his voice, and a libel case against a tabloid all took their tolls on the artist. Elton also became a major AIDS activist during these years.
His '80s albums began to build some momentum back, though they would not match the wild success John enjoyed in the '70s. In 1990, he checked himself into rehab for alcoholism, drug addiction, and bulimia.
A couple of years later, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation and pledged that he would donate all future royalties from singles sales to research. His The One, released in 1992, hit number eight on the charts, his best effort since 1976.
In 1994, John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The same year, he ventured into animated films, writing songs for The Lion King along with Tim Rice. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" won Elton both a Grammy and an Oscar with the soundtrack going on to sell more than 15 million units.
The 1997 re-worked version of “Candle in the Wind” was done as a tribute to Princess Diana and became the fastest- and biggest-selling single of all time with proceeds going to Diana's memorial fund. Although the effort won him a Grammy, he performed it only once: at Diana's funeral.
The end of the old and the beginning of the new century found Elton diving into musical theater and more animated films. John also signed on for three years of shows exclusively at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The production, The Red Piano, ran for 200 shows rather than the contracted 75 and spawned a CD/DVD release as well as a worldwide tour.
In March of 2007, he also played his record-breaking 60th show at Madison Square Garden to celebrate his 60th birthday. In 2009, John and Billy Joel set out on their Face to Face Tour.