Dark true story behind Rocket Man
WARNING: This story contains content that may be distressing for some readers.
Towards the end of October, 1975, Elton John played the biggest shows of his career.
Across one weekend, Elton John sold out Los Angeles' monolithic Dodger Stadium both nights, performing to a collective 110,000 people.
At the time, these were the largest concerts ever staged by a single artist and the City of Los Angeles had officially declared it 'Elton John Week' to celebrate the achievement.
On the day before the first show, Elton's new album Rock Of The Westies debuted on top of the charts, his sixth number one album in America in a momentous three-and-a-half year run.
The day prior, he had received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, the fanfare for which saw Hollywood Boulevard and the surrounding blocks shut down by city officials, ill-prepared for the crowd crush.
What those adoring fans didn't realise was later that same day, Elton John would hole himself up in his Bel Air mansion, as his bandmates and family - flown in from England especially for the triumphant week of celebrations - lazed around the swimming pool.
John walked out in a terry cloth robe and explained what he had done. "I shall die within the hour," he declared, before throwing himself into the pool. Paramedics arrived shortly afterwards.
"It was stress," John said in 2010.
"I'd been working non-stop for five years. But it was typical me. And, of course, my grandmother came out with the perfect line: 'I suppose we've all got to go home now.'
"Two days later I was playing Dodger Stadium and Cary Grant was there and it was one of the best days of my professional life, and I pulled it off. I've got that resilient thing inside me. "But I wasn't a happy bunny."
Although Elton plays the story mostly for laughs these days, it was a serious cry for help from an artist who was at the top of his commercial game, but struggling with the pressures such suffocating fame brought.
Elton is back in the headlines after the world premiere of his soul-baring biopic, Rocketman, at the Cannes film Festival last week.
Taron Egerton, 29, who portrays Elton in the highly anticipated movie, was in tears as he and Elton received a standing ovation.
Elton also confirmed his tell-all autobiography would fill in the gaps in the biopic after producers had to cut out parts of the tale because of time.
DRUGS AND DEPRESSION
John's drug use had also escalated wildly since the previous January, when he was introduced to cocaine while recording in Colorado. This kickstarted a period he referred to as "a complete and utter blur" as his drug taking and depression amped up to dangerous levels. His prodigious intake caused him to begin having seizures; staff members one day found him collapsed in his bedroom, blue from lack of oxygen. He was revived, his life was saved and within half an hour he was snorting more cocaine.
"The self-loathing I had …" he told the Telegraph.
"Walking around the house, not bathing for three or four days, staying up watching pornography all the time, drinking a bottle of scotch a day.
"I was bulimic as well, so I wouldn't eat for three days, then gorge on six bacon sandwiches and a pint of ice cream and throw it up. And then have a shower and start the whole procedure all over again.
"There was no self-respect there whatsoever. It was just f**king horrible. You look back and think, how on earth could I have done that? But I did."
Clues to the depth of his despair were there for those who wished to find them.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight, a song John recorded in August 1974 and released as a single the following June, is about a previous suicide attempt, one John now dismisses as half-hearted. His writing partner Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics, based on a 1968 pre-fame incident where John, feeling trapped and unhappy about his impending nuptials to a woman he wasn't in love with, stuck his head in a gas oven.
Taupin entered John's tiny bedsit and found the attempt laughable - John had put the oven on low, and left all the windows open, a steady breeze making asphyxiation impossible. He had also placed a dainty lace pillow under his head, for comfort's sake.
Nevertheless, John's friends knew something was seriously amiss, and convinced him not to go through with the marriage. His parents arrived with a moving van the following day and took him home to recoup.
More clues of his mental anguish can be found in an October 1976 Rolling Stone cover story, in which he came out as bisexual, albeit in a stumbling, defensive way. Even he didn't seem to understand where his sexual attraction lay.
"Let me be brutally honest about myself," he told the reporter.
"I get depressed easily. Very bad moods. I don't think anyone knows the real me. I don't even think I do.
"I don't know what I want to be exactly," he continued.
"I'm just going through a stage where any sign of affection would be welcome on a sexual level. I'd rather fall in love with a woman eventually because I think a woman probably lasts much longer than a man.
"But I really don't know. I've never talked about this before. Ha, ha. But I'm not going to turn off the tape. I haven't met anybody that I would like to settle down with - of either sex."
"You're bisexual?" the interviewer asked.
"There's nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex," John retorted.
"I think everybody's bisexual to a certain degree. I don't think it's just me. It's not a bad thing to be. I think you're bisexual. I think everybody is."
That same month saw Elton John release the maudlin double album Blue Moves. An introspective, depressed album that stretches over 84 minutes, it was a challenging listen.
In 1987, John told an Australian audience it was one of his favourite albums, but his enthusiasm wasn't matched by reviewers - Village Voice critic Robert Christgau called it "impossibly weepy" - or by record buyers; the album stalled at #3, ending his golden run of number one records.
Closing the third side of the record was another suicide song, Someone's Final Song. Again, Taupin wrote the actual lyrics, but it's impossible not to make the link between the song's protagonist rattling around an empty mansion, writing his final song, drinking himself sober, and John's state of mind at the time and suicide attempt a year earlier.
Interestingly, John's first openly suicidal song, 1972's I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself is a parody of the act, a jaunty honky tonk number where John belts lines like: "I'm getting bored
being part of mankind" and "I think I'm gonna kill myself, cause a little suicide, stick around for a couple of days, what a scandal if I died."
Three years later, the joke wasn't funny anymore.
In the subsequent years, Elton John has cleaned up, gotten sober, and remains one of the biggest musicians in the world.
After spending the '80s in a cocaine and alcohol-fuelled blur, he finally got clean in 1990. He started the new decade with a new addiction, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He estimates he went to roughly 1,500 meetings in the early '90s, a habit he kicked cold turkey when he realised it was fast becoming a crutch in its own right.
He has since used his sobriety to help other struggling celebrities deal with the pressure of addiction and similar disorders - being a wise sounding board for Eminem, Robbie Williams and Robert Downey Jr during dark days, helping Michael Jackson kick a morphine addiction, and even helping Princess Diana deal with her bulimia.
"I was consumed by cocaine, booze, and who knows what else," he wrote in his 2012 memoir, admitting some residual guilt about his past behaviour.
"I'm making up for it," he writes, resolutely. "There is so much more to be done."
Rocketman hits cinemas on May 30
For crisis support, Lifeline provides a 24/7 line, as well as online resources on a range of issues affect both men and women. Call 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.
Nathan Jolly is a Sydney-based writer who specialises in pop culture, music history, true crime and true romance. Follow him on Twitter @nathanjolly