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Who is John Reid, Elton John’s Manger in Rocketman?
Music manager John Reid makes appearances in two of the biggest biopics in recent years. He’s played by Aiden Gillen in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Richard Madden plays him in Rocketman. The real Reid has spent the last decade away from the limelight, but when he was managing Freddie Mercury and Elton John, he was front and center, often the subject of news stories himself. Here’s what to know about the real Reid—and his life after what we see in Rocketman.
He grew up in Scotland.
John Reid was in his 20s when he began working with Elton John.
Reid was raised in Paisley, Scotland, a small town that borders Glasgow. He comes from a working-class background, according to The Independent, and originally studied to be a marine engineer. He got a taste of the music industry when he played with a folk group around Scotland, and in 1969, at age 20, he dropped out of school and moved to London with just 50 pounds in his pocket to work for Ardmore-Beechwood, a music publishing division of EMI, a British record label conglomerate.
Before meeting Elton John and Freddie Mercury, he had an established music career.
Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Images
While in his 20s, Reid became UK manager for the American Tamla Motown label—he was the one who decided which songs Motown artists would release for the British market. It was Reid who picked Smokey Robinson and The Miracles song “Tears of A Clown” for single release, according to The Independent, and when it was a hit in the UK, the American arm of the company released it here.
The story of him meeting Elton John in Rocketman is slightly different.
Richard Madden as John Reid and Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman.
Photo Credit: David ApplebyParamount
In real life, the pair met at the Motown recording studios, and in 1988 Reid told The Evening Standard of their meeting: “He was a dumpy, balding little guy in a funny jump suit who used to go around cadging records.”
In the film, the two meet at an afterparty following John’s breakout concert in LA. As Rocketman shows, John had already been working with his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin when he meets Reid. However, in reality, was Reid who put John and Taupin in touch and also reportedly encouraged John to wear his now-signature bold costumes and sunglasses.
They had a romantic relationship.
As portrayed in the film, John and Reid had a sexual relationship in addition to their working relationship. The pair even lived together in London. John affectionately called Reid “Beryl” after the actress Beryl Reid, according to The Telegraph. The film shows John losing his virginity to Reid at age 23.
“I’m so glad it’s in there because I am a gay man and I didn’t want to airbrush it under the carpet,” John told The Irish Mirror of the Rocketman scene. “This is who I am and I was so joyous. When he is lying in my arms and I’m sitting back with a smile I’m thinking, ‘Ah, I’m normal, I’ve had sex’.
“I was a virgin until then. I was desperate to be loved and desperate to have a tactile relationship. When they tear their clothes off in the movie, that was how it happened. It was in San Francisco.”
John recently told The Telegraph he was comfortable at the time discussing his relationship with Reid, but Reid wasn’t. “[He was] never really that comfortable with coming out, as such, as a relationship,” the singer said.
Reid had a temper.
A 1974 Rolling Stone article describes 5-foot-6 Reid as “small and short fused.” A former employee said of Reid: “He’s diminutive, but he’s a killer. He’ll punch anyone.”
John Reid and Elton John in 1979 in Moscow, Russia.
There were a slew of incidents in which Reid was accused of violence while managing John. In 1974, Reid served three weeks in jail after punching journalist David Wheeler in New Zealand. He threw a glass of champagne at a man for not having enough liquor at a reception for John, according to Rolling Stone, and slapped a woman reporter who called him a “poof.” The magazine reports Reid beat another journalist because he’d heard they’d threatened John—resulting in a $2,500 settlement and an assault charge. In 1984 in Syndey, the day after John’s wedding to German sound engineer Renate Blauel, Reid allegedly beat up another journalist, according to Scottish paper The Daily Record.
“They’re isolated incidents,” Reid told Rolling Stone. “I don’t make excuses, I’m not particularly proud of it, but any time anything like this has happened, it’s been in defense of Elton or Bernie, not for personal reasons.”
The professional relationship ended after 30 years.
In 1972, Reid started John Reid Management, with John as his first client—in 1975, he took on Queen and Freddie Mercury. But in 1998, after three decades of working together, John and Reid split after The Daily Mirror reported on John’s lavish spending. John thought someone from Reid’s company had leaked a letter from his accountant expressing concern over John’s spending. Though it was revealed Reid hadn’t leaked—someone had rifled through the garbage outside of his offices and given the findings to the press—the pair reportedly never recovered, and John ended the relationship.
It was reportedly John Reid who encouraged Elton John (pictured in 1990) to sport fantastical costumes and his signature sunglasses while performing.
“The relationship between John Reid and Elton John is very much like a marriage. They know each other so well and know so many personal things about each other that a manager can’t talk about,” former Simple Minds manager Bruce Findlay told The Daily Record in 1998. “If there is a royal family of rock stars like Elton, then John Reid is up there in the royal family of managers. They were definitely close. John must be devastated now that he and Elton are breaking up.”
The paper estimated Reid’s worth to be more than 30 million pounds at the time of the split—nearly $60 million in today’s dollars.
John Reid arrives at the courthouse for the trial in which Elton John accused his company of not paying the amount agreed for touring.
The pair were embroiled in a nasty lawsuit.
Two years after the two parted ways in 1998, John sued Reid for allegedly stealing millions from him. According to the Telegraph:
John claimed to have found a £20 million hole in his accounts and sued Reid, an associate and accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers. John argued that his management team had not met certain touring expenses out of the “generous” commission he paid them. Reid and John settled out of court – Reid paying John £3.4 million – but the case against PWC and Reid’s colleague Andrew Haydon, both of whom contested the allegations, hit the High Court in 2000.
The trial became a media spectacle thanks to personal details of John’s lavish spending—like him spending 293,000 pounds on flowers in less than two years.
John eventually lost the legal battle in 2001 against the associate and accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and faced legal costs of millions according to the Telegraph.
“It’s very sad that the long relationship I had with Elton has ended this way,” Reid said in 2001, according to The Guardian. “I feel that the question mark that has been hanging over my integrity for the past three years has been removed and that was the most important thing to me in this case. It should never have come to trial. It was ill advised.”
Where is John Reid today?
Most recently, Reid was a judge on Seasons 1 and 2 of The X Factor Australia in 2005 and 2006.
John Reid (left) with “The X Factor” judge Mark Holden and host Chloe Maxwell in 2005.
Patrick RiviereGetty Images
According to one tabloid report, Reid still has his fiery temper. While having his hair done in a Melbourne salon, “Reid apparently threw a bit of an Elton-esque tanty about a location for a photo shoot,” the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s gossip column reported in 2005. “JR didn’t approve of the location but, due to time constraints, it was impossible to move the shoot. As a result Elton’s former manager stormed out of the salon midway through his haircut and refused to do the shoot.”
Since his second season on The X Factor, there have been nearly no press reports about Reid. Some sources told The Telegraph this year he’s still living in Australia, while others said he is retired and living in a $7.7 million London apartment.
Senior Staff Writer
Kate is a writer for Esquire covering culture, politics, style, and lifestyle.