Elton John announced his retirement from touring at a press conference on Wednesday. But unlike fellow music legend Neil Diamond, who declared his own retirement two days earlier, John’s road resignation isn’t effective immediately: He’s heading out on a three-year, 300-gig “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour that will begin Sept. 8 in Allentown, Penn. and wrap up back in the U.S. some time in 2021.
Speaking with Anderson Cooper in New York, he made it clear that doctors’ checkups had nothing to do with his decision. “In the press today — in England, of course — they said I’m retiring because of ill health,” said John, referring to news stories anticipating the announcement. “And if you’re up to do 300 shows, you’re not in ill health. You’re in great health. Listen, last year I picked up an infection in America and I was very ill for seven weeks and it knocked me sideways, but I still did 96 shows last year.”
The decision was made two years ago, John said, based primarily on thinking about his two children. “By the time the tour finishes I’ll be 74, and there’ll be so much more for me to do creatively, but it won’t be touring,” he said. “This was decided in 2015 in the south of France when we said, ‘Listen, I can’t go on forever.’… [Husband] David [Furnish] and I sat down with a school schedule, and I thought, I don’t want to miss too much of this… When I stop, they’re going to be 10 and 8, and that’s a very important time of their lives. I see them a lot anyway. But I love them so much. I don’t want to miss them and I don’t want them to miss me.”
And, John emphasized, there won’t be any I-didn’t-really-mean-farewell-tour in years to follow. “I want to do it in a classy, elegant way,” he said. “I’m not going to be one of these people that says, ‘I’m going to do a world tour, and then I’m retiring’,” and not follow through. “I’m not Cher,” he added, to titters. “Even though I like wearing her clothes. So this is the end.”
He’s not vowing to never perform on concert again after 2021, but John was very specific about the limited form that might take. “If I do live shows ever again,” he said, “I would imagine it would be something like a residency, like Kate Bush did at the Hammersmith Apollo; she did three weeks. I don’t want to travel. I won’t be going back to Europe; I will not be going back to Australia or Asia or South America, and probably not America.”
Meanwhile, there’ll be no retirement from record-making. “I definitely want to make a couple more albums, but that will be easy, because I can do that at home. I’ll be writing more musicals. My sons are beginning to play soccer, and they’re quite serious about it. I want to take them to the proper places where they can learn to play well. I want to spend time with our photography collection. Who knows? When I got sober, they said what are you going to do with your spare time when you get sober?… I’m not worried about stopping. Believe me, I’m really looking forward to doing this tour, and I‘m really looking forward to the 300th date.”
The presentation in Manhattan, as well as satellite-fed events in Los Angeles and London, began with press attendees donning virtual reality headsets to witness a six-minute animated retrospective of John’s career, including recreations of his star-is-born moment at the Troubadour (where the L.A. event was held) and a sequence that put the audience on stage with him at Dodger Stadium. The VR portion led an audience member to ask if this presaged a future in which he might go on in hologram form.
John laughed about being “a Luddite” with no personal interest in VR… or even much more basic entertainment tech. “I’ve never downloaded anything in my life. Not even porn,” he declared.
“Do you have somebody else do that for you?” quipped Cooper.
“You were good at that for a while,” John quipped back.
But there’ll be no virtual tour… at least as long as he’s alive. “I said to Zachary, my eldest son, ‘When daddy dies, promise me that there won’t be a hologram of me going around the world doing concerts.’ That’s the last thing I want. It’s like doing a duet album with somebody who’s dead. Frank Sinatra did one, Elvis is doing one. Who knows? [The children] may go broke and then put me back on the f—ing stage, I don’t know! But I think that’s a bit freaky.”
John spoke at length about the importance of staying home with his kids in years to come. “There is no word in the English dictionary to describe the love you have for a child,” he said. “I never thought I could be a father. I always said, no, I’m too selfish, too set in my ways.” That changed after he and Furnish went to an orphanage in Ukraine in conjunction with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, “and a little boy came up to me and I carried him around for an hour and a half. We tried to adopt him and it was impossible. But… it was like a message from God or somewhere saying, ‘You can be a dad. Bullshit. Change is good. Stop being so selfish.’ What was I going to be?Two gay men going around the world just having a great life? And we’ve been able to give these two little gorgeous people a great life so far. And I never imagined in a million years that would ever happen to me. You can never close the door on anything. Apart from, I’m not going to trans… what do they call it?”
“You’re not going to transition?” filled in Cooper. “Okay!”
Back on a serious note, John brought up the retirement of Diamond, who’d played emcee at his most fateful club appearance in 1970. “He introduced me off his own back at the Troubadour because he loved my record, and he was a huge star then, and he’s a huge star now. And I know that he’s said he’s not going to tour anymore because he has Parkinson’s disease. I’m going to contact him personally, but I would like to say publicly that I love him and I can’t thank him enough for what he did to me at that time in my career.”
John won’t be getting in too long a stretch of rest before he begins the three-year tour in September: He still has a Las Vegas residency, which will wrap up May 19.
Tickets for the farewell tour — which includes stops at Madison Square Garden Oct. 18-19 and L.A.’s Staples Center next Jan. 22-23 — will be available via a credit card pre-sale Thursday and a general sale Feb. 2.