Elton John's Shady Side

Sir Elton John has entertained the world with perfect pop classics such as "Your Song," "Rocket Man," "Bennie and the Jets," and "Candle in the Wind" for roughly half a century. His bold and boisterous performances — usually with an over-the-top costume or a snazzy pair of his signature glasses — only enhance his mystique. Pretty much everybody loves John, as evidenced by the fact that he's probably the only guy to perform on The Muppet Show as well as a princess's funeral. But behind all his stardom and philanthropy, John has a shady streak. Here are some of the more dubious stories in the life of this icon.

He nearly blew it all on blow

In the 1970s, Elton John was as into cocaine as the world was into the music of Elton John. It's well-known and it's arguably no surprise, considering his remarkable stage energy, elaborate costumes, and ability to churn out hit after hit after hit. 

By 1975, John was snorting what was, in retrospect, way too much marching powder. He overdosed that year, although it wasn't the only time drugs nearly did him in. "I'd have an epileptic seizure and turn blue and people would find me on the floor and put me to bed, and then 40 minutes later I'd be snorting another line," John told Today (via The Telegraph).

Fortunately, he kicked coke (and booze) in 1990. The singer said he's grateful that he came out of it all virtually unscathed, especially since his reckless drugging years coincided with the early AIDS crisis. "When you take a drug and you take a drink and you mix those two together, you think you're invincible. I came out of this HIV-negative. I was the luckiest man in the world."

He kind of joked about the one thing you can't joke about

While people can joke about anything, there are a few subjects that are off-limits if a person wants to be seen as a sensitive, tasteful individual. Sexual abuse is one of them. 

In 2016, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys talked with John for Interview. Tennant asked John when he first realized he was gay, and John shared some awkward anecdotes about his burgeoning teenage sexuality. In one story, John didn't choose his words very carefully. 

"At school everyone boasted about sex. Meanwhile I was dying to be molested by someone. When I went to therapy, my therapist said, 'I have to ask you if you were molested.' And I said, 'No, actually.' But I was dying to be molested by someone — just to teach me, just to find out, you know?"

He wasn't in love with Ed Sheeran's shape

Whether you love or hate his acoustic guitar-driven, soul-baring tales of out-loud thinking and castles on hills, messy-haired British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is one of the most popular musicians on the planet, and Elton John deserves some of the credit for that.

Sheeran is signed to John's Rocket Music, and John has given him lots of career advice. In fact, John actually thought Sheeran's year-long break in 2016 was a good idea. "He was so omnipresent I said, 'Ed, even I'm sick of you. Go away.' And he did. He just went to the Far East with his girlfriend, had a great time, put on a lot of weight, ate food, and came back," John told Rolling Stone. "One thing I said to him when he went, I said, 'Don't put on weight,' because he's very prone to put on weight like I am. And he came back heavy, but he lost it all for the album." 

Um, okay. The commentary about Sheeran's physique seems unnecessary and also kind of mean. At least he didn't liken him to a fairground character.

He needs some space (for his glasses)

A tour rider is a document that includes a list of an entertainer's needs, wants, and wishes — what kind of sparkling water and snacks they want backstage, things like that. An actual knighted celebrity such as Sir Elton can probably demand (and get) way more than a case of Snapple and a cheese platter. 

John's rider reportedly calls for a TV with access to a bunch of sports channels, some cranberry juice, skim milk, red and white roses ... and a second room at his hotel just to keep his large collection of expensive eyeglasses. Moreover, that extra room supposedly has to be set at a temperature of 60.8 degrees Fahrenheit "to preserve the accessories."

He's the world's fanciest hoarder

It's not just eyeglasses he collects — John has some hoarding tendencies. 

For years, he had a standing appointment each Tuesday at the flagship Tower Records in Los Angeles to buy multiple copies of new albums so he could have one for all of his many homes, and he'd occasionally sell it all and start over. Yep, in 1993, he auctioned off his 48,000-item music collection to benefit an AIDS charity. 

According to a 2017 profile in CNN, John has "amassed over 8,000 photographs in the last 25 years, at one point purchasing at least four or five photographs a week." Where does he keep all that art? Some of it has appeared elsewhere, such as the Tate Modern, but a lot of it is showcased in John's 18,000 square foot penthouse apartment in Atlanta, Ga., "where, among the leopard skin print chairs, the crucifixes, the starfish, all available wall space seems to have been given over to photographs, as many as six at a time, hanging from floor to ceiling."

He's not the world's biggest Madonna fan

Few people are as influential in pop culture as Elton John, but Madonna definitely ranks up there. One person who isn't a fan of the Material Girl? You guessed it: the Rocket Man. John has used his sharp tongue to brutally (and yeah, hilariously) criticize Madonna over the years. 

CBS News revisited all the blows traded in this feud, including the following: In 2012, not long after Madonna played the Super Bowl halftime show, John declared that her "career is over" and likened the star to a "fairground stripper." He called her theme song to the 2002 movie Die Another Day "the worst Bond tune ever." He also publicly questioned her 2004 Q Award nomination for best live act. "Since when has lip-syncing been live? Anyone who lip-syncs in public on stage when you pay 75 pounds to see them should be shot," he said during his own Q Awards acceptance speech for classic songwriter. 

After more than a decade of shade, John and his husband actually apologized to Madge by sending over a note to her at a restaurant. "She accepted our apology, and then we bought her dinner. That's over and done with," he told Extra.

He tried to block the press

John has always been a live and let live kind of guy, and he's encouraged others to be true to themselves, too. However, the activist singer seems to draw the line when it comes to freedom of the press.

John came out as bisexual in the not-so-woke year of 1976, and after a brief marriage to a woman named Renate Blauel, he revealed that he identified as homosexual. He's been with his partner, David Furnish, since 1993, and they wed in 2014. However, these spouses allegedly have an "arrangement" — their marriage is open. 

In 2016, the National Enquirer interviewed English businessman Daniel Laurence, who related (in extreme detail) the story of his many alleged encounters with Furnish, which sometimes included a third party and sometimes included olive oil wrestling. And that's when John's seemingly laissez faire attitude took a turn.

The singer asked for and received a court injunction to block publications from mentioning his and Furnish's names in the press in England and Wales, claiming that releasing details about their love life would be "devastating" to their family. "Privacy injunctions are a touchy subject in Great Britain, where they have been criticized as a tool for the rich and powerful to hide damning or even hypocritical details of their private lives," reported Canada's National Post.

Of course, the court order didn't stop publications outside the jurisdiction from running with the story. Neighboring Scotland's Daily Record had this to say about John and Furnish: "It is not about the stories they are trying to stop but the absurdity of trying to prevent a free press identifying them when the whole world already knows who they are."

Liza Minnelli's husband tried to have him murdered

Ironically, John apparently doesn't see anything wrong with talking about somebody else's bedroom activities, and for doing so, he almost paid the ultimate price. 

In 2002, the great Liza Minnelli married music producer David Gest. Alluding to perceptions that the flamboyant Gest was secretly gay, as well as to the fact that Minnelli's first husband, songwriter Peter Allen, was a gay man, John reportedly remarked that he'd "like to buy Liza Minnelli a heterosexual husband." 

According to The Sun, that nasty joke made Gest so angry that he allegedly ordered a hit on John. On the one-year anniversary of Gest's death in 2017, his best friend and bodyguard, Imad Handi, claimed Gest gave him $25,000 to arrange John's murder. Handi said he set the whole thing up but got cold feet and successfully begged Gest to call the whole thing off just days before the scheduled hit in 2003.

Did he aggressively pursue an uninterested bodyguard?

John has a unique approach to his sexuality, but he may not always keep it to himself. According to CNN, a former bodyguard named Jeffrey Wenninger sued John in 2016, alleging various acts of sexual harassment, sexual battery, and battery. 

Wenninger, who was awarded the Medal of Valor during his time as an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, began moonlighting as a security guard for John in 2002. He says the job included "unwelcome" physical contact from the singer that intensified after 2010. Wenninger's lawsuit specifically calls out three incidents in the spring of 2014 that occurred during trips with John to and from the airport. Wenninger said he deflected John's come-ons — with words and actions — but that allegedly did not deter the pop star. 

In a statement, John's attorney called the allegations "patently untrue" and said Wenninger was "a disgruntled former security officer seeking to extract an undeserved payment."

He named his kids after his own songs

A lot of famous people give their kids slightly outlandish names — Gwyneth Paltrow raised eyebrows for naming her daughter Apple and Shannyn Sossamon took some heat for blessing her kid with the moniker Audio Science. John went ... a different way. 

John's kids with Furnish have mainstream first names—Zachary and Elijah. It's their middle names that seem a bit self-indulgent. Their full names are Zachary Johnson Levon Furnish-John and Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John. Yeah, Sir Elton stuck "Daniel" and "Levon" in there — the names of two of his most popular songs from the '70s. That's not shady, but it is questionable.

Then again, who are we to judge? Plenty of kids are probably named after a parent's favorite song — it's just not everyday that the song was also performed by said parent.