The world views Elton as a music legend, but Elton says he sees himself as something else entirely. "I see myself as someone who's taken a long time to get where I am personally," he says. "I've got now balance in my life, where the first 30 years of my success—or maybe 20 years of my success—I had a great time and then I took a lot of drugs, drank a lot of alcohol and lost my way."
Elton says he was inspired to seek sobriety by a very special person, Ryan White, the Indiana teen who was infected with HIV after a blood transfusion. He died in 1990 at age 18. "I was at his funeral, and I spent the last week of his life in Indianapolis with [his mom] Jeanne and his family," he says. "The way they handled themselves pointed out to myself that ... I hadn't become the person I wanted to be."
"There's so many artists that we can look through the history books [at] and say, 'God, they were so brilliant onstage and then they had so many problems off,'" he says. "I became one of those people."
Six months after Ryan's death, Elton says he checked into a Chicago hospital to detox. "It's been 20 years this year," he says. "[It was] the best six weeks I ever did for myself. Then all things happened for me—The Lion King happened. [Elton's partner] David happened. We formed our own movie company. The charity—the Elton John AIDS Foundation."