It’s fair to say that pop legend Elton John hasn’t always had a good relationship with his mother Sheila Farebrother. Indeed, for nine long years the pair argued through the press, with each accusing the other of bad behavior. Fortunately, though, the two did eventually reconcile, with John confirming on his Instagram page that they were back in touch. But that wasn’t the end of the story: in time, in fact, there would be another sad twist.
Back before John and his mom began their feud, though, Sheila arguably helped her son on his way to stardom. In particular, after she had divorced Elton’s father Stanley and married Fred Farebrother, she helped her son get a job as a pub pianist. Stanley, by contrast, hadn’t approved of his offspring’s musical aspirations.
Then, after a period writing songs for other musicians, John’s big break came in 1970, with his self-titled second album. The track “Your Song,” taken from the record, was a notable success. And from there, the star began releasing hit after hit while simultaneously adopting his now-iconic glam rock stage aesthetic.
As John became ever more famous, though, rumors began to spread about his sexuality. The musician seemingly attempted to clear these up in 1976 by telling Rolling Stone that he felt that he was bisexual; he would also marry German woman Renate Blauel in 1984. As it turned out, though, he was gay. “I wanted more than anything to be a good husband,” John wrote on Instagram in 2017, “but I denied who I really was, which caused my wife sadness and caused me huge guilt and regret.”
And in 1993 John started dating David Furnish, whom he would eventually marry. But while Farebrother claimed to the Daily Mail in 2015 that she had no problem with her son living as an openly gay man, she did object strongly to his choice of partner. Indeed, John’s mom revealed that she didn’t like Furnish at all, thinking him controlling.
Farebrother even went so far as to tell the Daily Mail that Furnish had sidelined her at her own son’s wedding. “One thing I didn’t do was to wear a hat,” she recalled. “That didn’t go down well with Furnish, because he wanted it to be the wedding of the year. Then a call came through from Furnish’s secretary saying if we wouldn’t mind, we were not going to be in the photographs.”
Farebrother added in the interview, “It seemed odd to me, because Elton saw me as he arrived and said, ‘Mum, you look lovely.’” She added, however, “But we didn’t have our picture taken because we were told not to be in the photographs. So ridiculous. I don’t think Elton knows half of what goes on, really.”
Furthermore, Farebrother also seemingly resented the fact that her son hadn’t been present when her husband and his stepfather, Fred, passed away. She explained, “Fred idolized [John] and he was so upset, you know, that he didn’t even bother to come and see him when he was in hospital. But clearly Elton wasn’t worried about him; he wasn’t worried about me, either.”
And, perhaps most shockingly, Farebrother told the Daily Mail that her son had once told her that he flat-out hated her. It all started after John fired two of his most trusted members of staff; according to Farebrother, he had also asked her to sever relations with the pair. John’s mother point-blank refused to do so, however, and during a subsequent argument allegedly went on to tell the singer-songwriter, “You think more of that f**king thing you married than your own mother.” John delivered his own crushing riposte, though, and slammed the phone down.
After that incident, then, John didn’t speak to his mother, even though he reportedly continued to pay her medical bills. And in 2016 he would tell Rolling Stone, “[The feud] upsets me, but to be honest with you, I don’t miss her.” John added, “When she says things in the press, like last year, ‘I haven’t spoken to Elton since he married that f**king a**hole David Furnish…’ That was pretty hard to take.”
And John continued, “I don’t hate my mother. I look after her, but I don’t want her in my life.” In addition, he explained to Rolling Stone that although he had sent his mom a bouquet when she had turned 90, he hadn’t received any thanks for the gift. A February 2016 interview with the Sunday Mirror revealed, however, that perhaps some acknowledgment had been forthcoming after all. “I can say that we are now back in touch and have been so since my mother’s 90th birthday,” John revealed to the newspaper.
In May 2017, meanwhile, John posted a picture featuring both him and his mom together to Instagram. “Dear Mum, Happy Mother’s Day! So happy we are back in touch. Love, Elton,” he captioned the photo. Notably, that came only a few weeks after he had suffered a life-threatening bacterial infection; perhaps, then, that had contributed to the apparent healing of the rift.
On December 4, 2017, though, the veteran musician took to social media to deliver some heartbreaking news to his followers. Specifically, he wrote, “So sad to say that my mother passed away this morning. I only saw her last Monday, and I am in shock.”
John went on, “Travel safe, Mum. Thank you for everything. I will miss you so much. Love, Elton.” Naturally, John’s vast army of fans then began to send their condolences. And Farebrother’s passing was made even more poignant by the fact that she had only gotten to spend a little time with her son after making up with him.
Furthermore, there’s a chance that Farebrother never got to have much of a relationship with her son’s children. In May 2017 The Sun reported that an anonymous source had told the paper that Farebrother was “aware she doesn’t have many years” and wanted to meet her grandchildren Zachary and Elijah. Whether she did achieve this or not, though, John has so far kept to himself.
John has also failed to publicly explain what his 92-year-old mother died of. He has, however, spoken further about his loss in public. While performing in Hamburg, Germany, shortly after his mom’s death, for example, the star paid homage to the woman who had brought him up. “Yesterday was a sad and hard day for me, because my mother passed away,” he told the audience.
John continued, “I’m glad to say she passed away peacefully, with no pain. But maybe sooner than she should have done, so I was quite shocked.” It’s possible, then, that Farebrother had died of a sudden illness, which sadly can happen to elderly people. “I was thinking how I could pay tribute to her tonight and what song I should choose,” John added to his crowd.
The musician went on, “Well, this next song I wrote at her house or her apartment.” Indeed, John wrote several early hits at Frome Court, the apartment he used to share with his mom and stepdad. Tracks like “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer,” for example, were penned in that building, where John had lived until he scored four simultaneous American Top 40 albums.
And John continued at the Hamburg concert, “I can remember every single minute of writing this song with Bernie,” referring to his long-time collaborator and co-writer Bernie Taupin. “So this is the song I want to dedicate to her. And it’s taken me from nowhere to somewhere. So thank you, mom,” he said, before beginning his beautiful hit “Your Song.”
And as the lyrics to “Your Song” include lines like, “I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do/My gift is my song and this one’s for you,” it seemed like a very fitting tribute. In all, though, perhaps John’s story provides a valuable lesson to others: try to reconcile with your parents while you still can.