Three Words Saved My Life

One of the most legendary and iconic musical performers of all time, Elton John is a cultural icon. Even more, John’s outspoken advocacy for the LGBTQ community, and vulnerability with regards to his own mental health, addiction, and eating disorder struggles amplify his presence far beyond any stage or concert hall.
Elton John
English Singer, Songwriter

From Elton John

I'm truly a blessed man. If I hadn't finally taken the big step of asking for help 30 years ago, I'd be dead.

I’ve always tried to be as honest as I can, since I got sober. I think there’s no point in sugarcoating anything — this is what happened, this is how I behaved, this is a real sad story of someone who was trying to get to grips with his past.

My childhood really shaped the way I became as an artist, because I was determined to prove myself to my father, that I could be successful and I could do it my way. It shaped me into the performer that I am. I didn’t need to prove anything to myself; I just wanted to prove something to him.

As my fame grew, my mental health tumbled and addiction and bulimia took over my life. There were times I was having chest pains or staying up for three days at a time. I used to have spasms and be found on the floor, and they’d put me back to bed, and half an hour later I’d be doing the same. My soul was black, like a charred piece of steak, until I said, ‘I need help.’ And suddenly, a little pilot light in my soul came along going, ‘Yes, I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m still here. I can still be rescued.

After I finally surrendered and decided to seek treatment for my addiction, there came a point when I wondered if I would ever go back to work as Elton John again.

But at that time, I wasn’t thinking too much about being an artist. I had reached the lowest ebb in my life — the absolute bottom. I hated myself so much. I was consumed with shame. All I wanted to do was get well. I put all of the energy I had left toward my recovery. For the first time in a very long time, I listened to others intently as I came to understand that I had so much to learn.

The smartest move I made immediately after treatment was to take an entire year off from all work. I was determined to make my recovery the only focus in my life. I completely cleared my diary for a year.

Wherever I went in the world, I found an Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous meeting to attend. Even if I didn’t speak the language, I still attended meetings abroad…Those meetings kept me grounded. The program gave me a structure for living so that I could go on stage every night, do my job well and actually enjoy it.

You can say that, initially, music saved me — the most incredible part of my childhood was the music. And then when I came to the difficult part of my fame, the music still saved me, because I still worked, and I still made records. And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.

My Advice

Today, my best advice to people who are facing those difficult early days is to get humble. Make recovery your absolute priority over everything else. Don’t go back to work too soon. Take the time you need to learn and heal. I don’t think I would still be here today if I hadn’t taken that whole year off and thrown myself into my program of recovery.

Billboard, NYTimes, Variety