Legendary singer/songwriter Sir Elton John told CBS News that he wished he’d never taken drugs, but also acknowledged that he would never have achieved the personal happiness he has attained since gaining sobriety 29 years ago, including marriage, children, Academy and Tony Awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
John, who was promoting his recent autobiographyMe, said that his dependency on drugs and alcohol at the height of his fame in the 1970s and 1980s “nearly destroyed his soul,” but discovered by admitting that he needed help, he was able to reignite the “pilot light in [his] soul.”
Speaking with CBS correspondent Tracy Smith, John recalled the first time he used cocaine, which took place in 1974. The experience made him physically sick, but as John noted, “I wanted to join in so much and be part of the gang, [so] I went back and asked for another line.”
“Isn’t that crazy?” he said. “But that’s what being a drug addict is – crazy.”
His Friendship With Ryan White
Drug dependency – one of several addictions that John battled, including alcoholism, eating disorders and sex addiction – left John with a spiritual center that felt “black, like a charred piece of steak,” as he told CBS News. But his friendship with Indiana teenager Ryan White, who contracted AIDS via a blood transfusion in 1984, helped him find the strength to regain direction for his life.
“I had the luck to meet Ryan White and his family,” John said at Harvard University in 2017, where he was honored with the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award for his work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “I wanted to help them, but they ended up helping me much more. Ryan was the spark that helped me recover from my addictions and start the AIDS foundation. Within six months, I became sober, and clean.”
“I said, ‘I need help,'” John recalled to CBS News. “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 be rescued.”
John’s career in the nearly three decades since that date has been as remarkable as the height of his pop stardom, which included worldwide sales of 300 million albums, 27 Top 10 hits and nine No. 1 singles. Knighted in 1998 for his charitable work – which has raised more than $450 million – John also netted three Oscar nominations, including a 1995 win, a Tony Award for “Aida” in 2000, and joined the ranks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame (with Bernie Taupin), Grammy Hall of Fame, and received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.
“I so wish I’d never taken a drug,” said John to CBS News. “But in the end, unless I’d have got sober, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”