Editorial: 'Rocketman' resets rehab: Elton John went to Lutheran General

  • The scene where an elaborately costumed Elton John (Taron Egerton) heads to rehab is dramatic, but not accurate.

    The scene where an elaborately costumed Elton John (Taron Egerton) heads to rehab is dramatic, but not accurate. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted7/12/2019 9:24 AM

At the start of the biopic "Rocketman," Elton John -- played by actor Taron Egerton -- abandons a Madison Square Garden concert, struts down a long hall and joins a low-key rehab meeting.

Still in costume, a blinged-out get-up complete with massive red feathered wings and a horned headpiece, he reels off a list of addictions -- to alcohol, drugs, sex and shopping.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The movie shifts back and forth in time, returning to that rehab room and showing glimpses of the center's bucolic grounds.

Upstate New York, you might guess. Or Vermont.

Actually, Elton John rehabbed nowhere near those places: He fought for sobriety at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge in 1990.

And it's a shame the movie didn't acknowledge that, as John himself has spoken of the program -- the only one, he has said, willing to treat both his addictions and his bulimia.

Biopics tinker with facts all the time, and creating a fictional rehab center might seem like a small matter in a film that takes extraordinary liberties with the life of the entertainment legend. At one point, John actually rockets above the stage.

Still, it would have been nice to see the suburban program that helped him on the road to recovery get its due.

Plus, many moviegoers accept what they see in biopics and fact-based films as the real thing -- whether it's a glimpse at a rock star's drug-fueled descent or a dramatic retelling of history. Yet, "Rocketman" reminds us we need to look beyond what's on the screen if we want to know the full story.

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Case in point: The Oscar-nominated "The Imitation Game," which features a Soviet spy blackmailing World War II code breaker Alan Turing.

It's dramatic, of course. But it never happened.

"Frost/Nixon" depicted a booze-filled phone call from the former president to the journalist.

That never happened either.

In last year's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Oscar winner Rami Malek's Freddie Mercury -- suffering from AIDS -- reunites the band Queen for the climactic Live Aid concert in London. Actually, it wasn't a reunion. And he wasn't diagnosed with AIDS until a couple years later.

Filmmakers have the right to amp up the drama, but we as moviegoers must remain skeptical. We should exit a theater eager to learn more -- to find out if the monarchs of period dramas lived as portrayed, to study the accomplishments of little-known heroes and to read more about a tortured hitmaker from England who came to the suburbs to conquer his demons.

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