For over 30 years, The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and Elton John have been locking horns in a very verbal joust. With a relentless back and forth that has taken place in the public eye, the creative and personal differences between two of Britain’s most recognisable musicians still doesn’t appear to have a conclusion on the horizon anytime soon.
It’s no secret that Richards has a wicked tongue, and few people in the music industry can count themselves fortunate enough to have escaped his vicious barbs. While most have simply chosen to ignore him, Elton John decided to play him at his own game and raised the stakes.
Their feud began back in 1988 when Richards was interviewed by Rolling Stone and provided his thoughts on an array of contemporary pop songs, including Elton John’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Go On with You Like That’. He commented: “Reg, give me a Rubens, and I’ll say something nice. Reg Dwight. Lovely bloke, but posing”.
Richards’ remark wasn’t intended a personal attack on Elton, and in all honesty, it was pretty tame by his standards and these comments didn’t elicit a response from his compatriot. However, a few years later, when the guitarist made another unsavoury declaration, John couldn’t conceal his anger any longer, and the feud turned nasty.
Following the death of Princess Diana, Elton reworked ‘Candle In The Wind’ as a tribute to the late royal, and the anti-monarchist inside of Richards didn’t hold back his true feelings.
“Yeah, it did jar a bit, songs for dead blondes,” he told EW in 1997. “But he was a personal friend, after all. I’d find it difficult to ride on the back of something like that myself, but Reg is showbiz”.
Despite Richards caveating his comments by calling him a “personal friend”, Elton didn’t take lightly to the comments. He responded by cruelly telling the New York Daily News: “I’m glad I’ve given up drugs and alcohol. It would be awful to be like Keith Richards. He’s pathetic, poor thing. It’s like a monkey with arthritis, trying to go on stage and look young.
“I have great respect for the Stones but they would have been better if they had thrown Keith out 15 years ago… I just think he’s an a-hole and I have for a long time.”
In the same interview, Elton also explained why he found it immensely hypocritical to be labelled “showbiz” by Richards. He said: “Please, if the Rolling Stones aren’t showbiz, then what is? You know, with their inflatable naked women.”
Additionally, in his autobiography, Elton was less than complimentary about The Rolling Stone whenever the guitarist was mentioned in passing, and there isn’t any love lost between the pair. Intriguingly, however, at the GQ Awards in 2015, the pair were pictured all smiles during a seemingly jovial conversation, and it’s hard to comprehend whether the animosity between them is purely for show or if a deep level of hatred is genuinely brewing under the surface.