Book Review: Terry O’Neill’s Elton John: The Definitive Portrait documents a long and successful career

Elton John and photographer Terry O’Neill first collaborated in 1972. Since then, O’Neill has taken around five thousand photographs of the star across the decades that followed. Recently, when going through his collection, O’Neill recognised the special nature of these photographs and wanted to share them with Elton’s legion of fans. Elton John: The Definitive Portrait represents the very best of that collection, with many of the images contained in the book being shown for the very first time.  

Of course, Terry O’Neill, is not just any old photographer. Widely considered to be one of the most important photographers of his generation, O’Neill has taken iconic photographers of a diverse set of artists and celebrities; including Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and more. 

His relationship with Elton came after hearing him on the radio. He arranged to take some informal photos of what he thought was a star in the making. The rest is history. They have now enjoyed a forty-five year working relationship. 

The photographs presented within this collection, many of which are personal, highlight not only the evolution of a professional and working friendship but also Elton’s career. Notably though O’Neill has only captured the positive aspect of the career, with O’Neill noting he wasn’t aware of the personal problems Elton experienced, despite being allowed unprecedented access into Elton’s life and work. 

The photos also document the changes in fashion and culture that took place across Elton’s career. The most iconic and requested photos from O’Neill’s collection are photos from the 1975 USA tour at Dodger Stadium where Elton wore the infamous sequined L.A Dodger uniform.

The collection as it is presented here shows Elton as his most comfortable self; whether in his plane, on stage, at his homes, or in his close full of clothes and accessories (I’d love to see a book just of his sunglasses or shoe collection). Whilst many of the photographs are from the 1970’s, when Elton catapulted into the mainstream, the collection on a whole offers a rare insight into the life of Sir Elton John. 

As Elton cruises into his highly anticipated Australia tour this month, this book will wet the appetites of his fans across the country. I thoroughly enjoyed pouring through the pages, the photographs, and reading all of the interesting notes and captions penned by O’Neill. Any fan will rightly indulge in this book and keep it as a treasure to look upon at any given chance.


Terry O’Neill’s Elton John: The Definitive Portrait, with Unseen Images is available now through Hachette Australia