As Elton John’s lover in the early 1970s, John Reid was witness to the arrival of one of the world’s greatest entertainers. As John’s manager for 28 years, Reid amassed a fortune that he would often, like John, reportedly lavish on trinkets, travel, clothing, and homes.
Reid is featured prominently in the big screen musical fantasy Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton as John and Richard Madden as Reid. (Reid was also portrayed by Aidan Gillen in the 2018 Queen and Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, due to his management of the British rock group in the mid-seventies.)
Reid says he 'wasn't enthusiastic' when John asked him to be his manager
Born September 9, 1949, Reid grew up in the Scottish town of Paisley which borders Glasgow to the east. The son of a welder and a shop worker, he reportedly attended Stow College in Glasgow for a short time before striking out for London in 1967. At age 18 Reid entered the music business as a promoter for EMI. By age 19 he was managing the Tamla Motown label for the U.K., and it was at a company Christmas party that 21-year-old Reid met 23-year-old John.
Their professional partnership would last 28 years with Reid being present for John’s career hitting stratospheric heights, often as his personal life hit deep lows due to the performer’s alcohol and drug use, marriage and divorce to Renate Blauel, the forging and continuation of his partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin, lawsuits, and loves lost and found.
“When I met Elton, I didn’t even realize his potential,” Reid is quoted as saying in Scotland’s Daily Record. “I’ve never claimed to have discovered him. In fact, when he suggested I should manage him, I wasn’t enthusiastic.” When Reid accepted the job of becoming John’s manager at Dick James Music, the couple were already living together.
Reid and John were each other's 'first great' loves
“[Elton] was my first great love and I was his,” Reid said, according to the Scottish Daily Mail. Their first sexual encounter is portrayed in Rocketman, with John saying at the U.K. premiere of the film that when he and Reid “tear their clothes off in the movie, that was how it happened. It was in San Francisco.” John also revealed he was “a virgin until then. I was desperate to be loved, desperate to have a tactile relationship.”
Their relationship as lovers lasted from 1970 until 1975. It was one of the most prolific music periods for John as he delivered numerous international hits including “Your Song,” “Daniel,” “Candle in the Wind,” and “Rocket Man.” His persona on- and off-stage grew and his outfits became more flamboyant. “The vast leaps in style were exhausting,” Reid has said of the period. “He would go out one day with brown hair and return the next with pink.”
According to Reid, the relationship ended because Elton had “never had a sexual adolescence. He needed to go off and play the field, which he did with gusto… There were no dramas.”
After their relationship ended, Reid continued to be John's manager
Reid would remain in John’s life – and as his business manager – until 1998. Over the decades the two became wealthy due to John’s recording and touring successes. Both men spent big on sports cars, yachts, jewelry, and property, with Reid reportedly owning multiple homes at one point. Reid managed Queen from 1975 to 1978, as well as other acts including Bros, Kiki Dee, Lionel Richie, Billy Connelly, and Michael Flatley.
Though it was not public knowledge at the time that the two were lovers, as a couple they made headlines in the seventies. Reid was sentenced to a month in prison in New Zealand in 1974 for knocking a journalist to the floor of a nightclub. He was also reportedly arrested in San Francisco in 1979 after hitting a hotel doorman with his cane after they argued over a waiting car parked outside for John. Reid allegedly beat another journalist the day after John’s wedding to Blauel in Sydney, Australia in 1984.
Like John, Reid would struggle with drugs and alcohol and in 1991 checked into the same recovery clinic John had stayed at when he got sober in 1990. “Elton called me regularly. He was a tower of strength,” Reid told the Daily Record. But unlike John, Reid would relapse and continue to struggle with alcohol.
John says that Reid 'betrayed' him financially and sued his former manager
Professionally, their relationship ended in 1998, the same year John’s auditors discovered a reported £20 million gap in his accounts. Two years later they would be facing each other in court, this time on opposing sides with John suing accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Andrew Haydon, director of John Reid Enterprises, claiming negligence and breach of duty. “I trusted him,” John said of Reid in court. “I never thought he would betray me but he has betrayed me.”
Reid had already paid the “Crocodile Rock” singer a reported £3.4 million in an out of court settlement before the court ruled against John.
The very public disintegration of their relationship also caused collateral damage in the form of an estrangement between John and his mother, Sheila Farebrother, who publicly blamed the split of the former friends and lovers on the advent of John’s partner David Furnish into the group, and John’s eventual insistence she cut ties with Reid and John’s former chauffeur Bob Halley. “I had no intention of dropping John and Bob and I told Elton so,” Farebrother said to the Daily Mail in 2015, the same year mother and son would eventually reconcile. Farebrother died in 2017 at age 92.
Reid and John no longer speak
Reid continued in the music business until reportedly retiring in 1999, a year after divesting himself of an art collection allegedly worth £2 million. He was a judge on the Australian version of The X Factor in 2005 and has since lived a quiet life out of the public eye.
“I’m fond of Elton and proud of the work we did together,” Reid is reported to have said in the mid-2010s. “One day I’ll bump into him and there may be hugs and kisses. Or maybe not.”
Though featured in two of the biggest music industry-based films of 2018 and 2019, to date Reid has never surfaced to publicly discuss how he is portrayed in, or comment on, either Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman. His current whereabouts are unknown, though reports list him as living in Australia or London.