Elton John is mourning the death of his mother, Sheila Farebrother, at age 92 on Monday. It’s a loss made extra poignant considering that the rock legend had recently resumed contact after a fierce feud kept them apart for over seven years.
The bad blood between the family members apparently began in June 2008, when John (born Reginald Dwight) reshuffled his staff, firing two long-standing members of his inner circle: personal assistant Bob Halley and manager-turned-brief-romantic partner John Reid. Their employment with John dated back decades, and when he demanded his mother also cut ties with the men, she firmly refused.
“I told him: ‘I’m not about to do that and drop them. Bob is like a son to me. He has always been marvelous to me and he lives nearby and keeps an eye on me,'” Farebrother told the Daily Mail in 2015. “I had no intention of dropping John and Bob and I told Elton so. He told me I thought more of Bob Halley than I did of my own son.”
Farebrother admitted that she took a shot at John’s husband, David Furnish. “I said to him, ‘And you think more of that f—ing thing you married than your own mother.'”
Tempers continued to flare until John decided he couldn’t take anymore. “Then to my utter amazement, he told me he hated me,” Farebrother recalled. “And he then banged the phone down. Imagine! To me, his mother!”
For years they didn’t speak. John reportedly even stayed away after her husband of 40 years, Fred Farebrother, died in 2010.
“Fred had been Elton’s stepfather since he was about 15,” she later said. “The three of us went through everything together. We helped him to make it in any way we could. When he was working with his first little group Fred used to run him to different places in the evenings in the car, even though Fred was having to work during the daytime, too. But he loved him. You do these things, don’t you, for those you love?”
At the time she publicly accused Furnish, with whom she had a tempestuous relationship, for turning her son against her — and many other old friends. This further strained relations with John. “It upsets me but, to be honest, I don’t miss her,” he said at the time. “When she says things in the press like, ‘I haven’t spoken to Elton since he married that f—ing assh— David Furnish,’ that was pretty hard to take. I don’t hate my mother… but I don’t want her in my life.”
And so it remained for several years, during which time John mended fences with several long-running pop adversaries, including a particularly bitter feud with Madonna in 2012. Though he reportedly continued to finance his mother’s housing and medical bills, John and Farebrother remained out of touch until her 90th birthday in March 2015.
Farebrother financed the party herself — organized by Bob Halley — and 80 people crammed into a converted barn near her home in West Sussex, England. Even if John hadn’t been tied up with his residency at Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace, she hardly expected her son to make a surprise appearance. Instead, she hired an Elton John impersonator.
“The whole hall thought at first it was Elton walking in, then they thought he was looking rather young! He got a standing ovation. We had kept it a secret and everyone was taken aback,” she said after.
But her true birthday wish came true when a large bouquet of white orchids arrived at her door, accompanied by a note:”Wow, 90! Congratulations. Love Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah.” It was their first contact since that awful phone call.
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“Enough was enough,” an insider told the Mirror in 2016 of their reconciliation. “It had gone on for a long time which is desperately sad, but he didn’t want things to continue downhill. He decided when she turned 90 things had to change.”
Not long after, John financed a double hip replacement for his mother. “Obviously he was happy to help out with her operation,” the insider continued. “He wanted to make sure she got the best possible care and did everything he could to ensure that happened.”
John himself stayed relatively quiet about the reunion. “Out of respect for my mother’s privacy, I have always shied away from speaking publicly about our relationship,” he said in a statement soon after they resumed contact. “However, I can say that we are now back in touch and have been so since my mother’s 90th birthday.”
They continued to grow close once again, with a source telling PEOPLE that they visited each other twice in the past year. However, tensions with Furnish added an extra layer of complication in regard to their children, sons Elijah, 4, and Zachary, 6. “She never met his children, due to her hostile relationship with Elton’s husband, David Furnish,” says the source. “She went to his house in Windsor, England, for lunch recently, and the kids were kept in a separate part of the house and did not meet her.”
On Mother’s Day in May, John, 70, shared a warm message to his mother on Instagram, announcing to all that relations were well and truly restored.
“Dear Mum, Happy Mother’s Day!” he captioned the photo. “So happy we are back in touch. Love, Elton xo”
- Reporting by JULIET PENNINGTON