Questioning the Story:
Was Elton John a piano prodigy as a child?
Yes. The Rocketman true story confirms that Elton, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, developed an early interest in piano and reportedly taught himself how to play. He performed "The Skater's Waltz" at the age of 3 after learning it by ear. It became clear that he was blessed with an incredible gift.
Real Life vs. Rocketman
Cast: Elton John as a child (left) and actor Matthew Illesley as Young Reggie in the movie.
Did Elton John really storm into a substance abuse meeting and declare that he's an alcoholic, cocaine addict, sex addict and a bulimic?No. This is how the movie begins. Elton (Taron Egerton), who is wearing a costume of feathery orange wings with horns on his head, bursts into an AA meeting and declares, "My name is Elton Hercules John and I'm an alcoholic, and a cocaine addict, and a sex addict and a bulimic." He begins to tell his life story to a group of non-famous strangers, which anchors the film as it unfolds through a series of flashbacks. Though he did attend AA meetings, these scenes in the movie are fictional and are used as a framing device.
Did Elton John really audition for the Royal Academy of Music without using sheet music?
In the film, a young Elton shows up for an audition at the Royal Academy of Music and watches as his examiner plays a classical piece perfectly. He then sits down without sheet music and performs the same piece, stopping at the same point she does. The real-life version of the scene was described in Elizabeth Rosenthal's book His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John. She writes that one of the instructors at the Royal Academy of Music recalled an 11-year-old Elton playing back, without hesitation, a four-page piece by George Frideric Handel that he had just heard for the first time. He won a junior scholarship to the Academy and took Saturday classes there for five years. The Rocketman fact check confirms that he dropped out of the Academy at age 17 to pursue a career in music.
Did Elton John's parents divorce when he was a teenager?
Yes. They divorced when he was 14 and his mother was granted custody. Prior to that, his father, Stanley Dwight, was at times physically absent due to his career in the Royal Air Force, leaving Elton to largely be raised my his mother, Sheila, and maternal grandmother, Ivy Harris. By the age of 15, his mother had remarried, tying the knot with a local painter named Fred Farebrother. Elton found Fred to be supportive and caring, and even gave him the nickname "Derf", which is Fred spelled backwards.
Elton John (then Reggie Dwight) as a teenager (left) and actor Kit Connor (right) as Reggie in the movie.
Was Elton John's dad that bad?Rocketman portrays Elton John's father, Stanley Dwight (Steven Mackintosh), as being a disinterested and physically absent parent who leaves his son longing for affection and approval. The attention he does give his son, who was then known as Reggie Dwight, comes in the form of scolding him when he touches his coveted record collection. The portrayal isn't a far cry from how Elton described his father in real life. "My dad was strict and remote and had a terrible temper," he wrote in The Guardian in 2019. Elton even abstained from attending his father's funeral in 1991 because he said he'd be a "hypocrite" if he went.
Though the public's perception of Elton John's father, Stanley Dwight, has largely been relegated to the negative quotes that Elton has said about him in the press over the years, other family members tell a somewhat different story. For instance, in 2011 Elton claimed that his father had never been to any of his concerts. However, his stepmother, Edna, says that she and Elton's father went to see him perform "many times," even taking his four brothers on one occasion. She says that after that particular concert, they were all invited back to his dressing room, and he and then-manager John Reid came to their house for dinner.
That isn't the only thing that the family disputes, and it appears many of Elton's beliefs about his father were possibly shaped by his mother's bitterness following the divorce. Elton's claim that his father was absent for his birth is false, as official records reveal that Stanley was home at the time and even registered his son's birth. It's true that Stanley was stationed overseas when Elton was very young, but according to Elton's stepmother Edna, his mother Sheila refused to go with Stanley because she thought the other officers' wives were "snobby." Edna says that Stanley kept a photograph of Elton beside his bed and missed him terribly, writing home almost every day. -Daily Mail Online
Did Elton John's parents really not support his dream of becoming a musician?
In the movie, Elton's grandma Ivy is pretty much the only one in the family who supports his dream. In researching the Rocketman true story, we discovered that both of Elton's parents were musical. His father, Stanley Dwight, had been a trumpet player with the Bob Millar Band, which had a reputation for performing at military dances. They both supported his dream on some level, much more so his mother, despite Elton never really acknowledging it over the years.
In 2018, the John Lewis Christmas TV ad featured a child actor as a young Elton unwrapping his first piano as his mother and grandma watch. The scene is intertwined with the real-life Elton playing "Your Song" at the same piano as an adult. Biographer Philip Norman notes that although it implies that his mother purchased the piano, it was actually his father, Stanley, who bought the piano for him. Stanley's widow, Edna, still has the receipt for the £68 "second-hand upright pianoforte by Collingwood, walnut finish." -Daily Mail Online
Elton John's parents supported his dream to some degree, especially his mother.
Did Elton's father forbid him from wearing suede boots as a teenager?This is what Rocketman leads us to believe, reasoning that it's what gives rise to Elton's wild wardrobe as an adult. However, Elton's stepmother says that his father let him buy whatever clothes he wanted, even opening an account at a London clothing store where he could purchase whatever he desired. According to biographer Philip Norman, what brings further doubt to the movie's claim is the existence of an old family photo of Elton wearing the very Hush Puppies that his father supposedly forbid him from having. -Daily Mail Online
Elton has repeatedly stated that his father was an intimidating presence. "I was very frightened of my father," he told VH1's Behind the Music in 1990, "and it made me very insecure, and it made me very insular, and I had a lot of inferiority complexes." Elton's half-brother Geoff somewhat contradicts his claims, saying that their dad was a "formidable bloke, but he was kind" (Daily Mail Online).
Did Elton John's career take off when he started working with lyricist Bernie Taupin?
Yes. Bernie Taupin's dancing poems blended perfectly with Elton John's lavish arrangements, which resulted in hit after hit. Like in the Rocketman movie, a fact check reveals that the duo's success led to Elton being invited to play a short residency at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles in August of 1970. It was his Ed Sullivan Beatles moment on a smaller scale, but it nonetheless caused a sensation. At the young and vulnerable age of 23, he had grabbed hold of American listeners and his star was quickly on the rise.
Real Life vs. Rocketman
Cast: Elton John's longtime songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin (left), is portrayed by Billy Elliot
actor Jamie Bell in the movie.
Does Taron Egerton sing in Rocketman?Yes, actor Taron Egerton sings Elton John's songs that we hear in Rocketman, and he also performed them for the movie's soundtrack. As for the piano playing, he does some bits but most is done by experienced piano players. The soundtrack includes the new song "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again", a duet that he performs with Elton John.
By contrast, Rami Malek's voice was mixed with Freddie Mercury's and that of Canadian Christian rock singer Marc Martel to create the Queen frontman's iconic sound for Bohemian Rhapsody.
Actor Taron Egerton sings the songs heard in the movie, which are featured on the Rocketman
Did Elton John really write "Your Song" in minutes?
Yes. Author Philip Norman revealed this little known fact in his biography of the singer. After lyricist Bernie Taupin scribbled down the words to "Your Song" at the breakfast table, Elton wrote the music in a matter of minutes at his mother's residence.
Are the costumes in the movie identical to the ones that Elton John wore in real life?No. "If you take snapshots of Elton's career and snapshots of our movie, you will see that the costumes, for example, are evocative and inspired by what Elton really wore, but they are different iterations," Taron Egerton explained at Cannes. "It's not that we didn't do our homework, it's that we're trying to, you know, be sort of authentically creative with it in the hope of achieving some sort of integrity. The same goes for the music. The same goes for my performance, my relationship with [Richard Madden's] character. It's inspired by and I hope emotionally true to the spirit of what happened, but they are re-imaginings."
Elton John (left) pictured on the cover of his 1975 single "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Taron Egerton (right) wears nearly identical glasses in the movie.
Did Elton John first meet John Reid in 1970 at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles?
No, they didn't meet for the first time at Elton John's Troubadour concert. The Rocketman true story reveals that their first meeting was actually at a Christmas party in London in 1970 when Elton was 23. "I remember this hip, shy young man," Reid later recalled. "There was a gawky sweetness about him." -Scottish Daily Mail
Did Elton John have a crush on writing partner Bernie Taupin?No. Elton John first met his longtime songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, in 1967 when they both responded to an advertisement for songwriters in the British pop magazine New Musical Express. He was still going by his birth name of Reggie Dwight back then. Liberty Records was looking for talent, but Elton initially failed his audition. However, he told Liberty Records A&R rep Ray Williams that the problem was that he could write music but not lyrics. Williams gave him a handful of poems written by lyricist Bernie Taupin. Elton read the poems on the train ride home and was moved by the words. He contacted Bernie and their musical journey together began. Bernie talks about their first meeting in this Bernie Taupin interview.
"I was definitely in love with Bernie as a friend," Elton said on VH1's Behind the Music, "and no, I never really fancied Bernie, thank God, physically. But he was the first real big, pivotal thing in my life."
As for Bernie Taupin, he concedes that their relationship is more like a marriage. "We've probably had fewer arguments than most," he told the Daily Mail, a fact that's emphasized in the movie. Elton says that they've never argued over a song. Bernie himself has been married four times and is currently married to Heather Kidd.
This ad for music talent appeared in the June 17, 1967 edition of the New Musical Express
, a well-known weekly British pop music magazine. Both 20-year-old Reg Dwight and 17-year-old Bernie Taupin responded to the ad.
Is it true that Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin have never been in the same room when creating a song?In researching Rocketman's historical accuracy, we learned that this is a well-known fact. Bernie Taupin has always written the lyrics and sent or gave them to Elton to add the music. Today, this is primarily done through email. They've never worked together in the same room. Doing so would have been especially difficult after Bernie moved to the States.
Was it Elton John's idea to change his name?
No. Music publisher Stephen James, son of Dick James, suggested that he change his name from Reg Dwight. "I said to him, 'We can't put [your album] out under the name Reg Dwight. It's not a very awe-inspiring name.'" Elton came up with his new name by combining the names of Elton Dean, the sax player in his band Bluesology, and Long John Baldry, the blues singer in the band.
Cast vs. Real Life: Elton John in 1973 at his home in London and Taron Egerton in the movie.
Was John Reid the first man that Elton John slept with?Yes. According to Elton, the film's depiction of John Reid being the first man that he slept with is historically accurate. In real life, they reportedly moved in together shortly after meeting, while in the movie it doesn't happen as quickly.
Does Rocketman contain the first gay male sex scene in a major studio film?
This is what is being widely reported, and it appears that it's true, with a caveat or two. Such scenes have appeared in other movies, including Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), but those came from smaller studios or art house distributors (even though Brokeback Mountain became a commercial success). Brüno (2009) was released by Universal and featured gay male sex but it was treated as a joke.
Did John Reid really slap Elton John in the street?
In the movie, we see Elton John (Taron Egerton) talking to his mother from a phone box outside London's Royal Albert Hall. Just after he tells her he's gay, his secret boyfriend and manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), slaps him across the face. We found no record of the slap actually happening in real life, despite the unstable relationship that Elton had with John Reid. This 1971 Elton John documentary features a young John Reid talking about Elton.
Elton's manager and former lover John Reid (left) and actor Richard Madden (right), who portrays Reid in Rocketman
Did Elton's mother consider him a disappointment?Not exactly. In the Rocketman movie, Elton's mom is critical of his sexuality and tells him that he'll never be "properly loved," going as far to say, "Do you know what a disappointment it is to be your mother?" While his mother was often unrestrained in her general criticisms, the real Sheila doesn't seem to have been nearly as critical of his life as a gay man. In a 1992 interview, Elton himself said, "My mum had always supported me and never reproached me, even when I went on record and said I was bisexual" (The Sun).
In 2005, she attended Elton's wedding to partner David Furnish, who became upset because she wasn't wearing a hat and was told she couldn't appear in any of the official photographs. It certainly appears that she didn't get along with Furnish, but it seems that it had little to do with sexuality.
Elton and Sheila did have their blow-ups. Elton got upset that his mother had remained friends with his former manager John Reid after his own falling out with Reid in 1998. He was also upset that she stayed friends with his former driver Bob Halley, who she said looked out for her and was like a son. After Elton didn't come to see his stepfather, Fred Farebrother, before he died, and then failed to show up at his 2007 funeral, Elton's relationship with his mother again worsened. -Ultimate Classic Rock
The movie goes as far as to have Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) declare in a restaurant that she wishes she'd never had children. While it's possible their turbulent relationship led to such a declaration, the real Sheila didn't hesitate to publicly support Elton even when they weren't speaking. "But of course I was proud of Elton — I always have been. That's what we worked for, to make him successful," she said in a 2015 interview with the Daily Mail.
In the least, Rocketman certainly makes Elton's mother seem more vindictive than she was in real life, as she seems to have been more a mixture of hot and cold. "My mum could give with one hand and take with the other," he told director Dexter Fletcher. In a 2019 article he wrote for The Guardian, he described his mom as "argumentative and prone to dark moods."
Cast vs. Real Life: Though Elton and his mother, Sheila Farebrother, certainly had their disputes, she is portrayed more harshly in the movie than our Rocketman
fact check suggests.
Was Elton John's father homophobic?The movie leads us to believe that both Elton John's mother and father were homophobic. While we didn't find evidence that his mother, Sheila Farebrother, was as prejudiced as Bryce Dallas Howard's character in the movie, Elton did publicly suggest that homophobia had possibly prevented his father, Stanley Dwight, from coming to see his shows.
"My father was sealed off from my talent and I never knew why. Was it homophobia? Was it fear? That was a painful loss for me. But it was also a painful loss, I think, for my dad. That's what prejudice does to people," he said, writing in The Times. As stated earlier, Elton's stepmother disputes his claim that his father never saw a single one of his concerts.
Did Elton's manager and lover John Reid do nothing to protect him from the excesses of fame?
It's true that John Reid, who had also managed Queen (1975–1978), failed to shield Elton from the excesses of fame. As seen in the Rocketman movie, this led to alcohol abuse, coke binges and sex addiction, which had a stranglehold on him during the 1970s and 1980s.
It's true that John Reid and Elton John were lovers, a relationship that lasted for five years during the early 1970s. As seen in the film, they had also lived together. In real life, Reid remained Elton's manager until 1998, when it was discovered that he had been spending Elton's money on oversees tour expenses that should have been paid for by John Reid Enterprises per their management agreement. During the three decades that Reid managed Elton, his company had made more than £73 million off the star. Reid settled out of court and agreed to pay Elton £3.4 million.
Did Elton John attempt suicide?
Yes. Elton John's self-loathing and unconstrained indulgences lead to a suicide attempt in the film. The true story behind Rocketman reveals that in real life he attempted suicide twice.
His first attempt to take his own life happened in 1968, before he became popular. He was engaged to girlfriend Linda Woodrow at the time, but he was not in love and felt trapped by the relationship. He proposed because she told him she was pregnant (she wasn't). He made a half-hearted attempt to commit suicide by asphyxiating himself with a gas oven where he lived. "I got absolutely smashed, went back home, got very depressed, stuck my head in a gas oven, and left all the windows open," he told Oprah in 1997. Friend and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin found him. "It was a little cry for help," said Elton. Friends convinced him to break off the engagement and focus on his music career. He reflects on his first suicide attempt in his 1975 song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," written by Elton (music) and Bernie (lyrics). The "someone" in the song title refers to his friend and former bandmate in Bluesology, Long John Baldry, who encouraged him to put his attention on his career as a musician.
His second suicide attempt happened at the end of October 1975 and it's the one depicted in the movie. A combination of stress, self-loathing, and his lavish lifestyle led him to take way too many Valiums and then throw himself into his pool at his Benedict Canyon home, terrycloth robe and all. "I have taken 85 Valiums. I shall die within the hour," he reportedly announced to friends and family (including his mom and grandma) before he went into the water. However, in other reports, he is stated as saying that he took 60 Valium pills, not 85, not that it would make a difference. Paramedics arrived a short time later to pump his stomach. As conveyed in the film, he says that he only knew how to be Elton Hercules John, the persona he created for performing. He'd lost touch with the shy London boy known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. He didn't know how to live offstage. -His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John
Elton John attempted suicide twice, including by taking 60 Valiums and then throwing himself into his pool.
Did Elton's 1975 performance at Dodger Stadium happen just two days after he tried to commit suicide?Yes. During our investigation into Rocketman's historical accuracy, we learned that this is indeed true. He put on the concert at LA's Dodger Stadium just two days after he tried to take his life by overdosing on Valium. He played 31 songs over a three-hour set. On hand were numerous celebrities, including tennis star Billie Jean King and screen legend Cary Grant.
Elton John (left) performing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in 1975. Actor Taron Egerton (right) recreates the performance for the Rocketman
Did Elton John really purchase a football (soccer) team?
Yes. Elton John had been a lifelong Watford F.C. supporter and became the owner of the football club in 1976, investing large sums of money in the team. He remained owner until 1987. During that time, Watford rose three divisions to the English First Division. The height of the team's success came when they finished second in the First Division in 1983, behind only Liverpool. John repurchased the team in 1997 but stepped down as chairman in 2002. He has remained president of the club, including during the in-between years that he wasn't the owner.
Did Elton John's impulsive marriage to female recording engineer Renate Blauel end that quickly?The movie makes it seem like Elton's impulsive straight marriage to German native Renate Blauel ended almost immediately after it began, covering it in about ten minutes. However, in conducting our Rocketman fact check, we learned that the marriage actually lasted four years, from 1984 to 1988. The wedding took place in Australia on Valentine's Day 1984, just four days after he popped the question to Blauel. See footage from their wedding day, including Elton John and Renate Blauel kissing after they emerge from the church.
Elton publicly came out in a Rolling Stone interview after his divorce, telling the magazine that he was "quite comfortable being gay." This was more than a decade after he told the magazine in its October 7, 1976 issue that he was bisexual.
Elton John married German recording engineer Renate Blauel in Australia on February 14, 1984, just four days after proposing. Elton's manager and former lover John Reid can be seen over his shoulder.
After going sober in 1990, which the film ends on, did the real Elton John remain clean?Yes. In 2020, Elton John will be 30 years sober. In talking about his battle with addiction in a 2010 interview, he told Piers Morgan, "This is how bleak it was: I’d stay up, I’d smoke joints, I’d drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker and then I’d stay up for three days and then I’d go to sleep for a day and a half, get up, and because I was so hungry, because I hadn’t eaten anything, I’d binge and have like three bacon sandwiches, a pot of ice cream and then I’d throw it up, because I became bulimic and then go and do the whole thing all over again."
He confessed that substance abuse came very close to taking his life. "I mean, I would 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."
So what made him stop? Rocketman leaves out the real reason that Elton decided to get sober. In real life, he credits meeting American teenager Ryan White, who contracted HIV through a contaminated blood transfusion, as being the impetus that put him on the path to sobriety. "Ryan was the spark that helped me to recover from my addictions and start the AIDS foundation," he said during a 2017 talk at Harvard. "Within six months [of White’s death] I became sober, and clean, and have been for 27 years." Ryan White lost his battle with HIV in 1990.
Do Elton John's songs appear chronologically in the movie?
No. As Elton (Taron Egerton) recounts the story of his life, the movie picks his songs that go best with the emotional impact of that part of his life. For example, "I Want Love" illustrates the sadness of his dysfunctional family members. "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" plays over a single-take dance number that symbolizes the excitement of his transition into adulthood. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is heard when Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) leaves Elton.
Real Life vs. Rocketman
Cast: Kiki Dee and Elton John sing their 1976 duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart
". Rachel Muldoon and Taron Egerton recreate the duet for the Rocketman
Does Rocketman have the same director as Bohemian Rhapsody?
Yes, Dexter Fletcher directed both movies. He stepped in to complete Bohemian Rhapsody after director Bryan Singer was fired.
Does Elton John approve of the Rocketman movie?
Yes. Rocketman was co-produced by Elton John's husband David Furnish and exec produced by Elton himself. However, he personally did not play a huge role in the making of the film. "I'd kept a discrete distance from the actual process of making a movie about my life," he wrote in The Guardian after seeing the movie for the first time. "I gave some suggestions, saw a few daily rushes, said yay or nay to some important decisions, and met two or three times with Taron Egerton, who plays me. But otherwise I'd kept well away from Rocketman, letting my husband David [Furnish] be my eyes and ears on set every day."
What does Rocketman leave out?
In exploring the Rocketman true story, we discovered several key parts of Elton John's life that the movie leaves out. The film ends with Elton's time in rehab, which is before he meets husband David Furnish. There's also no mention of Princess Di, and nothing regarding his mother's infamous 90th birthday, when she hired an Elton John impersonator to come to her party instead of him since they weren't speaking.Elton John Interviews and Performances
Delve into the true story more deeply by watching our hand-picked selection of Elton John interviews, music videos, and performances, including a 1973 documentary featuring a young Elton early in his career.