At certain points, Elton John’s memoir, Me, reads like a conversation with Tahani Al-Jamil from The Good Place (and let’s be honest, they probably know each other!). References abound — to feeling “worse than I did after Ringo Starr’s 1974 New Year’s Eve Party,” to how actress Elizabeth Hurley “had stayed at Woodside [John’s Berkshire home] after she had given birth to keep out of the media’s glare,” to John’s “old costumier Bob Mackie.” (Don’t worry, Cher’s in there, too.) He’s Eminem’s AA sponsor, if you didn’t know, and Lady Gaga is one of the godparents of his child. Prior to the book’s release, stories about royalty, musicians, and actors alike came out, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Here are 13 of the best celebrity moments from his book.
A random assortment of performers first told him he was gay: “People form adjoining tables became involved. Because it was the Bag O’ Nails, the people from adjoining tables all happened to be pop stars, which lent everything an increasingly surreal edge. Cindy Birdsong from the Supremes chipped in — I’d known her back in the Bluesology days, when she’d been one of Patti LaBelle’s Blue Belles. Then, somehow, P.J. Proby became embroiled in the conversation. I’d love to be able to tell you what the trouser-splitting, ponytail-wearing enfant terrible of mid-sixties pop had to say regarding my impending wedding, its potential cancellation and, indeed, whether or not I was a homosexual, but by then I was incredibly pissed.”
He partied with every iconic ’60s musician ever, at once: “I was invited to a party at Mama Cass Elliot’s house on Woodrow Wilson Drive in LA, famed as the leading hangout for Laurel Canyon’s musicians, the place where Crosby, Stills and Nash had formed and David Crosby had shown off his new discovery, a singer-songwriter called Joni Mitchell, to his friends. When I arrived, they were all there. It was nuts, like the record sleeves in [my] bedroom at Frome Court had come to life: what the fuck is happening?”
Katharine Hepburn used (and cleaned) his pool: “One summer Sunday afternoon, John and I were sitting outside the bungalow having a snack, when we noticed a sixty-something lady who looked a little like Katharine Hepburn cycling up our drive. It was Katharine Hepburn: ‘I’m staying with [Stepford Wives director] Bryan Forbes — he said it would be OK if I used your pool.’ John and I just nodded, dumbstruck. Five minutes later, she reappeared in a swimsuit, complaining that there was a dead frog in the pool. When I dithered about how to get it out — I’m a bit squeamish about things like that — she just jumped in and grabbed it with her hand. I asked her how she could bear to touch it.
“‘Character, young man,’ she nodded sternly.”
Stevie Wonder visited his Rocky Mountain hole-up: “Musicians passing through Denver or Boulder would drop by to visit … Stevie Wonder turned up one day and took out a snowmobile, insisting on driving it himself. To pre-empt your question: no, I have no idea how Stevie Wonder successfully piloted a snowmobile through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado without killing himself, or indeed anyone else, in the process, but he did.”
John Lennon convinced him to not let Andy Warhol in his room: “One evening in New York, we were holed up in my suite at the Sherry-Netherland hotel, determinedly making our way through a pile of coke, when someone knocked at the door. My first thought was that it was the police: if you’ve taken a lot of cocaine and someone unexpectedly knocks at the door, your immediate thought is always that it’s the police. John gestured at me to see who it was. I looked through the spyhole. My reaction was a peculiar combination of relief and incredulity.
“‘John,’ I whispered. ‘It’s Andy Warhol.’
“John shook his head frantically and drew his finger across his throat. ‘No fucking way. Don’t answer it,’ he hissed.
“‘What?’ I whispered back. ‘What do you mean don’t answer it? It’s Andy Warhol.’
“There was more knocking. John rolled his eyes. ‘Has he got that fucking camera with him?’ he asked.
“I looked again through the spyhole and nodded. Andy took his Polaroid camera everywhere.
“‘Right,’ said John. ‘And do you want him coming in here taking photos when you’ve got icicles of coke hanging out of your nose?’
“I had to concede that I did not. ‘Then don’t fucking answer it,’ whispered John, and we crept back to doing whatever we were doing, trying to ignore the continued knocking of the world’s most famous pop artist.”
And he claims he got John back together with Yoko: “He still played with us at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving 1974, on the condition that we made sure Yoko didn’t come: they were still estranged. Of course, Yoko turned up anyway — which I have to say is very Yoko — but Tony [King, manager of Apple Records] made sure her tickets were out of the sightline of the stage. Before the show, she sent John a gardenia, which he wore in his buttonhole onstage …
“After the show, Yoko came backstage. We all ended up back at the Pierre hotel — me, John, Yoko, Tony and John Reid. We were sat in a booth and having a drink and — as if the whole situation wasn’t peculiar enough — Uri Geller suddenly materialized out of nowhere, came over to our table and started bending all the spoons and forks on it. Then he began doing his mind-reading act. It had been a bizarre day. But ultimately it led to John reuniting with Yoko, having Sean — my godson — and retreating into a life of domestic contentment in the Dakota Building.”
He and drag icon Divine got turned away from the club: “That was the music I heard when I went out to gay clubs in New York: Crisco Disco, Le Jardin and 12 West. I loved them, even though Crisco Disco once refused to let me in. I was with Divine, too, the legendary drag queen. I know, I know: Elton John and Divine getting turned away from a gay club. But he was wearing a kaftan, I had on a brightly coloured jacket and they said we were overdressed: ‘Whaddaya think this is? Fuckin’ Halloween?’”
A typical L.A. day might feature Dusty Springfield or Paul Simon: “If Dusty Springfield was around, we’d go to the roller derby to see the LA Thunderbirds. It was so camp and fabulous, all scripted, like wrestling, but lesbians loved it — it was basically a load of dykes whizzing round on skates and fighting each other. And we’d have fantastic lunch and dinner parties. Franco Zeffirelli came for lunch and revealed that his close friends called him Irene. Simon and Garfunkel had dinner one night, then played charades. They were terrible at it.”
Yes, Mae West once came onto him: “It was the city where, more or less, I’d become a star; where I’d been feted by my idols; where I’d somehow ended up taking tea with Mae West (to my delight, she swanned in with a lascivious smile and the words, ‘Ah, my favorite sight — a room full of men’, which, given that the men present were me, John Reid and Tony King, suggested she was in for an evening of disappointment).”
Depending on the day, he could see Lou Reed or Liza Minnelli at Studio 54: “Rocket [Record Company] once threw a party there, and at one point, I spotted Lou Reed and Lou’s transgender lover Rachel locked in conversation with, of all people, Cliff Richard. While it was nice to see people with what you might tactfully describe as having different outlooks on life getting along so famously, the mind did boggle a little at what on earth they were actually talking about … One night I was interrupted by a visibly zonked Liza Minnelli, who wanted to know if I would marry her.”
He never wore his best watch for Elizabeth Taylor: “She was incredibly kind and welcoming and she was hilarious — she had a really filthy English sense of humor — although you had to watch your jewellery around her. She was obsessed. If you were wearing something she liked the look of, she’d somehow just charm you into giving it to her; you would walk into her dressing room wearing a Cartier watch and leave without it, never entirely sure how she’d managed to get it off you.”
Even on his deathbed, Freddie Mercury loved to throw shade with him: “He was too frail to get out of bed, he was losing his sight, his body was covered in Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, and yet he was still definitely Freddie, gossiping away, completely outrageous: ‘Have you heard Mrs Bowie’s new record [Tin Machine II], dear? What does she think she’s doing?’”
And his stag party with then-fiancé David Furnish, thrown by “our friend Patrick Cox,” the fashion designer, featured everyone you’d expect: “Paul O’Grady hosted the whole thing and sang a duet with Janet Street-Porter. Sir Ian McKellen came dressed as Widow Twankey. Bryan Adams sang and Sam Taylor-Wood did a version of ‘Love to Love You Baby.’ There were video messages from Elizabeth Taylor and Bill Clinton in between performances by the famous New York drag act Kiki and Herb and Eric McCormack, who played Will in Will and Grace, and was an old schoolfriend of David’s back in Ontario. Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters got so overexcited he ended up taking all his clothes off and demonstrating the pole-dancing skills he’d learned working in New York strip clubs before the band became successful.”