Elton John says he was once a monster but found light in helping others. And now, when it seems like the world is in its darkest hour, society needs to find its light too.
John, 70, candidly spoke of his own struggles on Monday afternoon at Harvard University, where he received the prestigious Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award from the Harvard Foundation, in honor of his contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“My passion and commitment to music opened up imaginable doors and took me to new heights in life. But once I hit the pinnacle, happiness became elusive and darkness crept in,” said John. “I lost my own humanity in an excess of drugs, alcoholism, and eating disorders. During my addictions in the 1980’s the AIDS epidemic surfaced, and the government took no notice of it. I lost so many friends to AIDS and I didn’t put myself on the line because of the addictions I was going through. The drugs turned me into a monster.”
But now, 27 years sober, the famed artist says he is dedicated to use those monstrous times as fuel to do better.
“Today, my mission to help other people embrace their own humanity and that of others is the most powerful and positive force in the whole wide world, he told the crowd. “Through my career and humanitarian work, I’ve seen how people can be pulled together. The human spirit is the most powerful thing in the world, and when it embraces kindness and does good things, wonderful things happen,” he said.
“Nothing is more profound or powerful than recognizing our common humanity,” he said speaking of the greatest lesson he learnt.”I know how easy it is to despair. We can rise above it and lift people up.
“We can change the world, and embrace our common humanity. This period of darkness we’re going through right now is the period right before the light we will all treasure,” John shared.
Of his own personal journey out of the darkness of drug addiction, John said it was through meeting Ryan White, a young boy living with AIDS, that Elton was inspired to pick himself up and start over.
“I had the luck to meet Ryan White and his family. I wanted to help them, but they ended up helping me much more. Ryan was the spark that helped me to recover from my addictions and start the AIDS foundation,” John told the audience. “Within 6 months I became sober, and clean, and have been for the last 27 years.”
The Elton John AIDS Foundation has since raised more than $385 million for HIV and AIDS programming around the world. And while there have been vast advances, John said there is still plenty of work to be done.
“Only when society embraces the humanity of everyone, everywhere, will this world start to come together and to heal. Until they do, we’ll be in the mess we are today,” said John. “We need healing more than ever. Our most vulnerable are under attack. Unjust immigration policies are driving people away from the health care and services that they need. Racial injustice and violence are once again on the rise. The hard-fought gains and civil liberties for LGBT people are being threatened. Violence against transgender people is skyrocketing.”