No subject is handled lightly in the upcoming biopic Rocketman, especially Elton John’s relationship with his ex-manager John Reid. The film explores the ups and downs between the artist and famed talent manager, from their positive beginnings to their explosive and toxic downfall. While the timeline and events of their real-life past don’t completely match what’s portrayed in the film (which John executive produced), the two were intertwined for quite some time and inarguably a significant part of each other’s lives, despite the outcome.
In the film, Reid (Richard Madden) is mesmerized by John (Taron Egerton) while in the crowd at John’s famous Los Angeles Troubadour performance in 1970. The suave manager approaches and seduces the up-and-coming star after the show, and from then on they are inseparable both professionally and personally.
In real life, things went a bit differently. In an interview with the Scottish Daily Mail, Reid recalled first meeting John prior to then at Motown's U.K. offices Christmas party in London at which John performed. "I remember this hip, shy young man," Reid told the paper. "There was a gawky sweetness about him." He also wasn’t as taken by John at first as he was in the film. "When I met Elton, I didn't even realize his potential. I've never claimed to have discovered him," Reid said. "In fact, when he suggested I should manage him, I wasn't enthusiastic."
The two were also secretly romantically linked — to this day, neither have denied how smitten they were with each other. “He was my first great love and I was his,” Reid said to The Daily Mail. He explained they helped each other get through problems like alcohol use and John “made” Reid see a therapist. (They both fought addiction in real life, in contrast to the film, which portrays John as the one suffering while Reid looks down on him.) According to the Scottish Daily Record, the John and Reid, who lived together in an expensive apartment, “behaved more like a married couple... always arguing but ferociously loyal to each other.”
One aspect of their relationship John is particularly proud to have conveyed in the film is their first, very intimate time having sex. "If I am telling my story, it has to be honest," John recently told the Mirror. "I was a virgin until then. I was desperate to be loved and desperate to have a tactile relationship. When they tear their clothes off in the movie, that was how it happened.” John’s first and “joyous” sexual experience happened when he was 23. “It’s part of who I am. That night was a very, very important part.”
According to The Telegraph, John and Reid were a couple from 1970 to 1975 and Reid managed John from 1970 to 1998. While the film portrays how supportive Reid initially was of John, and how crucial he was in John’s worldwide fame, it also claims that he was eventually wreckless with John’s well being and destructive to his mental and physical health. In the film's version of events, for example, Reid punches John in the face for being late to a performance and says he'll be collecting his 20 percent commission even after John's dead. The Telegraph has documented some of the real-life accusations against Reid.
In real life, Reid continued managing John for nearly 25 years after their split and the two didn’t initially have drama. That was, however, until 2000 when John took Reid to court for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from him, saying, “I never thought he would betray me but he has betrayed me." Reid reportedly paid John 3.4 million pounds in the out-of-court settlement.
Reid, now 69, retired from the music business in 1999, according to The Age. He did, however, appear on The X Factor Australia as a judge in 2005. (You may have also caught a portrayal of Reid in last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, as he also managed Queen in the ‘70s.)
Regardless of where Reid is now, John, who’s happily married with two young kids, doesn’t seem to be looking back.