Elton John fetes crowd at Ron Burkle's estate in support of Prop. 8 court challenge
"As a gay man, I think I have it all," the singer told the intimate crowd of several hundred gathered to hear him play in a lawn tent on a sprawling Beverly Hills estate Wednesday night. "I have a wonderful career, a wonderful life. I have my health, I have a partner of 17 years, and now I have a son. But I don't have everything, because I don't have the respect of people like the church or politicians who tell me that I'm not worthy, that I'm lesser because I'm gay. Well, [forget] you!"
John, whose son with partner David Furnish was born via a surrogate on Christmas Day, played for more than 90 minutes at the event, a fundraiser for efforts to overturn Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage.
In a dynamic, 14-song set peppered with fiery and introspective remarks, he rolled through older hits such as "Rocket Man," "Bennie and the Jets" and a boogie-woogie-inflected "Levon," as well as more recent compositions such as "When Love is Dying" and "You’re Never Too Old" from his 2010 album with Leon Russell, "The Union."
Many in the celebrity-larded audience sang along with John's hits, including, in a life-imitates-art moment, Matthew Morrison of "Glee." Other noteworthy attendees included Jane Lynch, Adam Lambert, Marisa Tomei, Rob Reiner, Jason Mraz, J.J. Abrams, David Geffen and "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
Performing alone with his piano, John kept his banter brief but pointed. When introducing "The Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes," a song about a dancer with AIDS, the singer confessed his remorse about staying in the closet in the early 1980s when the health crisis was exploding. "The American government was AWOL," John said. "And I was AWOL. I was a disgrace."
John, who wears a ring on his finger recognizing his civil partnership with Furnish, seems to be making up for that absence now with his vocal support of the gay-marriage movement in the U.S. "Even though I'm British, I'll be here at the forefront of anything you guys want," he said.
Tickets for the event, which was held at entrepreneur Ron Burkle's Green Acres estate, started at $1,000 and raised more than $3 million for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the nonprofit sponsoring the federal court challenge of Proposition 8, known as Perry vs. Schwarzenegger.
The crowd delivered a hearty standing ovation for an unlikely duo, attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson, who represented opposite sides in Bush vs. Gore, the case over the disputed 2000 presidential election, and are now working together to defeat Proposition 8 in court.
"Two people of differing political views can actually get on," John marveled of the lawyers. "That's what this country needs."
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Elton John at the 2011 People's Choice Awards. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press