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Elton John opens up about contracting life-threatening virus: It 'nearly killed me'

The music legend shares in his new autobiography how he almost died from an infection in 2017 after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.
/ Source: TODAY

Elton John has revealed that he nearly died from an infection he contracted in South America in 2017 after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.

The 72-year-old music legend spoke with NBC's Harry Smith at his and husband David Furnish's Vancouver home ahead of the release of John's autobiography, "Me," in which he writes about his brush with death while he was recovering from surgery to have his prostate removed.

"I had complications as a result of that, which is very unlucky, and I was in great pain,'' he said. "I came back to England and (went) straight into the hospital because I was shaking with fever, and I picked up a really strong virus down there, which nearly killed me."

John spent 11 days in a London hospital being treated for the infection.

"I didn't really know how close to death I was. I was ill because I kept saying, 'Please let me get well. I want to see my kids.' But I had tubes coming out of every part of my body, and it took me seven weeks to recover from that when I went home."

John had made the decision to have his prostate removed rather than treated after he was diagnosed with cancer.

"I said, 'I don't care, take it out,''' he told Smith. "I've had enough sex to last me a lifetime. I have children. I want to see them. I want to grow up with them. It was a very easy decision to make."

John also writes in his autobiography about his family, his cocaine addiction and his special friendships with luminaries like Princess Diana, John Lennon and Elizabeth Taylor.

John performed an emotional version of his song "Candle in the Wind" at Diana's funeral in 1997 after she died in a car crash. He also has become close with her son, Prince Harry, who vacationed this summer at John's home with wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and their baby son, Archie.

John also knew a side of Diana that the public rarely glimpsed.

"She was one of the most fun people I've ever met in my life,'' he said. "No matter who she met with — a person in the hospital or someone at a dinner party — she was warm as could be, and she was funny as could be.

"And when she was with just David and I, she was incredibly indiscreet. That's not in the book. But (she was) very, very funny, and it was one of the greatest friendships of my life."

Another friend who had a profound effect on his life was Ryan White, an 18-year-old with hemophilia from Indiana whose high school refused to allow him to attend after he contracted AIDS from a contaminated blood transfusion.

White's death in 1990 was a turning point in John getting sober after more than a decade of cocaine abuse.

"When he died, being there in Indianapolis and coming back to the hotel complaining about the wallpaper, the décor in the room and thinking, 'You are the most ungrateful little bastard,''' he said. "You complain about everything. This boy has never complained about contracting HIV and AIDS from a blood transfusion. He's never complained."

Many of John's friends were also dying from AIDS at the time, spurring him to form his foundation, which has raised nearly half a billion dollars for AIDS research.

"I could have been one of them,'' he said. "I was very lucky. I was blessed. And I always thought it was a reason that when I got sober, that I would give something back."

John's autobiography hits stores Tuesday.