"Still Standing": Sir Elton John talks stellar career and farewell tour

The music icon is being celebrated by the Grammys with a star-studded tribute concert.

CBS News

Music icon Sir Elton John has nine number one hits, five Grammys, an Oscar and a Tony. He's toured the world for nearly five decades and performed more than 4,000 shows.

But the 71-year-old "rocket man" has decided home is where his heart is. He recently announced he will stop touring after a three-year farewell tour.

He was recently honored by the Recording Academy with a tribute concert. "Elton John: I'm Still Standing - A Grammy Salute" airs April 10 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on CBS. 

"I've seen you in concert at least six times," said "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King, "and the thing that gives me pleasure is watching how much pleasure you get out of performing for us."

"I don't know how to describe it. But when you go home after the show, you don't go straight to sleep because it's so exciting," John said. "It's the contact you have with an audience, and the joy you get back from them."

For nearly 50 years, John has been giving and getting that joy. The only thing louder than John's rockin' piano? His outfits!

"Sitting at a piano, I wanted to be flamboyant because I wasn't Mick Jagger, I wasn't Rod Stewart, I wasn't Freddie Mercury or Marc Bolan or any of those guys," he said. "I was having so much fun."

"So, was it really your way of just standing out?"

"Yeah," he said. "It was me, I was trying to be funny, I was trying to be the real me. This was the real me, the flamboyant me."

"In the '70s where you just had hit after hit after hit, and you were larger than life, were you happy during that time?"

"I was very happy during the first five or six years because we were doing what we loved. I mean, we put out an enormous amount of product, two albums a year, plus separate singles, plus different B-sides, we toured."

The "we" he's referring to is his longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin. If there's an Elton John song you love, it's a sure bet Bernie wrote the words you know; Elton wrote the tune you hum.

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Elton John's record label paired him with lyricist Bernie Taupin in the last 1960s. "He became the brother I never had," John told Anthony Mason in 2016. CBS News

John said, "The way we write is random. We don't write in the same room; we've never 'collaborated' over a song, really."

"You're never in the same room?"

"No. He gives me a lyric, I go away, and I write the song in another room and come back and play it to him. And in that way, it's kept everything fresh. And I think it's the secret of our success -- we trust each other. And you know, we've never had an argument in 50 years."

"How is that possible?" King asked. "To do what you do and work as closely as you do and never have an argument?"

"I don't know! That's remarkable in this business, for people who are creative partners, not to have a disagreement even."

"Elton, most marriages don't have that."

"No -- no marriages have that!" he laughed.

Elton John - Your Song (Live at Queen's Diamond Jubilee) by Elton John on YouTube

King asked, "Is there a backstory behind 'Your Song'?"

"Not really; I just sat there and I read it through and I thought, 'God, this is so great, I can't mess it up.' 'Cause it's a beautiful lyric for an 18-year-old to write. And when I played it to him, we both realized at that time, we may have a good future here. This is a good song!

"And I've sung that song practically, I'm sure, every performance that I've ever made, and it's never gotten old."

"Are there some Elton John songs that you go, 'God, I don't wanna play that again'?"

"Yeah, of course, 'Crocodile Rock' and stuff like that," he said. "But it's such a crowd-pleaser."

John's biggest song is "Candle in the Wind." It's a song originally about Marilyn Monroe, but re-written about his friend Princess Diana.

Elton John - Candle in the Wind/Goodbye England's Rose (Live at Princess Diana's Funeral - 1997) by Philip Anness on YouTube

Elton has performed it only once, at Diana's funeral. And the song is the bestselling non-holiday single of all time.

It's that kind of legacy that inspired the Grammys to present him with a concert salute, with artists like Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga all paying tribute.

Elton John: I'm Still Standing: a GRAMMY Salute (Sneak Peek 4) by CBS on YouTube

King asked, "There's something about you that sees other young artists and you reach out to them. Why?"

"Because when I was becoming successful, people reached out to me," he replied. "George Harrison sent me a telegram, Neil Diamond introduced me on the first night at the Troubadour Club. People were extremely kind to me, and told me, and that was a validation of my work. And I think when young people have talent, I love to phone them up and say, 'Come on, well done!'"

Earlier this year, John announced that his next tour -- "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" -- would be his last. He wants to spend more time at home with his husband David, and their two sons, Zachary and Elijah.

"It's not a contest; I'd rather be with my boys," he said.

When asked if he ever foresaw becoming a father, John said, "Gayle, ten years ago, if you'd have told me that this is what would be happening to me now, I'd have said, 'You put acid in my drink and this is all crazy.' No, of course not. My life has been a series of things that have happened to me, and I've just gone with it."