How a Heart Scare Turned Elton John Into ‘the Bionic Man’
Throughout his legendary career, Elton John has often appeared invincible. But on July 9, 1999, the singer received a stark reminder of his own vulnerability when he went under the knife to receive a pacemaker.
Several days prior to the surgery, the singer felt ill while playing tennis at his home in Nice, France. Assuming his dizziness was the result of heat exhaustion, John still planned to attend the wedding of Victoria and David Beckham in Ireland the next day. But the strange feeling lingered.
He ended up skipping the wedding, where he was slated to perform, and instead headed to London to seek medical attention. “Thank God for the British medical system, because I went through every test known to man to find out exactly what was wrong,” John later told Rolling Stone.
In his wilder days, John’s struggles with drugs and alcohol had brought him close to death. But at this point, Elton was nearly a decade sober, an achievement he wore proudly. In this instance, the faint feelings and dizziness weren’t the result of narcotics, but rather an irregular heartbeat.
In a 2002 conversation with Larry King, John recalled his reaction when doctors told him he’d need a pacemaker. “I just went nuts,” he confessed. “I must admit, you know, I'm sometimes quite renowned for my outbursts and I was just very frustrated, maybe a little frightened.”
Though his initial response was defiant, John soon realized that the procedure was necessary to ensure his long-term health. Cardiologist David Lipkin performed the operation in London.
Looking back on the experience, the singer was shocked by the ease with which everything was done. “It took an hour and a half," John told CNN. "I was back in France within 36 hours, recovering.”
Admitting that his heart has felt “fine” since the operation, Elton said that having a medical device implanted inside of him was even somewhat cool. “It's kind of like being the bionic man or the bionic woman,” he jokingly bragged.