Saturday night’s alright for retiring.
July 8 will mark the last stop on Sir Elton John’s five-year-long Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. When he waves goodbye to his Swedish fans at Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena, he will have concluded 53 years as a traveling musical performer. While it’s impossible to imagine that he never will play in public again, the 76-year-old rock ’n’ roll god says that his days of racing from city to city to buoy crowd after crowd will conclude at the weekend. (READ MORE from Deroy Murdock: Elton John Scores Career-Capping Grand Slam at Final US Performance)
And, next Sunday, he will rest.
With any luck, however, Sir Elton will be back on stage on Sept. 18. If all goes well, his incredible career will garner its ultimate accolade at the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards. Thousands of Sir Elton’s musical colleagues and millions of his fans hope that if Disney+’s Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium is nominated on July 12, it will win Outstanding Variety Special (Live).
With such an Emmy, Sir Elton would become an EGOT by attaining at least one Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Only 18 individuals have entered this pantheon. Most are household names. Others excelled backstage and enjoyed their glory from the wings. They are:
- Composer and producer Richard Rodgers, who went EGOT in 1962
- Actress Helen Hayes (1977)
- Actress, singer, and dancer Rita Moreno (1977)
- Actor and director John Gielgud (1991)
- Actress Audrey Hepburn (1994)
- Composer Marvin Hamlisch (1995)
- Orchestrator, arranger, and composer Jonathan Tunick (1997)
- Writer, director, songwriter, and actor Mel Brooks (2001)
- Director Mike Nichols (2001)
- Actress and producer Whoopi Goldberg (2002)
- Producer Scott Rudin (2012)
- Composer Robert Lopez (2014)
- Composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber (2018)
- Lyricist, librettist, and producer Tim Rice (2018)
- Singer, composer, and producer John Legend (2018)
- Composer and producer Alan Menken (2020)
- Singer, actress, and producer Jennifer Hudson (2022)
- Actress and producer Viola Davis (2023)
While EGOT status would cement Sir Elton’s spot at the entertainment industry’s zenith, his résumé already is a Rose Parade of accolades and superlatives.
Sir Elton earned his first Grammy for “That’s What Friends Are For” in 1987 and then won five more, including a 1999 Grammy Legend Award. He took home his first of two Best Original Song Oscars in 1994; his second was in 2019 for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from his superb and underappreciated biopic, Rocketman. He secured a Tony in 2000 for the score of Aida.
“Elton’s career achievements to date are unsurpassed in their breadth and longevity,” Disney+ states in its jaw-dropping “About Elton John” bio sketch. “In the UK and US charts alone he has 1 diamond, 32 platinum or multi-platinum, and 21 gold albums as well as over 70 Top 40 hits. He has sold more than 300 million records worldwide.”
Sir Elton’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” is history’s best-selling single, with 33 million copies purchased. In August 2018, he became the Billboard Hot 100 chart’s most successful male solo artist ever, with 70 Billboard Hot 100 singles, including 28 Top 10 titles and nine No. 1 hits.
He consistently has graced entertainment’s commanding heights since before disco.
“Elton became the first ever solo artist to score a UK Top 10 hit single in 6 consecutive decades,” Disney+ notes. “In America, Elton John holds the record for longest span between Billboard top 40 hits at 50 years.”
Sir Elton has played some 4,000 concerts since his first tour, in 1970. On Jan. 30, Billboard Boxscore declared Farewell Yellow Brick Road the highest-grossing tour ever, with $817.9 million in ticket sales and, at that time, 278 shows. He has kept playing since then and still is on the road.
But wait. There’s more.
Sir Elton is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and holds a Kennedy Center Honor. The late Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his musical contributions and “charitable services,” not least launching the Elton John AIDS Foundation and raising $515 million to fight HIV/AIDS.
He deserves a break today.
Two months after retiring as a touring performer, Sir Elton’s EGOT distinction would be profoundly merited, a career capstone, and so much more meaningful than a gold watch — of which he surely has at least one too many.
Last November’s three Dodger Stadium shows returned Sir Elton to the scene of one of his first milestones. The pair of sold-out concerts that he played there in October 1975 confirmed his place at the apex of popular music.
As he stepped onstage in a sequin-covered Dodger uniform (a Bob Mackie original!), Elton already had five No. 1 albums under his belt. His then-latest LPs — the brand-new Rock of the Westies and its predecessor, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy — both premiered at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, a first such one-two punch. His powerhouse performance in the ballpark’s center field electrified his audience and branded him, beyond any doubt, a superstar.
Just five years earlier, Elton first touched down in America in August 1970, for his six-night run at Doug Weston’s Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood. The Los Angeles Times’ rock critic, Robert Hilburn, witnessed Elton’s groundbreaking first show, lovingly depicted in Rocketman. His glowing review put a searing spotlight on Elton, age 23, as a “new rock talent” to watch.
A shining, early example of the otherworldly skills of Elton and his lifelong lyricist Bernie Taupin was their incredibly moving and mature first hit “Your Song.” They opened their careers with this tune, worthy of a track on an eighth or 10th LP, rather than the eponymous Elton John album, their first U.S. release and second ever, after 1969’s British title Empty Sky.
The rest is rock ’n’ roll history.
Sir Elton’s triumphant return to Dodger Stadium created a beautiful pair of bookends, with his first and final American concerts in Los Angeles — nine miles and 52 years apart.
“It’s so important for me to leave on a high note,” Sir Elton told members of the Television Academy at a March 13 replay of this live-streamed program. ”Giving the best that you possibly can to the people that have supported you day in and day out for years. That was my brief to myself. I think we pulled it off. I’m really happy. I’m so critical of myself, but I just couldn’t see any fault.”
I immensely enjoyed Sir Elton’s Dodger Stadium finale, which I was fortunate to attend. That warm, autumn evening — the Sunday before last Thanksgiving — dazzled from start to finish. The showman and his band, stage crew, lighting professionals, and other craftsmen all delivered exquisitely.
The audience played hard. They sang all the words, danced in the aisles, and wore fabulous costumes. That starry, starry night could not have been more impressive.
But what about the actual livestream production, Disney+’s first?
While Sir Elton soared on stage, director Paul Dugdale cooked in the control room. His sparklingly clear 4K cameras glided smoothly among the band, throughout the audience, and along cables that swung throughout Dodger Stadium. Overhead, a helicopter and drones with high-resolution lenses hovered around Chavez Ravine and glimpsed downtown L.A., its glistening skyline, and southern California as it shimmered from the desert to the sea.
The result? A visual marvel that was colorful and exciting, with the speakers on and even off. (I confirmed this hypothesis via my HDTV during “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” my 24th favorite of the 24 tunes on the hit-rich set list.) The close-ups of the Man of the Hour often appeared through wisps of theatrical smoke, giving the festivities the occasional and unexpected texture of an evening at the Blue Note or Village Vanguard.
Dugdale placed a small camera at the far end of Sir Elton’s Yamaha piano. This yielded frequent shots of his joyous face and its upside-down reflection on the instrument’s well-lacquered lid. Cameras at wrist-level and from an eagle’s perspective captured Sir Elton’s fingers as he pounded chords and tapped grace notes.
To my astonishment, as I watched this extravaganza on Saturday afternoon via YouTube, I found myself in tears. I am so incredibly proud of the over-achieving Sir Elton John. He is a monumental artist, an abundantly generous humanitarian, and an oddly humble soul for someone so flamboyant.
He expressed deeply touching words on stage about Aretha Franklin, his late bass player Dee Murray, and other living and departed greats with whom he has crossed paths or dedicated years on the road. “I’ve learned a lot from each and every one of them,” he told his followers.
I have loved this man and his music since I discovered my Aunt Dana’s copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and played it on my maternal grandparents’ Hi-Fi console 50 years ago. I never have met Elton John, but watching this program and recalling our half-century relationship as gifted star and devoted fan made me gently weep.
That is Emmy-worthy television.