Iconic Spotlight : Elton John, by Terry O’Neill

“There are only a few people I’d call a genius. Frank Sinatra was a genius. Bowie certainly was. And Elton John, in my opinion, will be regarded as one in the same breath as Beethoven. You can’t think of Elton John as just a showman—and he is a showman, an incredible one at that. But as a composer, songwriter, singer and piano player, his music will live on for hundreds of years.”

Elton John

Terry O’Neill first met Elton John through the radio. “It was the early 1970s and the newspapers and magazines were always asking me who was going to be the ‘next big thing’. By this time, remember, The Beatles were retired and the ’60s were over. The papers needed the new celebrities, the new singers who would take the mantle. I turned on the radio one day and heard ‘Take Me to the Pilot’ and thought, ‘Who is this new American singer?’ Little did I know that when I tracked down this singer, he’d be an English chap named Reg Dwight. I went over to his flat on Edgware Road and photographed him. He was really great and was fooling around doing his Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation, leaping up and down on the piano. From that first meeting, we’ve been good friends and I have the most tremendous respect for him.”

Elton John

O’Neill followed John almost anywhere. From recording studio shots to stage performances, tour plane to portraits, O’Neill’s more than forty-year relationship with Elton John has been well documented vis-à-vis his camera. “I have no idea how many photos I have of Elton John. Thousands. And when you start looking at them, it’s like looking at the visual evolution of a superstar. I have candids and set-up shots, at home and at work. Elton was always kind to me and allowed me unprecedented access to his life and work.”

A shared passion of Elton and O’Neill's was football. “People forget that Elton John was not only a football fan—I have shots of all of us playing a bit of football at Dodger Stadium—but he actually became a club chairman in 1976.” Elton John, a lifelong Watford supporter, grew up watching his local team from the terraces and when he reached superstardom level, was not only a very high-profile supporter, but served for a time as a member of the Board of Directors and most notably Chairman. “Elton was Watford’s biggest and most famous fan. So when he attended the games, it was an event. But he wanted to go as a fan—he was a true fan before the fame—and I’d often go with him. Who would turn down a ticket to a football match?”

 

Elton John
Elton John
Elton John

“Arguably John’s most famous concert was his incredible two-day performance in October 1975, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. More than 100,000 people were there and I was the official photographer. I ran around those two days like crazy—trying to get every imaginable shot and angle and Elton was on true form. People forget how big Elton John was in 1975—he was having number one hits, number one albums, selling out stadiums. I look back on those days—and all the times I worked with Elton—as some of the most memorable moments of my career. To have that sort of close relationship between photographer and subject, well, it just doesn’t happen that way anymore. Today, everything is too controlled. Then, we were all just working hard and tried to have a bit of fun when we could.”

Pre-order 'Elton John by Terry O'Neill: The definitive portrait, with unseen images' now.

filter search results by