Flashback: Watch Elton John Play Australia With a Symphony in 1986 - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Watch Elton John Play Australia With a Symphony in 1986

The shows came while he was experiencing severe throat problems

Elton John was an absolute mess when he arrived in Australia for a grueling 22 date tour across the continent in November of 1986. He’d spent months rehearsing with his band and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for a three-hour career retrospective show he labelled the Tour De Force. It was far and away the most ambitious show he’d ever conceived, and it couldn’t have come at a worst time. His cocaine and alcohol problem was completely out of control, and (unbeknownst to him) polyps had grown on his vocal cords that made singing extremely difficult and painful. 

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Elton has an incredible work ethic, and even under these conditions he was determined to finish the tour. Fans noticed that his voice was scratchy and strained, but the shows were still absolutely amazing. He revived early 1970s classics like “The Greatest Discovery,” “The King Must Die” and “Have Mercy On The Criminal” that had been un-played for years.

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The tour wrapped up with a nine-night stand at the Sydney Entertainment Center. By this point, Elton was unable to hide his problems from the audience and he often had coughing fits onstage. The final show, on December 14th, was filmed for a VHS release and a live album. (Check out a large portion of the show above.) Elton feared it might be his final concert ever, and he sang with all the passion and fire he could muster. 

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When the tour wrapped, Elton checked into an Australian hospital and had major throat surgery. He wouldn’t play a concert for another two years, and his voice has never been the same.

In This Article: Elton John


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