John’s actual final appearance in the United States, an odd and minor epilogue to his big farewell, came Tuesday night when he briefly halted traffic on one of America’s busiest shopping streets to open the holiday shopping season as a surprise guest at Saks Fifth Avenue’s annual unveiling its holiday window and light show. It’s not the typical way you would expect a 75-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to continue the ending of a 271-show stretch he began planning seven years ago.
But Saks is donating $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. And he and his family – his husband David Furnish and their two sons Zachary, 11, and Elijah, 9 – were already making their way east to return to London. So why not?
“I can’t think of a more magical way to wrap up my Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in the US than to be here on Fifth Avenue with my family and experience both my music and my work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, incorporated into New York’s most famous Christmas window display and light show,” John said in a perfectly articulated quote to Saks PR, who were kind enough to forward it to the Washington Post.
Furnish called it “the icing on an incredibly beautiful cake” and “a very special one-of-a-kind” in a phone interview. The whole point is that it’s “an opportunity for EJAF,” said Furnish, who is also the foundation’s board chairman and John’s manager. But as a bonus, “It will start our family Christmas, which is wonderful,” he said.
As the hour approached, police cordoned off Fifth Avenue between 50th and 49th Streets in front of the Saks flagship store. A sea of tourists, many of whom were in town for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, tumbled into the traffic gap, jostling for a better view, unaware that John was on the road, and a stream of honking buses and taxis and pedicabs in back up behind them.
At exactly 7pm a crew sped off to wheel a piano onto the sidewalk and two minutes later John made his grand entrance, pulling in on a golf cart decorated with large glowing stars, wearing a green jacket and red sweatpants . wave and blow kisses. He thanked Saks and invited David and the kids onto the stage with him for a countdown, and then launched into a hearty rendition of “Your Song”.
And only “your song”.
“It’s a song because we can’t close Fifth Avenue for very long or we’re going to have a lot of angry New Yorkers,” Furnish said, laughing. “Your Song” was John’s choice because it was his first hit in America (and two minutes shorter than “Tiny Dancer”).
John barely had time to soak up the applause before rushing (as best he could while recovering from hip surgery) to join his family in the stands. Saks’ front burst with the light show, designed to look like a tree, flashing to a medley of his songs, including his dance club hit “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)” with Dua Lipa. Then the windows came to life, including one that looked like a Lite Brite and another, in homage to John, with missiles bobbing up and down on pistons.
There were fireworks! And then it was over. John crossed the street, posed for a few photos and went into the store. The whole thing lasted 15 minutes and ended with a police officer yelling at scattered photographers and guests get off the street so that a city bus could get through.
Elton John’s North American concerts may be over, but he still has many shows ahead of him. His farewell tour – two years behind schedule, after delays due to Covid and his 2021 hip surgery – is on hiatus for a month before resuming in January for a series of dates in Australia and New Zealand, then the UK and Europe before it finally ends On July 3, he finally hangs up his sparkling captain’s hat in Stockholm.
“I’ve done this video a few times,” Miley Cyrus joked in a video tribute to John the played during the farewell to Los Angeles. Furnish knows people are skeptical, so he wants to be very clear. “Absolutely, he will never tour again,” he said. “Those days are over and he’s drawn the curtain on it. He’s done.”
John will be 76 at the end of this tour and as much as he loves his fans and performing live, Furnish said: “He finds traveling really hard and he finds it incredibly hard being away from his family. And you know, our boys are turning 10 and 12 and getting to that age where we feel like they need us more than ever.”
The couple have been thinking a lot more about what it means for them to be together and to present themselves publicly as a loving unit in recent days, Furnish said. John didn’t mention it from the stage, but his final Dodgers show was the night after the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, when a gunman killed six people at a gay bar, the latest attack on the LGBTQ community. “It was deeply, deeply depressing and deeply disturbing,” Furnish said.
“You know, on the one hand, Elton is able to bring his husband and two sons onto the stage, resulting in an incredibly warm reaction from everyone in the audience,” Furnish continued. “And it was live streamed around the world. And in other parts of the world this would be seen as promoting homosexuality and homosexuality as a way of life rather than a perfectly natural and normal thing for people to do.”
The Colorado Springs shooting, he said, made them both more committed to the mission of the AIDS Foundation’s Rocket Fund, which is to remove the stigma about AIDS that causes AIDS People who “are afraid to get an AIDS test, afraid to pick up their meds, afraid to openly discuss or disclose their status for fear of being blamed because of their sexuality,” Furnish said. And that’s why he’s leaving the door open for John to do charity events in the future.
Over the weekend in Los Angeles, John attended his seminal shows from 1975 when he was arguably the biggest pop star alive. He was also an addict and not openly gay, but had come out as bisexual. In 1984 he married a woman, Renate Blauel, and divorced her four years later. The first few shows “were tough for me because I wasn’t in a very good place mentally and physically,” John said in a video that played before the show.
Now he is 32 years sober. He has been with Furnish for 29 years. When asked what he would miss about touring as part of the Disney special, he said: “Nothing. I’ve been doing this in the back of a van with my first band since I was 17.”
He’s looking forward to a new chapter, Furnish said. “Could he occasionally do a one-time action? Could he do something like a residency in a theater? Maybe, maybe not. He doesn’t close the door to perform fully.” Mentioning Kate Bush’s 2014 series of 22 shows at a London theater as a possible blueprint, Furnish said John was eager to dig through his catalog and play lesser-known songs.
But the door is closed on one kind of performance. “He’s not doing a residency in Vegas. That’s off the table,” Furnish said. In the meantime, he might just hang out with his kids and cruise around in glittering golf carts in front of Christmas lights for a while.