By Simon Perry
December 08, 2008 12:00 PM

Back in 2000, Elton John saw Billy Elliot—the hit British movie about a coal miner’s son who defies his father to dance ballet—a story that so reminded him of his childhood that he couldn’t stop “sobbing.” Growing up outside London, the singer says his own father, Stanley Dwight, an air force officer, discouraged him from going into show business. “I never had his approval,” says John. “My mother had letters from [my father] saying, ‘He’ll never become a star.'” Luckily, the piano prodigy got encouragement from his mom, Sheila—and became a pop superstar. As his career soared, John struggled with addiction, bulimia and his sexuality, but at 61, he’s found happiness with film executive David Furnish and is thriving (his sellout Red Piano show in Las Vegas is now out on DVD and he’s planning a movie of his life). And memories of his dad—he passed away in 1991 after reconciling with his son—inspired John to write the score for the musical Billy. “In the end, he was proud of me,” says the singer, who reflected on his life and career with PEOPLE’s Simon Perry. “And he instilled in me the drive to become who I am.”