“Nobody asked me,” John recalled of the years leading up to the moment when he finally told a journalist that he was indeed gay. “When Cliff Jahr asked me in Rolling Stone, ‘I’m gonna ask you a question, but if you don’t want to answer it, I’m gonna turn the tape recorder off.’ And I said, ‘You’re gonna ask me if I’m gay or not.’ And he said, ‘How did you know that?’ I said, ‘I’ve been waitin’ for people to ask me this. It’s not exactly a secret. I live with my manager. I’m openly gay outside. I don’t have a girlfriend. And nobody’s ever actually out — I just thought it was common knowledge.'”
John performed at his friend Ryan White’s funeral in 1990, and when he saw the footage, he was shocked. “I look like a bloated, white, gray-haired old — you know, it was horrifying. The way I was feeling deep inside of me — it was enough to wake anybody up,” he said. “Ryan White inspired me to change my life. If there was ever a message — and in life you get messages — this was a message from wherever. It’s like, ‘You clean up your life or you’re gonna die. And your epitaph will not be good.'”
John said that the singular trip to rehab after that realization worked because it was not an experience where he was pampered in any way, like the rehabs we hear so often of. “You know, to actually wake up in the morning at 6:00 and clean your room. It was like boot camp. It wasn’t a flashy — it was a hospital in Chicago. There was no televisions. There was no nothing,” John said. “I say at 43 I learned to live my life all over again by taking different steps. It’s a miracle I’m talking to you right now.”
“I still dream, twice a week at least, that I’ve taken cocaine and I have it up my nose,” he told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “And it’s very vivid and it’s very upsetting, but at least it’s a wake-up call.”
John’s belief in tough love isn’t limited to himself — he’s been very outspoken about his feelings regarding longtime touring mate Billy Joel’s drinking, for example. In 2011 on TODAY, John told Lauer that Joel “hates me at the moment” for comments that Joel had gone to “rehab light,” and would never get rid of his demons unless he abandoned “rehab light.” John told Lauer in Wednesday’s interview that he an Joel haven’t been in contact since those comments.
“He wrote me a thing, ‘You’re — you — you shouldn’t judge people. Who are you to judge?’ And I said it because I thought it might get through. And I can understand he being angry about that. And we haven’t really communicated since,” John said. “And Billy Joel is the kindest, sweetest man, and the most talented songwriter and great, great artist. If he called me tomorrow and said ‘Let’s have lunch,’ I’d go like — like a shot. ‘Cause I adore him. I only said it as tough love. They call it ‘tough love.’ But he was upset. And I’m sorry I upset him.”
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