The Story of Elton John’s 1975 Suicide Attempt
With a new album, Rock of the Westies, on the way, a pair of sold-out shows at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium and a week in that city named in his honor, the end of October 1975 should have been celebratory for Elton John.
Instead, the trappings of fame caught up with him, and he tried to escape it all with a suicide attempt.
"As friends and family lounged by the pool at Elton's Benedict Canyon home, [John] appeared in a terrycloth robe and announced, 'I have taken 85 Valiums. I shall die within the hour,'" Elizabeth Rosenthal wrote in His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John. "He threw himself into the water, then struggled to come to the surface. [Guitarist] Caleb Quaye later remembered the arrival of an emergency medical team to pump the pianist's stomach."
"It was stress," John said in 2010. "I’d been working nonstop for five years. But it was typical me. There was no way I was going to kill myself doing that. And, of course, my grandmother came out with the perfect line: 'I suppose we’ve all got to go home now.'
"And then 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."
A large part of it, he admitted, was that the lavish lifestyle -- with all the drugs and alcohol and flamboyant outfits -- of the Elton Hercules John persona he had created was light years removed from the shy suburban London boy known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight.
"I would only know how to be 'Elton,'” he said. "I wouldn’t know how to live offstage. There was no balance in my life. ... The self-loathing I had, 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. And 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 fucking horrible. You look back and think, How on earth could I have done that? But I did.’
In an eerie coincidence, John had a hit earlier in the year -- his seventh consecutive Top 10 and 10th consecutive single to reach at least gold status -- with "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Bernie Taupin's lyrics were reportedly inspired by another suicide attempt by John, in 1968, when he was a struggling songwriter and unhappily engaged. Taupin, John and his fiancee were all living together in an apartment in East London at the time.
Listen to Elton John's 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight'
"Bernie walked in on Elton trying to commit suicide when he was about to marry a woman named Linda Woodrow," David Buckley wrote in Elton: The Biography. "Elton had stuck his head in the oven. But Bernie couldn't stop laughing. Elton had set the gas on low with all the windows open. What's more, he was resting his head on a pillow."
The "someone" and "sugar bear" referenced in the song's lyrics are believed to be Long John Baldry, the singer in John's early band Bluesology who convinced John to break off the engagement and focus on his music career.