Reginald Kenneth Dwight born in Pinner, England on March 25, 1947. Even at an early age, he knew he loved music. After listening to Elvis Presley, he decided he wanted to become a musician too.
With the help of a scholarship, he entered the Royal Academy of Music at age eleven. Even though his father considered a career in music an outrageous and unacceptable choice- he would not be swayed.
He worked as a pianist in a pub, formed bands with friends and performed solo at local hotels. By 1962, he signed with Dick James Music, the same publisher utilized by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In 1970, he released what would become his first top track, “Your Song.”
On December 6th, 1971 Ryan White was born. He had hemophilia—which means that he’s at risk for life-threatening internal bleeding. His transfusions of factor 8, the treatment for hemophilia, are from pools of donor blood.
Reginald was clearly talented, but there was a problem of image. He was slightly pudgy and his hair seemed to take on a life of its own. He needed a way to compete with the handsome rock stars of the time.
So he changed his name…his apparel..and his glasses. On May 7th, 1972 Reginald Kenneth Dwight became Elton Hercules John.
He’s always been good at the piano but he wants something to make him memorable. Elton dons coats with sequined labels and pearl embellishments, wears shiny track suits and silk kimonos. And he picks out wacky glasses, lots of them.
The costumes do the job…he’s remembered.
By the late 1970’s the HIV epidemic has started. It is believed to have originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a virus transmitted from chimpanzees to humans.
Elton John rises to fame with songs like: Levon, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie and the Jets…really, I could go on for a long time but you get the idea.
HIV has spread to 5 continents by 1980 and that includes North America. By 1981, a rare lung infection called Pneumocystis cabrini pneumonia is diagnosed in five gay men in Los Angeles and gay men in New York and California were coming down with an aggressive cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma. By the end of 1981, 121 gay men died as a result of their severe immune deficiency.
By 1982, the CDC uses the term AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Ryan White is diagnosed in 1984. By this point, 3,665 people have already died.
Ryan is forbidden to return to middle school due to fears that the deadly virus could be transmitted by casual contact. Ryan loses his newspaper route when no one wants to touch the papers that he’s delivering. The little boy is shunned and taunted for an infection that will ultimately kill him.
The news displays dramatic photos of the afflicted men. Their deep sunken eyes and emaciation are reminiscent of Holocaust victims. Their demise appears imminent... and the fear of this infection becomes wide-spread.
Elton John achieves fame but finds that it doesn’t fulfill him in the manner he expected. He suffers from depression and his life soon revolves around drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.
Without intending to, Ryan becomes a spokesperson for the AID epidemic. While some churches were declaring that AIDS was God’s curse on the homosexual life and IV drug abusers, Ryan disagreed saying that "AIDS is an infectious disease, nothing more, and it had the power to infect and harm any human being unfortunate enough to have contracted it.” Ryan White is successful in shifting the public’s perception about AIDS, he fought back against the discrimination and hatred with patience and grace.
Elton John noticed what was happening.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Elton John’s excessive lifestyle put him at considerable risk for AIDS but ultimately, he was spared and instead an innocent boy...who just wanted to go back to his school and classmates, was infected.
Elton John was moved by Ryan’s attempts to educate about AIDS and desire to fix the national blood supply so that it was adequately screened for the virus. (One doctor who treated hemophilia stated that he lost every single one of his patients to AIDS during the epidemic) He reached out to Ryan and his mother, arranging private tours and a trip to Disneyland. Elton John consider Ryan White his friend.
In 1987, Elton John abandoned his wild and flamboyant lifestyle (but not his wardrobe!)
On April 8, 1990, Ryan White dies of AIDS…with Elton John at his side. Shortly after, Elton checked into a rehab center for alcohol, substance abuse and bulimia.
Elton John established the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. It raises 400 million dollars to prevent future infections and provide treatments for those affected.
In 2010, Elton John writes a letter to the dead little boy who inspired him to change his life.
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