Oprah Winfrey often gets the most surprising and frank admissions out of her guests, and Elton John was no different. When she talked to him in 1997, he told her about a “turning point” in his life. And what made it particularly intriguing was that it involved another superstar from the rock world: Elvis Presley.
In 1976 John was arguably at his creative peak, with smash hit albums such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Caribou behind him. And it wasn’t only the listening public who adored him; critics too lined up to praise the British singer. The fame and fortune came at a price, though. John’s extensive misuse of cocaine had led to an overdose in the previous year, and his struggles with his weight would continue for years.
In June 1976 John took his mom Sheila to see Elvis Presley in concert in Washington, D.C.. It was a big occasion for John since Presley had been his hero as a kid, and he’d imagined himself as a superstar when listening to The King’s hits. He could remember the first time his mom had played “Heartbreak Hotel,” and it had been a revelation. But the Elvis of the 1950s was long gone.
As John recalled in an interview with Tom Doyle for the book Captain Fantastic, the rock legend had not been able even to perform “Heartbreak Hotel,” since it wasn’t on his pre-rehearsed set list. Even so, John’s feelings were mixed, as he noted to Doyle. He said, “It was someone who was in a complete drug haze giving nylon scarves away to these fans. And yet it was still, in a way, magical.”
But seeing Presley in such a bad state hit home with John. He realized that he was in danger of following a similar path. The Brit told Oprah, “In the end, there were pictures of me, when I look at them and I think, ‘Oh my God.’ You know? You turn into Elvis,” he said. “You just shut your door, and you gain[ed] weight, and you did this, and you did that, and you didn’t care how you were, and it’s very easy to do that.” At that point, though, three words came to mind, and they were John’s salvation. Those words were, “I need help.”