Elton John gets in one last farewell in New York


NEW YORK — Hey, no one said retiring is easy.

A mere 43 hours after Elton John bid a spectacular, permanent, no-turning-back farewell to touring in North America with a triumphant three-night run at Dodger Stadium capped by a global live stream on Disney Plus, he was already back onstage, this time playing a grand piano in the middle of Fifth Avenue and singing one final, final, final song.

John’s actual last performance in the United States, a curious and minor epilogue to his grand adieu, was on Tuesday night when he briefly stopped traffic in one of America’s busiest commercial stretches to open the Christmas shopping season as the surprise guest performer at Saks Fifth Avenue’s annual reveal of its holiday windows and light show. It’s not the typical way one would expect a 75-year old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to follow up the end of a 271-show stretch he started planning seven years ago.

But Saks is donating $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. And he and his family — his husband, David Furnish, and their two sons Zachary, 11, and Elijah, 9 — were already heading east to get back home to London. So, why not?

“I can’t think of a more magical way to close out my Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in the U.S. than by being here on Fifth Avenue with my family, experiencing both my music and my work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation incorporated into New York’s most iconic holiday window displays and light show,” John said in a perfectly articulated quote to Saks PR, who were kind enough to pass it along to The Washington Post.

Furnish called it “a cherry on top of an incredibly beautiful cake” and “a very special one-off” in a phone interview. The whole point of doing it is because it is “an opportunity for EJAF,” said Furnish, who is also the foundation’s chairman of the board and John’s manager. But, as a bonus, “It’s going to kick off our family Christmas, which is wonderful,” he said.

As the hour grew near, police blocked off Fifth Avenue between 50th and 49th streets outside Saks’s flagship store. A sea of tourists, many in town for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, rushed into the traffic void, jostling to get a better look, without a clue that John was on his way, and with a stream of honking buses and taxis and pedicabs backed up behind them.

At exactly 7 p.m., a crew raced to wheel out a piano onto the pavement and two minutes later, John made his grand entrance, riding in on a golf cart decorated with big light-up stars, in a green jacket with red track pants, waving and blowing kisses. He thanked Saks, had David and the kids join him onstage for a countdown, and then launched into a heartfelt rendition of “Your Song.”

And only “Your Song.”

“It’s one song because we can’t close Fifth Avenue down for very long or we’re going to have a lot of angry New Yorkers,” said Furnish, laughing. “Your Song” was John’s choice because it was his first hit in America (and two minutes shorter than “Tiny Dancer”).

John barely had time to soak up the applause before he was racing (as best as he could while he recovers from hip surgery) to join his family in the stands. The front of Saks exploded with the light show, which was designed to look like a tree and flashed to a medley of his songs, including his dance-club hit, “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)” with Dua Lipa. Then the windows came to life, including one that looked like a Lite Brite and another, in tribute to John, that had rockets going up and down on pistons.

There were fireworks! And then it was over. John walked across the street, posed for some pictures and went inside the store. The whole thing took 15 minutes, and ended with a police officers shouting at straggling photographers and guests to get out of the street already so a city bus could come through.

Elton John’s North American concerts may be done, but he has still got plenty of shows ahead of him. His farewell tour — two years behind schedule, after delays due to covid and his 2021 hip surgery — hits pause for a month before picking up in January for a string of dates in Australia and New Zealand, then the United Kingdom and Europe, before finally he finally hangs up his sparkly captain’s hat in Stockholm on July 3.

“I’ve made this video a couple of times,” Miley Cyrus joked in a video tribute to John that played during the Los Angeles farewell. Furnish knows that people are skeptical, so he wants to be totally clear. “Absolutely, he will never, ever tour again,” he said. “Those days are over and he’s pulled the curtain closed on that. He’s done.”

John will be 76 when this tour ends and, as much as he loves his fans and performing live, said Furnish, “He finds the travel really hard and he finds being away from his family incredibly hard. And, you know, our boys are going to be 10 and 12 and they are getting to the age where we feel they need us more than…

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