John’s actual last show in the United States, a curious little epilogue to his big farewell, was on Tuesday night when he briefly stopped traffic in one of America’s busiest shopping districts to open the Christmas season as the surprise guest at Saks Fifth Avenue’s annual unveiling of the holiday windows and light show. It’s not the typical way you’d expect a 75-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to follow the end of a 271-show streak he began planning seven years ago.
But Saks is donating $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. And he and his family – husband David Furnish and their two sons Zachary, 11, and Elijah, 9 – were already heading east to return home to London. Well, why not?
“I can’t think of a more magical way to close out my Farewell Yellow Brick Road US Tour than to be here on Fifth Avenue with my family, experiencing both my music and my work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation that has been incorporated into New York’s most iconic holiday window displays and light display,” John said in a perfectly worded sentence to Saks PR, who was kind enough to relay it to the Washington Post.
Furnish called it “a cherry on top of an incredibly beautiful cake” and “a very special one-off” in a telephone interview. The whole point of doing this is because it’s “an opportunity for EJAF,” said Furnish, who is also chairman of the foundation’s board and John’s director. But, as a bonus, “It’s going to kick off our family Christmas, which is great,” she said.
As the hour approached, police blocked off Fifth Avenue between 50th and 49th Streets outside the Saks flagship store. A sea of tourists, many in town for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, rushed into the gap in traffic, poking around for a better look, having no idea John was on his way, and with a stream of buses and taxis and honking educators. behind them.
At exactly 7 p.m., a crew raced to pull a piano out onto the sidewalk, and two minutes later, John made his grand entrance, riding a golf cart decorated with big bright stars, wearing a green jacket with red track pants, waving and blowing kisses. He thanked Saks, had David and the kids join him on stage for a countdown, and then launched into a heartfelt rendition of “Your Song.”
And only “Your Song”.
“It’s a song because we can’t shut down Fifth Avenue for too long or we’ll have a lot of angry New Yorkers,” Furnish said with a laugh. “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 enjoy the applause before racing (as best he could while recovering from hip surgery) to join his family in the stands. The front of Saks exploded with the light show, which was designed to look like a tree and twinkled to a medley of his songs, including his dance club hit, “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)” featuring Dua Lipa . Then the windows came to life, including one that looked like a Lite Brite and another, a tribute to John, that had rockets that went up and down on the pistons.
There were fireworks! And then it was over. John walked across the street, posed for a few photos and entered the store. The whole thing lasted 15 minutes and ended with a police officer yelling at photographers and guests get out of the way already so a city bus could pass.
Elton John’s North American concerts may be over, but he still has plenty of shows ahead of him. His farewell tour – two years behind schedule, after delays due to Covid and 2021 hip surgery – stops for a month before kicking off in January for a string of dates in Australia and New Zealand, then the UK Kingdom and Europe, before finally hanging up the glittering captain’s hat in Stockholm on July 3rd.
“I’ve done this video a few times,” Miley Cyrus joked in a video tribute to John that performed during the farewell in Los Angeles. Furnish knows people are skeptical, so he wants to be absolutely clear. “Absolutely, he will never tour again,” he said. “Those days are over and he has closed the curtain on that. He’s done.”
John will be 76 when this tour ends, and as much as he loves his fans and the live shows, Furnish said, “He’s finding the traveling very difficult and he’s finding it incredibly difficult to be away from his family. And, you know, our boys are going to be 10 and 12 and they’re getting to the age where we feel like they need us more than ever.”
The couple has been thinking a lot more about what it means for them to be together and present themselves publicly as a loving unit in recent days, Furnish said. John didn’t mention it from the stage, but his last show with the Dodgers 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 sad,” Furnish said.
“You know, on the one hand, Elton can bring his husband and two sons on stage to an incredibly warm response from everyone in the audience,” Furnish continued. “And it went live around the world. And in other parts of the world, this could be seen as promoting homosexuality and homosexuality as a way of life and not a completely natural and normal thing for people to do.”
The Colorado Springs shooting, he said, made them both more committed to the AIDS Foundation’s Rocket Fund’s mission, which is to eliminate the stigma of AIDS that leads to people who are “afraid to get tested for AIDS, afraid to take their medication, afraid to discuss or disclose their status openly for fear of being accused based on their sexuality,” Furnish said. And that’s why it leaves the door open for John to hold charity events in the future.
Over the weekend in Los Angeles, John revisited the milestones of 1975, when he was arguably the biggest pop star in the world. He was also an addict, and not openly gay, but he had come out as bisexual. In 1984 he married a woman, Renate Blawell, divorcing her four years later. The first few shows “were hard for me because I wasn’t in a very good place, mentally and physically,” John said in a video he played before the show.
He is now 32 years sober. He has been at Furnish for 29 years. When asked what he would miss about the tour as part of the Disney special event, he said, “Nothing. I’ve been doing it since I was 17 in the back of a van with my first band.”
He’s excited for a new chapter, Furnish said. “Can he do the occasional one-off? Could he do something like a residency in a theater? Maybe, maybe not. He’s not closing the door on playing completely.” Furnish mentioned Kate Bush’s 22-show run at a London theater in 2014 as a possible plan and said John was keen to delve deeper into his catalog and play lesser-known songs.
But the door is closed on a performance type. “He’s not doing a residency in Vegas. That’s off the table,” Furnish said. In the meantime, maybe he’ll just hang out with his kids and drive around in shiny golf carts in front of Christmas lights for a while.