When the 2001 Grammys took place, controversy was swirling around Eminem. His third LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, was one of the biggest hits of the previous year and was up for a slate of awards, but many critics saw his lyrics as homophobic, violent and misogynistic. Protesters stood outside of the Staples Center on Grammy night holding signs that said things like "Award Music, Not Hate."
While many in the gay community were highly critical of Eminem, Elton John was a supporter from the very beginning. He recognized that many Eminem songs were written from the perspective of the deranged Slim Shady. In a show of support, he agreed to perform "Stan" with the rapper at the ceremony. In one of the most memorable duets in Grammy history, Elton played keyboards and sang the Dido sample from the tune. At the end they hugged, and then Eminem flipped off the audience.
In the years since the performance, Elton and Eminem have become very close. "I love him," John told Rolling Stone in 2010. "I don't see much of Marshall, but we speak a lot. He's really worked very hard at [sobriety], and it's changed him so much. I just saw a picture of him in a magazine, and he looks like a 17-year-old boy. I'm so happy for him . . . We have such a laugh. We call each other cunts. I ask him how he's doing and tell him how proud I am of him. He's got a great sense of humor. When David and I had our civil partnership, he sent us a present. In a case, on velvet cushions, were two diamond cock rings. So there's a homophobe for you."
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