The musical biopic Rocketman puts a wacky, stylish spin on the early days of Elton John's fame. But alongside its glittery musical numbers, there's an undercurrent of the darker stuff: namely, the selfish, hedonistic, and downright dangerous lifestyle that young Elton John led. John, who was personally involved with the making of the film, speaks candidly to this day about the bad choices he made, and the film doesn't shy away from some of the darker moments in his life.
One aspect of John's life that the movie doesn't try to gloss over is his drug usage. In the 1970s, he dealt with the increasing pressures of fame by abusing multiple drugs, especially cocaine. His rampant drug abuse led to an array of health problems (he reportedly began suffering seizures) and the alienation of those in his personal life. And, as the movie depicts, he did suffer a cocaine overdose, but the movie messes with the timeline a bit. In real life, his overdose happened in 1975, right at the beginning of his heightened fame. John admits that it was the fame itself that sparked his drug abuse.
"When my success started, I was incredibly confident onstage because that's where I loved to be, but offstage there was no balance," he said in a 2012 NPR interview. "I always said cocaine was the drug that made me open up. I could talk to people. But then it became the drug that closed me down, because the last two weeks of my use of cocaine I spent in a room in London, using it and not coming out for two weeks. And it completely shut me down. So, it started out by making me talk to everyone and then ended up by me isolating myself alone with it, which is the end of the world, really."
John didn't fully make the commitment to getting clean and sober until the 1990 death of his friend Ryan White, an American teenager who famously died after contracting AIDS through a blood transfusion.
"When I knew Ryan [White], I knew that my life was out of whack. I knew that I had to change. And after he died, I realized that I only had two choices: I was either going to die or I was going to live, and which one did I want to do? And then I said those words, 'I'll get help,' or, 'I need help. I'll get help.' And my life turned around," he explained in the same NPR interview. Since then, John has been a leading activist for AIDS research, gay rights, and helping people out of addiction, proving that he's still standing and is dedicating a big chunk of his life toward helping others get back up, too.