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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Encore - Interview with Elton John

Aired March 15, 2008 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELTON JOHN (SINGING): Beyond the yellow brick road...

'Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom.

You can tell everybody this is your song...

Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a music legend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN (SINGING): Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He hosts an Oscar party like no other -- and you're invited.

Next, it's an all access LARRY KING LIVE.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN (SINGING): Ballerina, you must have seen her, she was dancing in the sand...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What an honor to welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE Sir Elton John, one of the top selling solo artists in music history, an international superstar. He's earned multiple Grammys, a Tony, an Oscar, a Kennedy Center honor and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth.

He's also the Hollywood hostess with the most -- or host with the most.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Well, maybe -- maybe I could have said it either way.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: And, by the way, did you -- have you recovered from last night?

JOHN: Absolutely, yes. And they're really quite exhausting, those parties, because we have to get there about 4:00 and do the press line and stuff like that. And we usually leave about 12:30.

And, but, yes, it is exhausting. But I was exhilarated. We raised a lot of money last night. I played for the first time at one of our Oscar parties. I had the best time and...

KING: You hadn't played before?

JOHN: I always ask somebody younger to play and then I go and sing a song with them. But this year, because of the uncertainty of the Oscars were going to happen, I said listen, I'll play. You can't ring somebody up and say will you play, we don't know if it's going to happen.

So I said, listen, I'll play with my band and we'll ask, you know, a couple of people to come up and sing with us and do it in reverse. And it worked really well.

KING: How much did you raise?

JOHN: $5.1 million.

KING: And that's all for your fund, right?

JOHN: Yes, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in North America. We started off 16 years ago and raised $250,000. The party was obviously much smaller. But now, after 16 years, we've got it up to 5.1. And it's our principle fundraiser in North America.

KING: You gave LARRY KING LIVE special access, for which we are most appreciative, to that party last night. Some of the star-studded guests talked with us about it.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You want to know what's inside Hollywood?

I got a backstage pass to Elton John's party. I'll show it to you. This is what the room looks like. This is where they watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN (SINGING): You know, I'm still standing better than I ever did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So did you like hosting this?

ELLEN DEGENERES: Oh, I loved hosting it. I loved it -- after it was over. KING: Is this exciting for you, Oscars?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It really is. You get a chance to get all dressed up and hang out with the movie stars and see all your favorite actors and actresses. It's a beautiful thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's everything that has nothing to do with acting. And it has a lot to do with getting people in the seats, which is very important.

DEGENERES: It's the Academy Awards. It's the biggest thing you could probably ever, ever host in your life. So I was not nervous until the moment I walked out. And when I walked out and felt the energy in that room, it's electric. It's just crazy energy. And I was nervous. And then it went away and then I was fine the rest of the night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Was Prince supposed to entertain?

JOHN: He came late. He said he might come and play. And with him, you never know whether he's going to do it or not. He's, you know, he's that kind of guy and I didn't -- you know, whether he played or not, it was up to him. And he didn't feel like it. And he was going to host his own party.

And I think by the time I finished, it was a little late for him and he had to get back to his own house, because he hosted his own party. And that...

KING: Was that...

JOHN: It doesn't. No, that was fine.

KING: You wouldn't call it a disappointment?

JOHN: It's always a disappointment when you want to play with someone like Prince. But I've had the luxury of singing with him twice on stage. So I understand the way he works, the way he thinks. And it's fine with me. I -- you know, I have so much admiration for him. And what he does is -- I think he's, personally, the best entertainer in the world at the moment by far.

KING: Really?

JOHN: ...the greatest musician, the greatest showman. There's no one is in the same league as him. And, you know, he's his own man. He's, you know, I understand him. Every musician is different. If they don't feel comfortable, then I don't expect them to get up and do it.

KING: Are you a movie fan?

JOHN: Of course, yes. This year I thought the movies were -- you know, they were hard work, some of them, because they were intense. But they were very, very -- a lot of really excellent movies this year.

KING: Did you agree with the results?

JOHN: Pretty much so. Yes. I mean the standard of excellence this year amongst acting and movie-making was, I think, much better than in previous years. I mean the only category I said would have been the weakest one was the best actress category, only because of the lack of the roles for the actresses involved. I mean Marion Cotillard won and I'm very happy about that. And Julie Christie was fabulous in "Atonement" -- in "Atonement" and away from her.

But I think there wasn't the roles for the women this year. This was the year for the men.

KING: If you were going to ape lyrics, though, the girl in "La Vie En Rose," right, that was unbelievable.

JOHN: Oh, she was -- an absolutely astonishing performance. I mean, you see how beautiful she is. And to -- and the makeup -- they won the makeup award for "La Vie En Rose," and quite rightly so, because they -- she became Edith Piaf. And that's, I think, the hardest thing to do when you're making a movie, whether it's Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne in "What's Love Got To Do with It?," the Tina Turner movie, or, you know, the Ray Charles movie.

That's astonishing performances by everybody involved.

KING: Do you...

JOHN: I think it's the hardest thing to do, is to play someone else.

KING: Did you ever see Piaf work?

JOHN: I didn't. I've been enormous fan of her and Jack Berellan (ph) and a lot of French singers, Charles Strine...

KING: Aznavour?

JOHN: Aznavour. Well, Aznavour is still performing...

KING: Yes, I know.

JOHN: And, of course, he's one of the greatest lyricists and Liza Minnelli probably is the greatest interpreter of his work, apart from him. I mean you see Liza sing an Aznavour song and it's quite -- you know, all the hair stands on your arm. It's quite astonishing.

He's one of the greats, Aznavour, and he's still performing. He's over 80-years-old now.

KING: I am not a fashion expert...

JOHN: Yes.

KING: So I am -- this has been told to me by staff, that you wore a Yogi Yamamoto black suit last night with a silver tie -- downright plain compared to other costumes you've worn.

JOHN: Yes.

KING: Is this correct?

JOHN: It is correct. Yes.

KING: What happened?

JOHN: Well, I mean I couldn't wear some of my giant chicken outfits to the Oscar party, A, because I wouldn't fit in them anymore, and B, because, you know, I'm 61 years of age next month and, you know, I don't dress as flamboyant as I used to. So -- but I still had a, you know, a nice silver Chanel tie and a sparkly shirt.

But it's, you know, there are certain things I don't do anymore.

KING: Because of your age and maturity and...

JOHN: Yes, because I feel like, you know, as you get older, you change the way you think, the way you dress. I always liked to dress a little differently from other people, but, you know, I'm nowhere near the fashion victim that I was a long time ago.

KING: Our guest is the great Sir Elton John.

As we go to break, an Elton John classic. You'll be hearing a lot of them tonight, so why go anywhere else?

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN (SINGING): She's got electric boots, a mohair suit, you know I read it in a magazine, Benny and the Jets.

Hey, kids, plug into the...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How did you start that foundation?

JOHN: It was started about 17 years ago. And I was an alcoholic and a drug addict for 16 years. And during that time, the AIDS epidemic started, in the early '80s. I never felt really that, during that time, I did enough for AIDS, people with AIDS, being a gay man. I became very friendly with the Ryan White family, with Ryan and his mother Jeanie. And that helped me a lot to see how out of whack my life was, you know, how impossible my life had become, how self- obsessed I had become.

And shortly after Ryan died, which I was at the funeral for in Indianapolis -- and I played at the funeral -- I decided six months later, that my life was, you know, pretty horrible. And someone guided me into saying that I need help.

And I went into rehab and I, you know, I've been -- this year, hopefully, in July, I'll be 18 years sober and clean. And as soon as I got sober and clean, I thought, you know what, I've been so fortunate to have, you know, been a drunk and been a drug addict and not become HIV-positive, and I've got to do something to help people like Ryan White and the people that I've kind of betrayed when I was doing those kind of things.

I mean, you know, I'm a gay man and I think when the '80s -- early '80s happened, it was a gay disease. And the government did nothing. And people, you know, I didn't speak out. I didn't join the ACT-UP people. I didn't. I should have been there. I should have been on the front line. I wasn't. And I just thought you know what, you've been so selfish for so long, you've really got to do something to atone for this. You know, you've been given a second chance.

And so I decided because I have experience -- I used to be chairman of a football club in England, a soccer club -- I thought, you know, this is a good chance for me to prove that I can do something positive now.

And we started with very small beginnings and we're still a very small organization...

KING: What does it do?

JOHN: When it started, it was for direct care to people, at that time, who needed food deliveries, medical deliveries, buddy systems -- you know, buddies. I used to actually deliver food for -- in Atlanta for Project Helping Hand.

KING: Now what?

JOHN: Now it's still for direct care, but for education. And we've spread our wings. It was just in America and Great Britain when we started. Now we're in over 55 countries.

KING: Were you able to work, perform while drunk?

JOHN: I wasn't particularly drunk on stage, but I was -- I did take drugs before I went on stage. And I was able to perform. In fact, ironically, Larry, I think the fact that I did keep performing and not stay home and shut myself away and do drugs all the time -- I mean, you know, it wasn't a constant thing with me. But when I'd stop, when I started again, it became worse.

So I think the fact that I did make records and did tour saved my life, because even though I went on stage under the influence of drugs sometimes, at least I wasn't doing the amount of drugs I would have been doing if I'd have been staying at home.

KING: Where did you rehab? JOHN: I went to a hospital in Chicago because, at that time, I was bulimic and the food issue amongst men was just only starting. I mean, so there was no facility in North America that would take drugs, alcohol and food addiction, except this one facility in Chicago at Parkside Lutheran Hospital. And I went there for six weeks. And I took the...

KING: In six weeks you got better?

JOHN: Six weeks. And I took a year off.

KING: Oh.

JOHN: I mean I took that whole next year off and did what people told me to do. I listened for the first time in a long time, because you know, you think you know, everything.

And I listened. And I spent a long time on my recovery, doing the things that I sometimes went kicking and screaming, but I did them because I was told to do them. And it worked. And I put a lot of time and effort into it, because you just don't reverse that behavior instantaneously. You just can't change it overnight. You have to learn how to become a human being again, basically.

KING: Since you were last here, you tied the knot with your long- time partner, David Furnish.

What is that like in a male-male tied the knot -- when male-males tie the knot, is that a marriage?

JOHN: No, I don't think it is a marriage. I mean it's a civil partnership in Great Britain. And a lot of people said oh, well, it's like a marriage. But it's not really the same as a marriage, I don't think. It might -- I mean we've lived together for 12 years before, you know, we did that. But it was the first day of the legislation becoming legal in England. And we wanted to say to people, listen, we're going to do it. We approve of this.

I'd seen so many cases of gay couples, one of them dying and the person who died had left their money to the partner and then the families came in and just -- the partner was left with nothing. It just gave people basic rights that married people had.

But I don't really consider it a marriage. I just consider it a blissful extension of what we had already. And what we had was pretty special.

But I actually felt -- and David felt differently after that. I think it gave us a real sense of security and satisfaction. And I think everybody who lives with someone and who is committed to someone should have that sense of security.

KING: I talked with David last night at the Oscar party.

Here's some of that conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID FURNISH, ELTON JOHN'S PARTNER: This foundation does a lot of work around the world. We are very much about direct-based care and helping people that are living with the disease right now.

KING: How did Elton get committed to this?

FURNISH: He got committed to this, I think, when he came out of treatment in the late '80s. He looked at a very sort of irresponsible, selfish life that he was living when he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. And I think he was slightly ashamed that he hadn't done more to throw his hat in the ring earlier on to support the cause.

KING: Is it the number one problem in Africa?

JOHN: Well, actually, we're seeing it growing around the world. I mean, at the end of the March, I'm going to India. We're actually seeing a higher per capita transmission rate in India now, for a lot of the same reasons that we saw in Africa.

KING: India?

FURNISH: Yes. It's growing quite quickly there, in Southeast Asia. This is a global disease. Our work is around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Sir Elton John is our special guest on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Janet Jackson will be here on Thursday night.

What's your favorite Elton John song?

Go to CNN.com/larryking and vote. Of course, there are too many to list. We've got a good selection to choose from. Cast your musical ballot now an CNN.com/larryking.

Now here's one of Elton's own favorite songs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN (SINGING): Now I know Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say. I thought I knew, but now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City. Until you see this trash can dream come true, you stand at the edge while people run you through. And I thank the lord there's people out there like you, I thank the lord...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Sir Elton John.

When they made you a sir, a knight, do they dub you?

Do they take a knife -- a knife, a sword and go clunk, clunk?

JOHN: They do. The Queen...

KING: They do that?

JOHN: Yes, she did it. And you have to kneel down. And they do it on both shoulders. And then you stand up and then you get your medal. And she says a few words to you and then you go away. But...

KING: How do they tell you you're going to be a knight?

JOHN: They inform you a couple of months ahead of time. I got a CBE, which is a commander of the British Empire, about two years before I was knighted. And the knighthood, they let you know two months in advance and you're not allowed to tell anybody. They write you a lovely letter and say, you know, this is what's happening.

KING: To a Britisher, what is that like?

JOHN: It was amazing. I mean I -- listen, I was born in a council house, which government housing, in North London. And so I grew up in my grandmother's house. And so to be -- to have the life that I've had and to end up being a knight or a sir, it makes me very proud. I mean people who, you know, think the honor system is unnecessary -- and to a certain extent I suppose it is. But I have a pride in my country and I love my country. And I've always loved being there and I've always loved being British.

So to me, it was an incredible honor and to my family it was, as well.

KING: We have an e-mail question from Aella in Philadelphia: "Do you think the United States will ever allow gay couples to marry?"

JOHN: That's a very, very good question. Well, you'll need a change of government to do that. If you have a Democratic person who becomes the president of the United States in the next election, then I think you have a very good chance of that maybe happening. I mean it's not going to happen immediately, but you have a better chance of that happening than if you have a Republican president.

KING: But you said you don't care if it's marriage or not?

JOHN: No. But I just think people should have the -- if you love someone, you should have the chance to commit to them for life. It's just -- and I know that that is a very, very sore point with a lot of people. And I understand that. But I mean, being a gay person, the fact that I can commit to David and say to him, listen, I want to be with you for the rest of my life and I -- you know, we have the security of knowing that if anything happens to either of us, that everything is going to be fantastic, if I -- you know, I can leave things to David and he's not going to have a battle with my family -- not that my family would ever do that, because they wouldn't. But it's just the knowledge that you can wake up in the morning and feel safe. KING: Switching gears a little, are you still, at 61, as good a performer as you were at 35?

JOHN: I think so. Absolutely. I think I'm a better singer now. I'm not so agile on stage and I don't do so many flamboyant things. But I think I'm a better musician.

KING: You play piano better?

JOHN: Yes. I don't know better, but I'm a -- I mean I think on a much more even keel. I mean you don't see so many uneven performances as maybe when you're younger. There's a lot of adrenaline going when you're younger. And I'm, you know, not a particularly good judge of what I did in the past.

But I know that in the present that my aim is to become a better singer and a better piano player. And you look at people like Tony Bennett whose -- you know, I had the privilege of singing on his 80th birthday record. He sings just as good as he ever did, if not better, you know?

KING: Do you still get the same kick on stage?

JOHN: That is what has kept me going. The live performance thing is the thing that really is the thing that I love. The record business has changed. You know that. It's hard to sell records anymore unless you're a Justin Timberlake or a young person. And I've had my day in the sun, I think, as far as record sales grow. But I keep my career because I love to play and I'm never growing tired of playing. I love it.

KING: Do you still love that audience, that moment when you go on?

JOHN: Yes. It's like last night, there were 700 people at the party and I played. And it was just as much fun to playing to 80,000 people or 4,000 people at Cesar's Palace, wherever I play.

The audience is there. I have to give them value for money. I mean we played for an hour last night. Normally, people play for 35 minutes at the Oscar party. I couldn't do that. I have to play and give people value for money.

So, as far as I'm concerned, I think I'm singing better than ever and I'm playing better than ever. And my ratio of good performances is way up to what it used to be.

KING: Do you like long shows?

JOHN: I, you know, I mean I played -- for my 60th birthday last year, I played last year at Madison Square Garden, which was the 60th show at Madison Square Garden on my 60th birthday. And I wanted to do that there because it's such a special place and New York is a very special place.

And I played for three hours and 25 minutes. KING: What?

JOHN: Three hours and 25 minutes. And it -- and I just wanted to do a special show on my birthday. It didn't seem like three hours and 25 minutes to me and, hopefully, it didn't to the audience, because it seemed to fly by. And we had a choir. And we had a different set list to what I would normally play. It was a good history of the Elton John catalog.

And I came on stage and people didn't say great show straight away. They just said how come you didn't pee?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN: And it's like, I don't know. Three hours and 25 minutes. And I guarantee you, I'm on stage in Las Vegas for only an hour-and-a- half and halfway through the show, I think, oh, God, I need to parliamentary elections. And it's like I don't know why that happens.

But, no. I never play for less than two hours, 30 minutes, anywhere.

KING: Sir Elton John is our special guest on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Valerie Bertinelli will be here tomorrow night.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN (SINGING): Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did, looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid. And I'm still standing after all this time, picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind. I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with sir Elton John. How do people who want to contribute to your charity.

JOHN: They just go to our website.

KING: Which is?

JOHN: I don't know what our website number is. I don't have a computer or mobile phone or anything. Just Google Elton John AIDS foundation. They can send donations. I'm glad you raised that, because we get a lot of money from very rich people who come to show their appreciation and their generosity from things last night. We also get people sending us their pocket money. Some fans have lunches around the world.

KING: It's on the screen now. EJAF.org.

JOHN: There you go. It's terrible I don't know that.

KING: EltonJohnAIDSFoundation.org, EJAF.org. We have an e-mail from Mark in Cambridge, Ontario; "I'm a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Would you talk about your personal program of recovery and what motivates your sobriety? Do you want to drink? Do you want to take drugs?

JOHN: I never want to drink again. I don't ever want to take drugs. You can't afford to be complacent. A lot of people in my life don't drink and don't take drugs, a lot of people who work for me. I'm in constant touch with people who have problems. I still have the same sponsor that I had in Chicago.

KING: You're AA sponsor?

JOHN: My AA sponsor and my drug sponsor. I still phone him every week. He lives in Chicago. He gave me hell when I first started. I went back after rehab and I went back to England. He said, the first thing you do is go to a meeting, and the first thing I did was go to see my soccer team play. I phoned him that night. He said, have you been to a meeting? I said, no, I went to the soccer game. He gave me the hardest time.

So I listened to him. He talked good sense sometimes. I never feel that I want to drink. My life is so great without the mayhem that all that caused me. I couldn't possibly ever want to go back there.

KING: We have more exclusive LARRY KING LIVE video from last night's party. We asked some of the guests about the AIDS foundation and the work it does. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Elton has done, he's given the Oscar the heart. He's made a non-profit charitable event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We always look forward to it. It's not just about what dress people are wearing. You're raising money. It's an amazing combination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All this is great. It's fun. I'm like a tourist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your dear friend Lionel Richie here. All I want to say to you is I don't know how you've done this, but you've pulled off an amazing foundation.

JOHN: Thank you so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll take a call for Elton John from -- Sir Elton. Winchester, Virginia, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: This is my question for Elton; as a parent of a gay teenager, what did your parents do, Elton, or your grandmother, what did they do to give you the confidence to be this success that you are today?

KING: Good question.

JOHN: That is a great question. They loved me, always loved me for who I am. When I told my parents, my mother and my step-father and my family that I was gay, they always supported me. They said, listen, we love you. You're the person we've known all our lives. We always loved you. I was very, very lucky. A lot of people aren't so fortunate.

You sound like you're a great mom and a loving mom. A lot of kids get spurned by their parents on that. They have a hard time. And I can understand parents, you know, wanting to have their children grow up and have family and become grandparents, but you have to -- parents have to accept their children for who they are. You don't stop loving your child. You should never stop loving your child.

My family always accepted me for who I am. One of the great speeches last night, an acceptance speech, was from the lady who wrote the "Juno" film. I think she had a slightly colorful past. She said, I want to thank my family for loving me for who I am the way I am. That is the most important thing you can do for a child. You have to give them discipline sometimes, but it's a traumatic thing for a kid to come out and say to his parents, listen, I'm a little different. I'm not --

KING: How old were you?

JOHN: I was a late bloomer. I was 23. I didn't have sex until I was 23. So, I mean, I grew up in the '50s.

KING: So you didn't have hetero or homo sex?

JOHN: No, nothing until then. And my parents, my mom knew. There's something about mothers that is so instinctive. My mom said, I've known. I know. I'm so grateful that you told us. It was a really hard decision for me. I was crying. I felt ashamed and everything like that. And they were terrific. And every parent out there whose son or daughter comes to them and says listen, I think I'm gay. Please support them. Don't reject them. Rejection is the most hardest thing in the world for someone to cope with, especially from your parents.

Try to understand. Try to be compassionate. And the lady that just called in sounds like one of those people. It's so important for your child. Your child is your child. Love them forever.

KING: We have an I ask question about Elton John's AIDS foundation. Let's look and listen, watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello Elton. Jeff from Hollywood here. Congratulations on another successful Oscar bash. I hope you raised lots and lots of money for your foundation. My question is, where does most of the money raised by the foundation go to? Is it research, education, prevention, all of the above? How personally do you get involved in deciding where the funds go to?

Thank you. God bless and best wishes to you and David.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN: The money goes to -- mostly to prevention and to education and to direct care. It doesn't go to any -- None of the money has ever gone to research. We've left that to Amfar (ph). We work hand in hand with Amfar and do events together. Do I get involved in where it goes? Absolutely. I get grant requests that my people in my office go through. We never give money to a project unless we personally investigate it, whether it's in North America, Great Britain, Europe, Africa, India South America, the Caribbean, it's always investigated first.

We give our money. We usually go in at grass-roots level, and we give it to the -- we start projects off. Ninety five percent of what we raise gets out there. We only have five percent overheads. And we have offices in America and in Great Britain. One of the things I was adamant about was that the foundation would never get too big so we were spending 50 percent of our money on people's wages, on people's expenses.

Every dollar we raise is so important. For the last two years we've had to four star charity rating, which I'm so proud of. We are an efficient, really streamlined efficient machine. I do vet every dollar that goes out there.

KING: We'll be back with more Sir Elton John after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are children who will never hear him sing who are living in Kenya tonight because of Elton John.

JOHN: I've seen enough suffering in this world to last me several lifetimes. I don't want to die seeing more suffering. I want to be able to take my last breath and say we have made such a difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What was that like to go to Africa?

JOHN: It's quite amazing. To go to Africa in general is -- we go every year on safari at the start of the year because it's such an incredibly moving experience and humbling experience to be out there in the animals and just be a guest in their territory and see this incredible countryside.

Then usually we follow it up by going to Capetown and Johannesburg and visiting the projects that we fund. And we did that this year. And it's -- three years ago it was kind of demoralizing. It was pretty bad, and it was really heart wrenching. The stigma, for example, in poorer countries; three years ago in South Africa, if you said you had HIV/AIDS, you were thrown out of your home. You couldn't tell anybody at university. We set up a help line for the students at Capetown University so they could talk to each other because they were in such fear of having HIV and AIDS.

Three years later, we're going back and people are wearing I'm HIV positive and I'm proud of it. Women are talking about it. The women, especially in South Africa, have galvanized themselves. They've had the new anti-retroviral drugs. They've got their health back. They haven't passed the infection onto their children. And they're spreading the word. The word has spread that you don't have to die HIV-positive.

KING: You know, President Bush has given more money to it than almost anything the United States does.

JOHN: I know, but he's given a lot of money to abstinence programs. Abstinence programs don't work. He has given billions, but I think some of it has been poured down the drains, because the abstinence programs have been proven, it does not work. You can't say to someone you can't have sex, not in that culture or any culture. It just doesn't work.

If you promote the use of condoms and use educational messages to get out there, which we do in lots of our projects, then that helps. But I'm very grateful that America has given that amount of money. When I got my Kennedy Center award, we talked about that. But I think to a certain extent pouring money into abstinence program is a complete and utter waste of time.

KING: Did you talk to the president about that?

JOHN: I didn't, because at that point he had only just given the money. We only just found that out. I got my Kennedy Award three years ago.

KING: He's give an lot since.

JOHN: We had a good talk about AIDS. I found him to be much more knowledgeable than I thought he would be.

KING: Anderson Cooper standing by. He'll host "AC 360" at the top of the hour. What's up, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, Sir Elton, coming up at the top of the hour, Hillary on the offensive. Senator Clinton ratcheting up the rhetoric against Barack Obama. This coming at a time when new polls are giving some fresh insight into how the races in Texas and Ohio are shaping up.

Then, of course, there's the matter of that picture, a snapshot of Barack Obama in traditional Somali garb appeared today online. And the Obama camp says camp Clinton put it there. They deny it. We'll try to get to the bottom of it.

Plus, Ralph Nader is in, the independent candidate declaring that he is again running for president. The question is how much of a factor will he really be this time around. We'll ask him live tonight.

All that plus the shocking story of a young teen murdered in a high school in California because he was openly gay. Did school official ignore bullying the boy allegedly suffered before he was murdered? We'll investigate, 360 at the top of the hour, Larry.

KING: That's Anderson Cooper at 10:00 eastern, 7:00 pacific. You'll want to join us Thursday for a LARRY KING LIVE prime time exclusive. Janet Jackson will be here talking about her new album and a whole lot of stuff. If you love music, stick with me, kid. More with Sir Elton after the break.

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KING: Let's take a call for Sir Elton. Victoria, British Columbia, hello.

CALLER: Hi, I'm just so thrilled to be talking with both of you. I'm from Victoria. And I just wanted to ask Sir Elton John if he thinks about Lady Diana at all, and also I wanted to say a quick phrase to him that might mean something; a good friend in life is someone who knows your songs and sings it back to you when you forget the words.

JOHN: Well, let's start with the last bit. When I have to rehearse some of my old songs, I have to go to my band to remember the words. I'm terrible at that. I've written so many songs. And my band, who I have to say are terrific people and so supportive of everything I do. I rely on them. They are some of the greatest friends I have. I'm so grateful to them. And Diana, well, she's in the news again because of the inquest that's going on, front page news in England. Yes, I think about her a lot, especially, you know, I have pictures of her in my house and letters from her. I miss her. I miss her humanity as far as it came. She's one of the few people in the world who could go into a room and light it up, and everyone in that room would be entranced by her. She had the ability to make everyone feel welcome. It's a great trait to have.

She wasn't shy. She just had that loving ability to make people feel as if she cared. And that's a great trait to have. We don't have that very often.

KING: Her funeral. Was that the hardest thing you ever had to do?

JOHN: That was the hardest professional thing I ever had to do. I didn't want to forget the words. I sang "Candle in the Wind" so many times for Marilyn Monroe. I had only just rewritten the lyric. I had to have a teleprompter there, because I thought, if I make a mistake and I sing "Good-Bye Norma Jean," I'm going to be lynched.

It was hard because I didn't want to break down. I wanted to be -- the service was so dignified as British tradition is. We're very stiff upper lip. Every thing like that -- the state funerals are beautiful. The music is beautiful. And very rarely that emotion is shown. And it was hard because you walked in -- we were sitting down, David and I, seeing the boys coming in behind the coffin with a beauty wreath that just said mommy on it.

Then I'm having to sing this song in front of billions of people. You just have to say, I'm going to use every professional bone in my body to make sure I do not break down here. I cannot afford to break down. I cannot afford to be modeling. This is a serious occasion. Everybody else has behaved incredibly well. I've got to sing this properly. I have to put the emotion in it. But I cannot afford to show any emotion.

KING: E-mail from Bob in Seattle; if your early albums hadn't hit it big and you had been dropped from your label, what direction would you have taken?

JOHN: I would probably still be playing music. I never intended to be Elton John singer. I was forced to make records. I wanted to be a song writer. After I left my group, I teamed up with Bernie and we wrote songs for other people, which were incredibly unsuccessful. Meanwhile, we were writing songs that we liked for ourselves and they became successful. I was forced into making my own records because no one else was covering our songs. So it kind of happened by accident.

But if I had been dropped -- and nowadays record companies will drop you after one or two albums, might not even be two. They want the quick buck. They want the fourth-quarter profit. They don't see the longevity of an artist. It's all, you know, let's bang, bang, bang. Let's make have someone who has won "American Idol" and make sure we get a lot of money out of that. You have to get a young artist, like myself when I was young -- I needed guidance from people. I needed putting in the right direction. I had to have people who were willing to invest three or four albums worth until I had matured into a proper artist.

KING: We'll be back in our remaining moments with Sir Elton John. Don't go away.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman you've all be waiting for, Elton John!

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KING: This year, Sir Elton John will play Vermont, Delaware and Alaska. That will mean he will have played all 50 states. Maybe the only performer to do that.

JOHN: I think maybe, yes. I hope so.

KING: Vermont, Delaware and Alaska completes the cycle. How do you pick -- from Helen in Boomtown Township in New Jersey, the last one we can get in -- how do you pick the play list for your live shows?

JOHN: It's pretty easy. I do set in Las Vegas, which more or less stays the same. I do sets with the band, and that changes, and then I do solo sets, which means I can pick from all my material. You can't play the same set every tour. We have to change it around. I'm lucky enough. I've written enough songs to cover that.

KING: When you do you go in. When Bette Midler goes out, right?

JOHN: I go in after Bette comes out in March. I go in in the middle of March. It's Bette Midler me and then there will be Cher. That's a great lineup. I mean, Celine was there for over 500 shows. They've had to replace her with two other people, because she had the stamina of a thousand men.

KING: She was unbelievable. You still love playing Vegas?

JOHN: I love it, great place. I love it. I love Caesar's Palace. I love the whole thing.

KING: Crowds and everything? JOHN: Yes, absolutely.

KING: Always great seeing you.

JOHN: Thank you, Larry. Thank you very much.

KING: Thanks for giving us entree last night. It was a wonderful evening. Sir Elton John. I want to remind you of Elton's website. It's EJAF.org. You can get more information or make a donation.

There's a lot to do on our website, CNN.com/LarryKing. You can answer the Elton John quick vote question and download our podcast, Jon Stewart. Tomorrow, the charming Valerie Bertonelli is here. Boy, does she have a story to tell. And the weight loss isn't half of it. Then Wednesday, we'll discuss a hopeful side of autism. Thursday, a prime time live exclusive with Janet Jackson.

Now, he's always exclusive, Anderson Cooper and "AC 360," Anderson?

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