Elton John: On Those He’s Lost To AIDS

Today, the Advocate brought readers an excerpt from Elton John’s new memoir–in it, he writes extensively about how his life was transformed by the AIDS epidemic throughout the 1980s. The passages are touching, sobering, moving–and, well, just plain emotional. And timely, considering AIDS Walk is right around the corner. In our next issue, we’ll be hearing from members of our community–about why they walk, about what drives them. Consider Elton’s words a warm up of sorts:

“Ryan was not the first friend I lost to AIDS, and he was not the last. So many have been taken from me by this disease—sixty, seventy, eighty, I honestly don’t know how many. I’d rather not count. But I never want to forget them.

That’s why I have a chapel in my home in Windsor, in an old orangery on the property. It’s where I go to remember the people in my life who touched me, who made me the person I am today. When I go inside it’s like stepping back in time. I’m flooded with sadness and warmth.

Pictures adorn the walls. My grandmother. Princess Diana. Gianni Versace. Guy Babylon, the amazing keyboard player I lost to a heart attack in 2009. Then there’s another wall, full of plaques that list name after name after name. People who, in my memory, are frozen in time as young, vibrant, and full of life. None of them are here anymore. They all died of AIDS.

These were close friends, lovers, and people who worked for me. Many of them died in the 1980s, wiped out by a cruel and relentless plague. The first person I knew who died of AIDS was my manager’s assistant, Neil Carter. He was a lovely young man, and I was distraught when I learned he had the disease. Three weeks later, he was dead. His was the first plaque I placed in my chapel.

Today, AIDS in the West is increasingly thought of as just another chronic condition that can be controlled with medication. We see people like Magic Johnson living long and healthy lives, and we wouldn’t know they had such a terrible disease unless they told us. Thank heaven for that.

But when you got AIDS in the ’80s, you died—quickly and horribly.

The physical depredations of AIDS were bad enough. Then there was the terrible indignity that AIDS visited on the infected: the shame and the stigma.

Very early on, there were far too many in the media, religious institutions, governments, and the general public who sent an unmistakable message to people with AIDS: We do not care about you.

They were made to feel that they had somehow brought the disease upon themselves through their own sinfulness or lack of virtue.”

Want to read more? Check out the rest of the story here.