Patience, tolerance, faith, forgiveness, love, wisdom & spirit . . . .
His candor is as surprising as it is refreshing . . . .
‘You can’t imagine how selfish I was at the time, what an asshole I had become,’ he notes in his recently-released memoir. ‘I’d throw a fit if I didn’t like the curtains in the hotel.’
People change and life changes people. Just ask Elton John.
It was 1986 and, bulimic, alcoholic and addicted to cocaine, a man ‘bloated and gorged . . . [looking] tired, sick and beaten’ was not in a good place.
‘I looked horrible,’ he admits. ‘I had been overcome by addiction; I was completely out of control . . . . as messed up as I’ve ever been. It was one of the lowest points of my life . . . . I was going to die.’
That Elton John didn’t die is down in no small part to a teenager from Kokomo, Indiana.
Called Ryan White, the 13-year-old changed Elton John’s life forever. Had it not been for the profound connection that this odd couple shared, things might have been much different.
Ryan had AIDS, contracted during a blood transfusion that formed part of his treatment for haemophilia, a rare genetic disease that prevents blood clotting.
Not long after his 13th birthday, Ryan discovered he had less than six months to live. The reaction in his neighborhood proved extraordinary . . . .
Prevented from attending school, forced to sit at the back of his local church, his treatment was shameful. Customers on his paper route cancelled their orders. Restaurants destroyed plates he had eaten from. Ostracized to the highest degree, the stigma Ryan faced proved even crueller than the disease that threatened his life.
That Ryan rose above it all is quite remarkable . . . .
That, in the process, he inspired Elton John to take a good hard look at himself is something that proves – to us, at least – that connection and its astonishing power knows no bounds.
The addiction-ravaged superstar learnt about the disease-riddled teenager from a magazine article he read in a doctor’s waiting room. Incensed, he made it his mission to help.
The pair met, the first time at a concert in California in 1986, and on countless occasions afterwards. There followed a ‘private tour’ of Disneyland and other such treats. Yet the thing that makes the relationship so remarkable is not the gimmicks, but the impact each participant had on the other.
Elton John eased Ryan’s suffering, but as the modest musician admits, ‘He gave me far more than I ever gave him.’
Before his death in 1990, his greatest supporter at his bedside, Ryan had taught Elton John much about life and love, about injustice and inspiration, about kindness and compassion, and the important things that enabled a man bound for self-destruction to become a better person – himself someone for others to look up to.
‘I loved my friend Ryan,’ he writes in a book he has titled Love is the Cure. ‘It wasn’t the way he held his head high as he struggled with [a] terrible disease. It wasn’t the way he bravely confronted death at an age when most children have no clue how precious life is. He didn’t have a speck of self-pity in his soul. Ryan was a true hero, a true Christian, because he unconditionally forgave those who made him suffer. I’m here today because of Ryan. Being around [him] made me want to become a better person. It took Ryan’s death [for me] to do so. When his eyes closed, mine opened, and they’ve been open ever since.’
Ryan, who helped to educate people about AIDS and stigma and basic humanity . . . .
Ryan, who still drives Elton John in his charitable efforts and inspires him to help others . . . .
Ryan, who has shown us all that there’s a better way to live our lives . . . .
Ryan, whose tombstone has seven words inscribed on the base: ‘Patience, tolerance, faith, love, forgiveness, wisdom and spirit.’
The final words in this, a tale that has moved us all here at OM HQ, we’ll leave to Elton John . . . .
‘It really comes down to a simple equation,’ he observes. ‘If you give love out, you get love back’.
Here’s to Ryan White . . . .