Elton John Defends Ellen DeGeneres amid Backlash Over Her Friendship with George W. Bush

"I admire Ellen for standing up and saying what she did," Elton John said

Elton John is lending his voice of support to Ellen DeGeneres as the comedian and talk show host continues to come under fire for her relationship with former president George W. Bush.

During an interview with NPR, John — unprompted — said he admired DeGeneres, 61, for “very eloquently” standing by her friendship with Bush despite their political differences.

Unfortunately, what our democracy has become now is that it’s not okay to have different opinions than yours and that is not healthy,” John, 72, said. “George Bush has made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes. Ellen DeGeneres has made a lot of mistakes. … Yes, there were [bad] decisions that he’s made, but that was made by Democratic presidents and Republican presidents. And I admire Ellen for standing up and saying what she did.”

John went on to praise Bush, 73, for launching the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a United States governmental initiative that — since its creation in 2003 — has saved over 17 million lives and provided more than $80 billion in funding for HIV/AIDs treatment, prevention, and research.

“PEPFAR came from the Republicans, people have to remember that,” John said, calling Bush’s program “the most incredible thing a Republican president has done on a philanthropic level.”

“People need to come together,” continued John, who also praised President Donald Trump for continuing PEPFAR (while admitting he disagrees with many of Trump’s other policies). “They need to respect people’s view on life. Except when it’s heresy, and I don’t think George Bush is that kind of guy.”

Elton John, George W Bush & <a href="https://people.com/tag/ellen-degeneres" data-inlink="true">Ellen Degeneres</a>
Daniele Venturelli/WireImage; Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty; Stefanie Keenan/Getty

The controversy began on Oct. 5, when DeGeneres was spotted sitting next to Bush and his wife Laura, 72, at a Dallas Cowboys football game.

DeGeneres, who was joined by her wife Portia de Rossi, was shown chatting and laughing with Bush during the game’s broadcast.

On her talk show, DeGeneres addressed the event, pointing out that it’s a good thing when two people of different backgrounds can be friendly — even a “gay Hollywood liberal” and a “conservative Republican president.”

“A lot of people were mad,” DeGeneres said of her time with Bush, who was a guest on DeGeneres’ talk show in 2017. “Here’s the thing. I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”

“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” DeGeneres continued. “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people who think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone. Doesn’t matter.”

After, some of DeGeneres’ famous friends like Reese Witherspoon and Kristen Bell praised her for preaching kindness to others.

“Thank you for this important reminder, Ellen!” Witherspoon wrote in a since-deleted tweet.

Bell, on the other hand, posted a side-by-side picture of Bush and DeGeneres on her Instagram, calling the talk show host her “queen.”

But though some were on her side, other celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon disagreed with the message.

Sarandon, 73, didn’t add her own thoughts to the matter, choosing to instead quote an article from Out.com criticizing DeGeneres’ stance.

“But missing the point entirely, DeGeneres framed the issue as simply a matter of her hanging out with someone with different opinions, not a man repeatedly accused of being a war criminal,” Sarandon’s tweet quoted.

Ruffalo, 51, took a different approach and expressed why he disagreed with DeGeneres’ call for kindness.

“Sorry, until George W. Bush is brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War, (including American-lead torture, Iraqi deaths & displacement, and the deep scars—emotional & otherwise—inflicted on our military that served his folly), we can’t even begin to talk about kindness,” Ruffalo tweeted alongside a Vanity Fair article.

John was on NPR to promote his new memoir, Me: Elton John Official Autobiography — out Tuesday.

My life has been a rollercoaster,” he said in an interview that aired on Monday’s Today. “The things I’ve done are amazing, the achievements I’ve made are incredible, but the mistakes I’ve made have been just as incredible. The way I’ve behaved has been bad. I’ll admit that. I’m not proud of it but it needs to be in the book because in the end, it’s led to the epiphany that I had in 1990 when I got sober and how I learned to live my life in the proper way.”

That epiphany, John said, was the death of his friend Ryan White — a young American boy with hemophilia who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.

“When he died, being there in Indianapolis, and coming back to the hotel complaining about the wallpaper, the decor in the room, and thinking, ‘You are the most ungrateful little bastard. You complain about everything. This boy has never complained about contracting HIV and AIDS from a blood transfusion. He’s never complained. You are a piece of s—,’ ” John recalled. “And that’s what I felt about myself.”

Asked if White saved John’s life, John said, “I think he did.”

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