Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody both feature the character of John Reid, but both movies give a very different take on the man. Rocketman, the Elton John musical bipoic, charts the rock star’s rise to fame, his battle with addiction and ultimately, his journey to sobriety.
Taron Egerton plays Elton John, with Jamie Bell as his longtime collaborator and friend, Bernie Taupin. Rocketman also stars Richard Madden as John Reid, a music manager and the man who became Elton John’s first lover. The pair were romantically linked for 5 years, though it was kept hidden at the time. Reid also managed Elton’s career, from 1973 to 1998. Their business partnership ended acrimoniously, with Elton John taking Reid’s company to court.
Elton John wasn’t the only successful act that Reid managed; he also looked after Queen during the peak of their fame, from 1975 to 1978. In Rocketman, Reid is not depicted favorably at all, whereas in Bohemian Rhapsody, he is shown to (mostly) be a good manager and a decent person. Both movies are directed by Dexter Fletcher, who took over the helm of Bohemian Rhapsody after Brian Singer left. So why the different takes?
John Reid and Elton John
Reid and John met at a party in 1970. At that time, John had released one album which hadn’t really grabbed the public’s attention. However, when he played Reid some of his music, the manager can recall being blown away by his talent. He wouldn’t go on to manage Elton John until 1973, the pair did become romantically involved from 1970 to 1975. Reid has described Elton as being his “first great love,” and says that it was mutual.
In Rocketman, events are depicted much the same way, with the pair meeting at a party and becoming lovers soon after (the exact time frame isn’t clear). Reid tells Elton he will look him up if he’s in London, and he does. It is at that point that they start a relationship, and then he takes over as Elton’s manager. In the movie, Reid encourages Elton to spend freely and frivolously (set to the fantasy musical number “Honky Cat”), with little to no thought of the consequences. Rocketman depicts Reid as a scheming, violent and uncaring individual, who was both physically and emotionally abusive to Elton John during their time together.
It’s unclear if Reid ever was violent to Elton John in their relationship; however, it has been noted that they argued often, and Reid did serve a month in jail in 1974 for punching a journalist. It is also unknown whether Reid was unfaithful, as is shown in the movie, but it could be that artistic license plays a part here, so as to to get Reid’s personality traits across more effectively. Whatever the truth to this part of the story, we do know that after Reid and John parted ways in 1998, they next met again in court, when Elton John sued his former manager, accusing him of having stolen millions of pounds from him.
The case settled out of court, with Reid paying John the sum of £3.4 million. While none of these events are shown in Rocketman, we do see Reid living lavishly at the expense of John, and screaming at him that he’ll “still be collecting my 20 percent” long after John is dead. Another important point in the relationship that Rocketman points to, is the closeness of Reid and Elton’s mother, Sheila. This closeness continued after Reid and John’s romantic relationship had ended, and eventually led to Elton and his mother becoming estranged for eight years. They did not reunite until 2016, a year before her death. In an interview with the Daily Record, Reid admits to being “unenthusiastic” when John suggested he become his manager, a job Reid would take on for nearly three decades.
During the five years they were together romantically, John produced several hit songs, including the famous “Candle in the Wind,” a song that was repurposed and performed live only once at the late Princess Diana’s funeral service. During the years as John’s manager, Reid is believed to have been incredibly indulgent. He maintains that his relationship with John ended because the singer had never had a “sexual adolescence” and that he needed to “play the field.” Rocketman takes artistic license, and it’s also important to remember that John himself served as executive producer on the movie (which he had been trying to get made for a long time), while his husband, David Furnish, is a producer.
Reid has had no involvement, but neither has he come forward to say anything in the movie is categorically untrue. In the movie, it is Elton John who is shown to have problems with a shopping addiction and drugs, but Reid also battled the same demons. While Reid and John are no longer on speaking terms, the music manager remembers him affectionately. However you look at it, though, as a whole movie, Rocketman is more accurate at depicting true events as well as recreating musical moments, whereas Bohemian Rhapsody took far more artistic license and focused more on the music of Queen than the real drama behind the scenes.
John Reid and Queen
In 1975, Queen were struggling to really hit the big time, and they recruited Reid as their manager. Under him, they made the album “A Night At The Opera,” but Reid thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t commercial enough to be a hit. Luckily, the band ignored his advice and the rest, as they say, is history. These events are documented well in Bohemian Rhapsody, with Reid played by Aiden Gillen this time around. He tells them the song is far too long (at six minutes), but of course, it became the most synonymous song associated with Queen.
Real-life events differ greatly from what is depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody when it comes to Reid’s management of Queen. In Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek) coldly fires Reid while the pair are on a car journey. The basis of the firing is because he urged Freddie to take up a solo career, using Michael Jackson as an example of an artist who’s fared better going solo than being in a group. Freddie tells him to get out, which Reid does, and throws his shoe at the car in anger.
The reality, as with most events in Bohemian Rhapsody, is very different. Reid was Queen’s manager for three years, during which time he was in a relationship with Elton John. The band was enjoying a meteoric rise to fame, releasing hit after hit, including “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Somebody To Love,” “We Are The Champions,” and “We Will Rock You.” Both Reid and Roger Taylor speak well of their time together, with Queen and Reid parted ways entirely amicably. Taylor did suggest, though, that part of the reason they moved on to other management, was because Elton John was jealous, feeling “a bit threatened” by their success.
Reid’s whereabouts now are unclear; he was last reported as living in either Australia or England, but he’s not come forward to comment publicly on his portrayal in either Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman. It seems an odd choice for Bohemian Rhapsody to depict Reid’s departure from Queen in such an unpleasant fashion, when there really was no such animosity, but again, dramatic license makes the movie a more interesting watch and depicting Reid’s exit with such flair does exactly what it needs to do to elevate the band at the center of the story. Regardless, Reid is still shown more favorably in Bohemian Rhapsody than he is in Rocketman, likely due to the fact that he wasn’t as close to Queen as he was to Elton John. Unless Reid chooses to go on record with his own version of events, we can only draw the conclusion that we’ll never really know the true nature of the man, but we can at least give him credit for managing two of the biggest acts of all time.
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