The O.G. Rocket Man (i.e. not the one from North Korea) has been honored by Harvard University for his efforts in fighting HIV/AIDS and for his general awesomeness.
Elton John – who is now 70 (!!) – received the Harvard Foundation’s Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award in a ceremony Monday, which we imagine took place in a cavernous stone fraternity basement filled with old straight dudes wearing stovepipe hats and good intentions. By earning the award, John joined the ranks of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and three former Secretaries General of the United Nations.
John has opened up in the past about regretting his past self-centeredness and addictions during the peak of the AIDS crisis.
“I was a drug addict and self-absorbed,” John told Today in 2012. “You know, I was having people die right, left and center around me, friends. And yet I didn’t stop the life that I had, which is the terrible thing about addiction. It’s that – you know, it’s that bad of a disease.”
The singer mentioned the same regret upon accepting the Peter J. Gomes Award, adding that he decided to change his life after meeting Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who was the poster child for HIV awareness in the 1980s.
Many may recall that White, who endured harassment, discrimination, and even assassination attempts after contracting HIV via an infected transfusion when he was only 13, spurred Congress to pass a major HIV funding bill when he died in 1990.
In 2010, 20 years after White’s death, John penned a letter to White in the Washington Post, writing:
“I was by your side when you died at Riley Hospital. You’ve been with me every day since. You inspired me to change my life and carry on your work. Because of you, I’m still in the struggle against AIDS, 20 years later. I pledge to not rest until we achieve the compassion for which you so bravely and beautifully fought.”
John has since helped raise over $300 million for HIV- and AIDS-related programs through his Elton John AIDS foundation, which he founded just two years after White’s death.