Today, Sir Elton John is music royalty, as well as a husband, father and a passionate voice in the AIDS movement. But he says a portion of his life was “wasted” to addiction. With a new memoir coming out, the British singer-songwriter, 65, has been telling Today’s Matt Lauer about his epic battle with drugs and alcohol, and the challenges of getting clean—after losing some of his closet friends to the diseases of addiction and AIDS. “I wasted such a big part of my life. I was a drug addict and self-absorbed,” he says, confessing that he feels “guilty” for being “consumed by cocaine, booze, and who knows what else” while the gay community was plagued in the ’80s by the AIDS epidemic. “I apparently never got the memo that the me generation had ended,” he says—but apparently the memo has been gotten now. Since getting sober, John has founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation and raised over $275 million to fight the disease, saying he’s “making up for” his past, but “there is so much more to be done.” He calls himself “the luckiest man in the world” for surviving years of reckless behavior and escaping HIV-free, because “when you take a drug and you take a drink and you mix those two together, you think you’re invincible.”
It’s not the first time the singer has opened up about his addictions. In 2010, he told Piers Morgan that he nearly died from drug and alcohol abuse, suffering drug-induced seizures, and also struggling with bulimia. “This is how bleak it was,” he recalled. “I’d stay up, I’d smoke joints, I’d drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker and then I’d stay up for three days. And then I’d go to sleep for a day and a half… That is how tragic my life was.” Now sober for years—and with over 250 million record sales making him one of the most successful artists of all time—he leads a relatively quite life, raising his first son with partner David Furnish.