Elton John reluctantly walked off stage in tears after being forced to halt his Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert in Auckland, New Zealand, on Sunday night.
After jetting to Los Angeles, California, in the middle of his Australasian tour to attend the 2020 Academy Awards on Feb. 9 (where he performed and won his first Oscar in 25 years) the 72-year-old musician jetted back Down Under to New Zealand and resumed concerts with his gold statue in tow at Mission Estate Winery in the Hawke’s Bay town of Napier on Saturday evening.
However, the next night, during the first of a three-night run at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium, the singer informed the packed-out audience early on that he wasn’t feeling well, and asked them to forgive him if he didn’t sound his best. “I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia this morning,” he said, before adding that he would be giving the show, “my best shot.”
And, that’s exactly what the award-winning legend did from the moment he took the stage, minutes ahead of his scheduled 7.30 p.m. kick-off, with opener “Bennie and the Jets”. John then admirably persevered, continuing to belt out hits like “I Guess Why That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and “Tiny Dancer”, which had couples emotionally hugging, embracing and dancing.
“Rocket Man” was a crowd favourite, performed against a picturesque pink-hued sky as the sun descended on the balmy 41st night of Auckland’s record-breaking dry spell.
Eerily, it was after “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” from John’s 1975 record Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, that the musician appeared unnerved as a medic came and knelt at his piano. While the Kiwi crowd initially cheered John on, fans went quiet as the medic placed a stethoscope to his chest, and paramedics waiting with a stretcher.
“S**t, he may not finish,” observed one fan.
“He doesn’t look like he’s in his 70s,” observed another concert-goer, patiently waiting for the outcome of the medical intervention.
Moments passed and some feared the show was over, however, John suddenly spun around and spurred back into action on his piano like nothing had happened.
The comeback ignited a wave of electrifying energy from the band, which radiated through the crowd, prompting anyone who was still sitting to jump up onto their feet. However, John admitted afterwards that he was struggling. “I don’t know how much longer I can sing,” he said, his speaking voice cracking, despite his singing voice having shown few signs of strife up until that point. “I just don’t have anything left. I will try but I just can’t promise anything.”
John’s strain became more evident as he performed “Candle in the Wind,” and he eventually left the stage for a short period, with fans unsure if he would return. Determined to press on, John reemerged with a new outfit — and new glasses — but when it came time to perform “Daniel,” he realized he needed to call it a night. “I’ve just completely lost my voice. I can’t sing. I’ve got to go,” he said, visibly struggling to come to terms with the concept of not being able to go on.
The icon then became tearful while helped off the stage around 9:18 p.m., almost an hour ahead of his scheduled 10:15 p.m. wrap time.
“He got as far as ‘Daniel,’ then called off the show — quite an amazing show, considering he was not well,” said longtime fan, Janti Dhana, who has attended nearly all of John’s New Zealand tours. “There were hardly any noticeable effects of his illness in his singing. What a legend.”
“It was heartbreaking when he gave a tearful apology and was escorted off stage,” added another concert-goer, Julia Lovelock. “He showed few signs of illness when he rocked out to his first songs. He was awesome and the crowd adored him. We still love him!”
Following the concert, John took to Twitter to thanks those who attended the show and reiterate that he was not well.
“I want to thank everyone who attended the #EltonFarewellTour gig in Auckland tonight,” he captioned a photo showing him being assisted on stage. “I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier today, but I was determined to give you the best show humanly possible.”
“I played and sang my heart out, until my voice could sing no more,” he continued. “I’m disappointed, deeply upset and sorry. I gave it all I had. Thank you so much for your extraordinary support and all the love you showed me during tonight’s performance. I am eternally grateful. Love, Elton xx.”
After the show, concert promoters announced that there would be no refunds given for the unfinished show and stated that upcoming shows will also not be cancelled or rescheduled.
“Doctors are confident he will recover, at this stage all remaining shows (Oz and NZ) will go ahead as planned,” a statement read.
Yet only a few hours later, concert promoters changed their tune and pushed back his Tuesday show to Wednesday night.
John’s New Zealand shows came almost 50 years since the singer’s first and drama-filled Australasian tour. Back then, everything from the badges worn on his jacket and jeans, to his lack of attendance at a reception hosted by the Dean of Perth, ignited headlines.
Prior to Sunday’s illness, his latest visit Down Under also had its drama — with one of John’s local opening acts claiming they were given the boot after their supposed “racket” allegedly woke the icon from a pre-show nap.
New Zealand band, Badger, were one of several acts who opened for John at his first Napier show on February 6. Bass player Martin Good told Hawke’s Bay Today that their set was cut short after John emerged from his dressing room asking, “What’s that racket?”
“I think it was probably the drums more than anything that was possibly annoying him while he was trying to sleep,” Good said. “After we got off, the stage manager came up to us and said, ‘Elton’s not happy.’”
“At first, I thought, ‘Couldn’t he find somewhere else to sleep?,’” Good added. “But then my band member pointed out that it is Sir Elton, and what Sir Elton wants Sir Elton gets. So, we just thought, okay that’s fine — he runs the show.”
The band was then cut from the lineup at John’s second Napier show on Saturday.
Meanwhile, two local fans reportedly sailed from Auckland to Napier to attend Saturday’s show, in an attempt to balance the carbon emissions from John’s mid-tour Oscars trek.
John has two more Auckland shows scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, before further Australian dates. He is scheduled to return to North America for concerts in Canada and the U.S. in March.