How Elton John redeemed self from 'disgusting' past

Fri Aug 3, 2012 3:35pm EDT
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By Terry Moseley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 20 years ago singer-songwriter Elton John was, by his own admission, living a disgusting life of self-pity and drug abuse. Then he met Ryan White.

White was an American teenager who in 1984 contracted the virus that causes AIDS through a blood transfusion due to his hemophilia. He was expelled from school because of fear of the disease and became a vocal advocate of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

White died in April 1990 at the age of 18, but not before he had blazed a trail that would change the lives of thousands of people, and thousands more who came after his death, including the star piano player who befriended him.

"I used to sit in front of my CD player and listen ... and cry my eyes out, thinking, 'I'm a decent person, why can't I get well? Why can't I get better? I'm living the most disgusting life, I've no values anymore,'" John told Reuters in a recent interview.

"(Now), I'm the luckiest person in the world and it's all because one young boy and his family showed me what they were doing was right and what I was doing was disgusting."

John recently published his first book, "Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS," which is less autobiography and more an accounting of how far society and medicine have come in dealing with the disease and how far they still have to go.

But the book does recount details of the 65-year-old performer's own life and his addiction to cocaine and alcohol. He said the overall theme is of salvation -- his, as well as that of others whose worlds can be changed with a little compassion.

John has recorded mega-hits like "Candle in the Wind," won Grammys, an Oscar and a Tony. But he said White, his mother and sister had a more profound impact on him than musical glory.   Continued...

Musician Elton John delivers the keynote speech at the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington July 23, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque