The Time Elton John Mistook a Scruffy-Looking Bob Dylan for a Trespassing Gardener

Failing to recognize someone you know out in public is embarrassing for anyone. But when you’re Elton John loudly mistaking Bob Dylan as a trespassing gardener in a room full of celebrities who all know each other, well, that story’s just cringey enough to be memoir-worthy.

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To be fair, the “Rocket Man” singer was deep in the throes of drug addiction when he made his awkward faux pas. Still, that didn’t stop the room from falling into a “shocked silence,” as John described in his autobiography Me.

A Hush Fell Over The Room After The Gardener Outburst

As he described the multiple times his peers and colleagues tried to convince him he needed rehabilitation for his drug addiction, Elton John brought up one fateful night in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. John, who had been renting a house in southern California at the time, decided to host a huge backyard barbecue, inviting “everyone I knew that was in town.”

“By the middle of the evening, I was flying, absolutely out of my mind, when a scruffy-looking guy I didn’t recognize wandered into the party,” John wrote. “Who the hell was he? It must be one of the staff, a gardener. I loudly demanded to know what the gardener was doing helping himself to a drink.” 

John said that the party suddenly dropped into a “shocked silence.” Eventually, John’s assistant, Bob Halley, broke the quiet. “‘Elton, that’s not the f***ing gardener,” John recalled Halley saying. “It’s Bob Dylan.”

Elton John Tried To Smooth Things Over With Bob Dylan

Embarrassed at his very public gardener gaff and, as Elton John put it, “coked out of [his] brain,” the pianist quickly rushed over to Bob Dylan to try and make amends…much to the chagrin of the called-out songwriter. “‘Bob! Bob! We can’t have you in those terrible clothes, darling,’” John told Dylan. “‘Come upstairs, and I’ll fit you out with some of mine at once. Come on, dear!’”

John described Dylan’s expression as “horrified.” Nevertheless, John continued to try to push Dylan out of the garden party and into the house so that John could dress him in some less-scruffy-looking duds. Luckily for Dylan, divine intervention by a former Beatle interrupted the clumsy shuffle. “As I continued propelling him out of the garden, I heard the unmistakable sound of George [Harrison]’s mordant, Scouse-accented voice calling out to me. ‘Elton,’ he said. ‘I really think you need to go steady on the old marching powder.’”

The cringe-worthy anecdote certainly painted a portrait of a musician struggling under the weight of fame’s excess. (Indeed, when George Harrison, who was no stranger to hard drugs himself, tells you that you need to slow down, that should tell you something.) Thankfully, John was able to recover from his addiction and continue his career successfully. But we can’t help but think that embarrassing garden party blunder is one of those memories Elton John can’t help but wince at when it pops up in his mind—and honestly, the same probably goes for Bob Dylan.

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