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Interview With Elton John

Aired February 7, 2005 - 21:00   ET


KING: Tonight, Sir Elton John in his fourth decade as a living legend of music and still going strong. From the outrageous outfits to the outrageous comments. We'll get into it all and hear a few songs, too. A rare in-depth and personal hour with a giant. Then we'll take your calls. The one and only Sir Elton John next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: We're live with Sir Elton John. At the end of the show tonight Elton is going to sing three songs. Going to flip. We taped them right before the program so don't leave us. He's one of the top- selling solo artists in history, 35 gold albums, 25 platinum albums. His current album is "Peachtree Road." His smash hit "Red Piano Concert Review" returns to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas starting tomorrow night.

His latest musical, "Billy Elliot," debuts in London later this year inspired by the acclaimed film of the same name. And he's up for a Grammy for best pop collaboration with vocals called "Sorry Seems To Be The Harshest Word" with Ray Charles. How was it like working with him?

SIR ELTON JOHN: Absolutely amazing. Ironically enough the first television show I ever did in America when I first came over in 1970 was the "Andy Williams Show" with Mama Cass and Ray Charles. And I had to do a duet of a Stevie Wonder song with Ray. He was playing a white piano and I was playing a black piano. And I was so nervous because I was playing with one of my idols, one of my all-time favorite people -- artist and he was very sweet to me, calmed me down.

Unfortunately, "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" was the last song he ever cut. We did the record last March in Los Angeles and people warned me that he wasn't very well. When he came to the studio, I wasn't prepared for how sick he really was. He was very weak, very frail.

KING: Did he sing at all?

JOHN: He sat in the chair here and I sat next to him. And we had a microphone. And we sang it through about three times. He sang brilliantly and he sang -- he was weak, but he had that bit of fire in his voice, you know, the usual Ray Charles fire. And it was one of the most touching and kind of -- it didn't ruin my day, but it was the saddest day because part of the lyrics of the song is it's sad, it's sad, it's a sad, sad situation which you were seeing. People were in the recording booth in tears, you know, behind the screen, and I must admit, I had a lump in my throat, and I kept everything he said to me on a separate CD that day, the conversations we had because you don't get to perform with that kind of guy like that very often.

KING: Did you see his movie -- the movie?

JOHN: Amazing movie. And Jamie Foxx, I think, will win the Oscar for that performance.

KING: If you knew Ray Charles he had him down.

JOHN: Absolutely. That's the hardest thing to do I would think, you know, portray so brilliantly as that. Angela Bassett did it brilliantly in the Tina Turner movie with Laurence Fishburne doing Ike Turner and this is an amazing performance by an incredibly talented man.

KING: "OK Magazine" -- I guess that's Britain's version of "People," right -- estimates that you made a staggering 62 million pounds, I guess, in 2004 besting Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, "American Idol" Simon Cowell, Sting, Rod Stewart, Sir Paul McCartney. Are those figures true? And if true, what's it like to have that much?

JOHN: Well, I did earn a lot of money last year because I did a lot of shows in Vegas and they pay me well. Record royalties come through. "Lion King" royalties come through. I do work a lot. I mean, most of my income, I would say, comes from live performances. And then you've got publishing, you've got record royalties. But if you do a lot of shows every year you -- I earn a lot of money like that.

KING: How does it work with Celine Dion? When she doesn't work you're in that room?

JOHN: When Celine -- I mean, they gave me the opportunity -- she does about 200 shows a year at least at the Coliseum at Caesar's Palace. And they asked me if I would do maybe 30 shows last year and I ended up doing 47. We're doing 40 this year and we'll do probably near 50 next year. And I realize that Celine's show is an incredible show. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)'s in Vegas now. You have to put on a show. I couldn't go there to Vegas and not put on a show.

So I really wanted to do something a little bit special, a little bit different, and so I got David LaChapelle, a photographer and a dear friend of mine to produce the show and design it. And we had to sink a lot of money in it. Because it wasn't -- if I'd have just done it with my band and just sat on the stage -- and that's a big stage, Larry, it's a huge stage -- we would have got killed.

So at this stage in my career, it was a challenge. I thought, you know, I'm going to go to Vegas. And people will say someone of Elton's age and stature usually ends up. But that was, I think, 20 years ago that that was true but Vegas has changed. And I wanted to really put on a really different show and a rock 'n' roll show that was like an hour and a half rollercoaster ride. And it was tremendously successful. It's a really exciting place to be. I never thought I'd say that. I never thought I'd say I really enjoyed playing in Vegas and staying there, but I actually do, and they look after me so well. And I dodged your question about how much -- what's it like to have that much money. I love playing Vegas. I love the people at Caesar's, and I love doing the show because it's something different. I've never done a produced show like that before. It's a real production.

KING: And it's still -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it's still Vegas, right? That's still the show business place.

JOHN: Vegas is more exciting now than it's ever been. You can go and see -- I was there one night and I was playing. And there was Gladys Knight over the road. There was Sting, there was B.B. King, there was John Mayer. There were about six or seven other people in town on one night. And there's everything you want to see from Cirque du Soleil right through the blues to R&B, soul, the great standards from Johnny Mathis and people like that are still singing there.

KING: It's got everything.

JOHN: It's got everything. And the best food in America probably now. So it's a great town. I can't say enough good things about it.

KING: My wife opens for Don Rickles. Do you like him?

JOHN: I like Don Rickles. My god, I've met Don several times. Going back to the early seventies when I first met him.

KING: By the way, the Super Bowl.

JOHN: Yes.

KING: You wrote "Philadelphia Freedom," right?

JOHN: Yes.

KING: But you were rooting for the Patriots, right?

JOHN: I'm a huge fan of the Patriots and I'm a huge friend of Robert Kraft, the owner.

KING: Great guy.

JOHN: Real class act. But I have to say that it was a tremendous Super Bowl as far as both teams played really, really well, and it was a close call in the end.

KING: What did you think of Sir Paul at halftime?

JOHN: I don't watch the halftime shows and I never have done. I was so excited by the fact that New England scored just before halftime but I went -- I don't know -- it's just too much of a commercial thing. KING: You wouldn't watch your fellow Britisher (ph)?

JOHN: I don't watch those halftime shows. I did one. I did the NBA halftime show once and it was really -- boy, it was like playing to a -- nobody was listening. Everybody could care less. And people do it usually to promote a record or something.

KING: You will not do a Super Bowl?

JOHN: No, absolutely not.

KING: You also -- I don't want to get into the whole Madonna thing. Supposing one night it's sold out in Vegas, packed. You have laryngitis. Would you lip sync?

JOHN: Absolutely not. I couldn't. I don't even lip sync when I'm doing a video. I can't lip sync. It's no way.

KING: You could not do it under any -- you would cancel a performance?

JOHN: Absolutely. And I'd make it up some other day, yes.

KING: We'll be right back with Elton John. He's going to sing for us later. We're going to include your phone calls as well. Don't go away.


KING: Elton John, our special guest tonight, won the Kennedy Center honor last year, the highest honor I think this country gives out, won it along with Warren Beatty, Joan Sutherland, John Williams and Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

JOHN: Who died. Ossie died, I'm so sad...


JOHN: It was so thrilled to meet those two. It was a very, very thrilling occasion anyway for me, a wonderful weekend, to be honored by this country in such a way, because this country in many ways gave me my start in 1970. And the only other British person to win one is Sean Connery. So I'm just absolutely thrilled to be able to go to Washington and get this award. And to meet someone like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee was quite special. Joan Sutherland, of course, I've met before in Australia. And I've met her. Warren Beatty I'd met. And John Williams I hadn't met. But I was so saddened to read about Ossie's passing.

KING: I know you've been a critic of the war and the president. What was it like to meet President Bush?

JOHN: I had been a critic, and I got a lot of press in England saying that I was a hypocrite for going to America and accepting the award from President Bush. But this wasn't -- this had nothing to do with the government award. It was to do with -- an arts award. And it would have been extremely rude of me not to have gone and shaken hands with your president, no matter what my political views are. He's definitely entitled to his views. And I have to say he was incredibly charming, he was very welcoming, as was the first lady, and Condoleezza Rice and everyone was really, really charming to us.

It was kind of bizarre standing backstage at halftime at the Kennedy Center and talking about AIDS with the president for about 10 minutes, which he was very knowledgeable on. Because I testified in Congress, and they'd given a lot of money, and I was very grateful for that.

I have to say he was extremely, extremely charming. You know, it's not my politics -- it's not my cup of tea, the politics. Btu from a man-to-man basis, I found him engaging, I found him extremely charismatic.

KING: Made it easier for you to be around him?

JOHN: Yeah, he made me feel really welcome. So I was very grateful for that.

KING: Last year you called papparazzi, I think it was in Taipei...

JOHN: Taiwan, yes.

KING: "Rude, vile pigs." You collectively accused them all.

JOHN: At that time, yes, because we had arrived in Taiwan at 12:00 at night, after, you know, if you fly to Taiwan from China -- China doesn't recognize that Taiwan exists, and vice versa, so you have to go via Hong Kong. So we were traveling a long time. We knew we'd have to go through the airport terminal. We weren't -- we knew we'd have to face photographers, but we had done that in Seoul, in South Korea, and we, you know, we went through the terminal through the customs, through immigration, and we took the photographs. You have to expect that if you're going to a country you've never been to before.

But we were ambushed, and they were really, really disgusting behavior, and you know, I fell for the trip -- I mean, for the ruse. You know, the thing with paparazzi is that they try to get you going, and then when they get you going, that's the picture they want. And that's the news they want. And they got me when I was tired...

KING: They want to make you angry.

JOHN: They want to make you angry. It's like, pleases, get out of our country. I mean, they were being really abusive, not making us, you know, we had to walk about half a mile to immigration. You know, they were deliberately hindering us. We were carrying all of our hand luggage, and then they were allowed to be in immigration, they were allowed to go through the metal detectors with their cameras unchecked. So it was a pretty unpleasant experience. And I'm 57 and I won't put up with it. And I just said -- they got what they deserved. KING: What right do you think the public or, through their representatives, the media, has to you? What -- how much privacy are you entitled to? Or do you give that up...

JOHN: I think if I'm out going to an event, and I'm going out to promote something and do something, I'm fair game. I don't honestly enjoy being chased around the shops in London, by, you know, camera people, but it becomes more and more prevalent in these days. I don't like that.

In my own home -- and in France, we have problems with them taking photographs of us at the house in Nice, which we complained about, and we won. But you know, I have a pretty good relationship with the press and the paparazzi. It's just when they step over the line that, you know, enough's enough. I mean, I'll always pose for someone and say, right, you got your photograph, now can you leave me alone for the rest of the day? And if they don't, you have to grit your teeth and not respond, because that's the photograph they want to sell throughout the world.

KING: True or false, there's an upscale sitcom, a "Spinal Tap" type sitcom, to be about an aging rock star and toadies who cater to him, true?

JOHN: Yeah, that's true.

KING: You're what with this?

JOHN: I'm kind of executive producing it. It was one of my people who worked for me, his idea, who's been working for me for 30 years, and it was to do a sitcom about the people around the star.

There has been a program on HBO called "The Entourage," but it's nothing like that. It's a very, very funny idea. Which we pitched to the producers of "Desperate Housewives" show, and they loved it. And Cindy Chupack, who was one of the writers on "Sex and the City" is writing it as we speak. And it's going to be very funny.

I have 30 years of experience to know how I can be -- it's going to be very, very funny, I hope.

KING: Did you do a pilot for ABC?

JOHN: Yes. Doing a pilot for ABC.

KING: Looks like a go?

JOHN: Yeah. We'll see how it goes.

KING: Are you ever going to be on it?

JOHN: I might -- it's not about me, per se. It's about a rock star. But you know, I might be a friend of the rock star and come in and be in the program once in a while.

KING: What are you calling it? JOHN: "Him and Us."

KING: "Him and Us."

JOHN: "Him and Us."

KING: We'll take a break and be back and include phone calls for Sir Elton John. You like being -- I keep calling you Elton. You're a sir.

JOHN: We're also doing...

KING: I apologize.

JOHN: ... an animated movie with Disney as well.

KING: Called?

JOHN: "Gnomeo and Juliet."

KING: "Gnomeo and Juliet."

JOHN: Yeah.

KING: We'll be right back with Sir Elton John -- my apologies -- following this.






KING: The new album is "Peach Tree Road." You're going to see a couple selections of it from the next half hour.

Let's go to some calls for the great Sir Elton John.

Houston, hello.

CALLER: Hello Mr. King and Mr. John.


CALLER: What an honor to talk to both of you.

KING: Thank you.

JOHN: Thank you.

CALLER My question is what is it like to work with Billy Joel? JOHN: It's an absolute pleasure. And Billy and I have been friends for a long, long time. He started out just a little after me. He became hugely successful. He was compared to me because he played the piano, and there aren't that many of us who play the piano and can sing. I always thought that Billy had a style of his own, with nothing like me. And you know we've been on tour many, many times.

KING: When did the idea come about that...

JOHN: I don't know, it's just like, I really don't know who's idea, Maybe Billy's idea. But it proved really successful. And he's a dear friend, and we'll be doing something together in the not-too- distant future again. And I keep teasing him about, you know, about time you wrote another -- new song. He hadn't written a song for a about 10 or 11 years now. And now I think, now he's gotten married again and seems really in a happy space. I think you'll see a Billy Joel album, I bet, within another year and a half.

KING: Hartford, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Elton.


CALLER: Elton, you look better and sound better than ever. What is your secret?

JOHN: I don't know. I'm 58 in a couple of weeks' time. I just -- I have a lot of energy. I work hard. I have a great partner. I'm in love. I am sober and clean. I lead a healthy lifestyle. And I really am blessed and enjoy what I do.

KING: Has the world changed -- it's hard to signify the whole world. Do you think generally the gay life is more accepted.

JOHN: In certain places, but it seems to be -- it's a bit of a hot potato in America at the moment with the gay marriage thing and, you know, the civil union thing. I think people who are in love with each other and are committed to each other, David and I have been together for 11 years, I think we should have the same rights to protect each other in our relationships as people who are heterosexual and are married. I understand some that people would then disagree with me, and I could see -- I think, you know, if I'm going to be devoted to someone and he's going to be devoted to me, and we love each other just as much as any other two human beings love each other, then we should have the rights to commit ourselves to that relationship.

KING: Did you go anywhere when marriage was legal and get married?

JOHN: No. I'm waiting for it to happen in Britain. There's a civil union coming in Britain, which will allow us to go to a registry office and pledge our lives to each other and protect each other. For example, if I die and I leave my money to David, my family can come and contest that and David might not have a leg to stand on. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but for anybody who's in a same-sex relationship, I've seen it happen to so many people. One partner dies and leaves it -- his estate to his partner. The family come in and destroy and take it away. They fight legally for it. And so the other partner is left with the death of his loved one and with absolutely nothing. So something has to be done to protect the same- sex relationships.

KING: Do you understand the feelings against it?

JOHN: Yes, I can. Yes, absolutely. I mean, but you know what, we live in the 21st century now. And I would think that tolerance, which is one of my biggest things, tolerance and understanding -- understanding and, you know, things about forgiveness. And tolerance should be something that in the 21st century, we should be allowed to promote a little bit more. As I say, it seems to be a little bit of a hot potato in this country. But hopefully...

KING: Not elsewhere, right?

JOHN: No. Not really, elsewhere. No.

KING: Enfield, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Elton, I was wondering if you would ever consider doing a piano solo CD.

JOHN: I've been asked so many times. A very good question. I've been asked so many times about this. I'm thinking about it. I'm having such a great time playing with my band at the moment. But there will be, come a day, when I will do a piano and voice CD, and maybe just a piano CD, I don't know. But definitely piano and voice. A lot of people have asked me to do that.

KING: Why is the piano red?

JOHN: The piano is red because when I went to Vegas, I thought, I've got to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I want a red piano. Red signifies love. And the show really is about -- has a lot of songs about love. Love comes up on the screen a lot of times. We live in an age, in an era where there is so much negativity, there is so much violence in the world, there is so much unrest and people are at war, that I wanted to promote the word love and red signifies love. So, that's why the red piano came into it.

KING: We'll be back with more moments with Sir Elton John, a couple more phone calls and then you're going to see him sing. Don't go away.








KING: We're with Elton John. The new album is "Peachtree Road," and we go to Fort Worth, Texas. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Good evening, Larry and Elton.


CALLER: My question is, I would like to ask Elton, has he stayed in contact with princes -- Prince William and Prince Harry since Princess Diana's death?

JOHN: Unfortunately, I haven't seen the boys since then. I've seen their father quite a few times, but the boys were either at school or university. And I haven't really stayed in contact or been in contact with them, which is a shame, but they're busy young men and they're having their own lives.

KING: Georgetown, Massachusetts, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Elton, I've been a huge fan of yours since I was 9. I'm currently 17. And I was wondering what kind of music and bands are you currently listening to right now, because I know you keep up on a lot of it?

JOHN: Well, there's a band called The Killers, that are doing brilliantly over here, No. 1 in England...

KING: Killers.

JOHN: ... with an album called "Hot Fuss." They come from Las Vegas. There's a band called the Scissor Sisters, that are also number one in England, that are American and hasn't really taken off here yet. They sold about 200,000 copies. But it's a sensational album. There's a guy called Ray LaMontagne, with an album called "Trouble," which is really beautiful. He looks like Jesus Christ and sings like Otis Redding. A guy called John Legend, who's just made a terrific album that's doing -- I think it's No. 4 on the charts. Great stuff.

KING: You don't need the money.

JOHN: Right.

KING: Will you always work?

JOHN: I'm a bit of a workaholic. My partner, David, you know, I've pledged that I will slow down somewhat as I get towards... KING: What does David do?

JOHN: David is a film producer. We're producing a film with Disney, an animated movie called "Gnomeo and Juliet," which is based on the Shakespeare story of "Romeo and Juliet," and also we're producing a film with Disney on my life. Hopefully -- hopefully directed by David LaChapelle, and written by Lee Hall, who did the screenplay of "Billy Elliot."

KING: And who will play you?

JOHN: Well, I'm so old now...

KING: Kevin Spacey!

JOHN: ... they'll need about -- they'll need about two or three different people. I mean, hopefully Justin Timberlake will be one of them, because he did so well in one of my videos.

But why do I keep going? I love to work. You like to work. It's what I do. And I do have a really wonderful life. It's not as balanced as probably it should be, but I will probably slow down a little bit.

The thing about Vegas is, I don't have to fly anywhere, and that really helps. It means I stay in one place for three weeks at a time instead of flying backwards and forwards. So instead of doing 200 flights a year, I may do 100 now. But I'm really enjoying singing more than ever, playing more than ever. And you know, when you see people like B.B. King still going and Ray Charles going into his 70s and still doing such great work, then you think, well, you know -- and Tony Bennett, who we were just talking about.

KING: We have some news tonight. You're going to record with B.B. King.

JOHN: I'm going to record with B.B. King in a couple of weeks' time in Las Vegas. He lives there. We're going to do a track with him for his new album, which will be a huge honor for me.

KING: Do you know the song?

JOHN: Don't know yet. I think it's a Jimmy Rogers song, but I can't wait to do that.

KING: Do you like dueting?

JOHN: I love it. I mean, as artists, we don't perform with each other enough. And when I did a "Duets" album with people like Bonnie Raitt and Leonard Cohen, Little Richard, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, people like that, it's always great to be with really great people that you really love.

KING: Anyone you'd like to you haven't?

CALLER: I've dueted with Aretha. I've dueted with Mary J. Blige. God, there must be lots of people that I haven't actually done anything with.

KING: Help a young performer? Do a duet?

JOHN: People like John Mayor, Ryan Adams, people like that I adore. That guy, Ray LaMontagne.

KING: Do you still get -- in other words, like tomorrow night in Vegas, 8:00 or what time?

JOHN: 7:30.

KING: 7:30. Went up, same kick?

JOHN: Yes, always. Always. If you don't have -- performing live is the real, you know, it's the icing on the cake, because that's what I do best, and I never, ever get tired of it. And the Vegas show, I'll be so -- I'm looking forward to it already.

KING: Do you rehearse tomorrow?

JOHN: We rehearse, go for a sound check. And you have to, because we got a lot of screen projections and films involved in the show, we have to make sure that we finish at the same time that the film does, otherwise we're going to look stupid. So we'll go out and rehearse that a little bit. But I'm not a big over-rehearser. We know it, we'll go out there and we'll do our best.

KING: If you know it...

JOHN: If you know it, go and do it.

KING: If you know it, you know it.

JOHN: Yeah, exactly.

KING: Elton, I wish you nothing but the best. Keep on keeping on.

JOHN: Thank you, Larry. It's been a pleasure. I'm glad I finally made it to this desk.

KING: Now, before we break -- the show is not over. We have two long segments left, and they'll be supplied by Elton John, singing two cuts from "Peachtree road," and then a classic hit from 1971.

So don't tune out. We'll pause for a couple of breaks, come back, and Elton John at the red piano with the band, same band that is going to be in Vegas tomorrow night. He'll perform for you tonight -- as Ed Sullivan used to say, "right here on our stage!" Don't go away.



KING: Our final two segments tonight will feature the music of Elton John. We've had the conversation. We're going to hear two songs in this segment. They're from the "Peachtree Road" CD. Is this brand new?

JOHN: Yeah, it is. It just came out late last year.

KING: Do you live on Peachtree road?

JOHN: I live on Peachtree Road in Atlanta, yes, and the studio was on Peachtree Road. And so that's -- hence, the title.

KING: And the two songs you're going to hear is "All That I'm Allowed" and "Turn the Lights Out When You Leave."

JOHN: Yeah, this is the new single, the first song, and then the second song will be the third single.

KING: Go get them -- and Elton, don't be nervous.

JOHN: I won't.

KING: You know how you get. Elton John.



KING: We're going to wind up this special hour with Elton John tonight with a special song. You open in Vegas tomorrow, right?

JOHN: Tomorrow night, yes.

KING: And Celine -- that room and you work it?

JOHN: When she goes off, I work it. She has a well-deserved rest. She does a lot of shows every year. We're doing 40 shows this year.

KING: Tell me about "Tiny Dancer." This goes back to 1971 from "Mad Man Across the Water".

JOHN: It was a hit when it first came out in America. We played it a lot and then we didn't play it. And then it came out in a film directed by Cameron Crowe about four years ago called "Almost Famous" which gave the song a huge renaissance, and I'm very grateful to him for that. And it was in the pivotal scene of the movie so it's become one of my most requested songs.

KING: Thanks for a great night, Elton.

JOHN: Thank you.

KING: Elton John winds it up with "Tiny Dancer."



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