"Candle in the Wind," a poignant look at the tragic life of Marilyn Monroe, is often the emotional highlight of an Elton John concert.
But the ballad was even more heartfelt than usual Friday night when the English pop star sang it during an hourlong performance at the Century Plaza Hotel.
The event, which raised a reported $500,000 for Athletes & Entertainers for Kids, was John's first public performance since throat surgery in early 1987.
His voice sounded fine and he seemed so delighted to be back on stage that it was no surprise when he announced he was going to resume touring this fall.
When John sat at the piano to begin "Candle in the Wind," he was joined by Ryan White, the 16-year-old who made headlines in 1986 when he was forced to leave a Kokomo, Ind., school because he had AIDS, and Jason Robertson, a 7-year-old who went through a similar experience in his hometown (Granite City, Ill.).
The boys sat at the piano with John, giving the sympathetic lyrics an extra resonance. But John didn't exploit the kids or milk the pathos. At the end of the song, he simply hugged the boys and walked them off stage before going into his next number.
John became aware of White's plight through a magazine report in late 1986. He had his office track down the boy and subsequently took him out on tour.
It's not the first time that the 41-year-old musician has supported the fight against AIDS. John joined Dionne Warwick and others on "That's What Friends Are For," the 1985 single which raised more than $1 million for AIDS research.
Midway through Friday's concert, he unveiled a ballad, "Love Is Worth Waiting For," which he plans to turn into another
all-star, AIDS charity record. The song urges teen-agers to exercise caution in their sexual
In the benefit's souvenir program, John and lyricist Bernie Taupin said they wrote the song to "warn kids . . . that sex in this day and age is a dangerous game. We are aware that peer pressure and constant lecturing on social habits are uncomfortable burdens on the young, but in the case of AIDS, ignorance is not bliss."
John added in an interview after the concert that he wants the record to feature three or four artists with strong appeal to kids--such as Jon Bon Jovi and Madonna. But he acknowledged that he's had a hard time getting the project off the ground.
"It's been a bit of a struggle trying to get other artists to contribute to it," he said. "I thought there would be a flood of people saying, 'yeah, we'll do it,' but in fact other artists have been very cool."
John added that he will donate the proceeds from one of his Los Angeles shows in September (possibly a return to the Hollywood Bowl) to Athletes & Entertainers for Kids, which helps kids suffering from a variety of diseases and problems. Friday's dinner was co-chaired by actors Charlie Sheen and Marlee Matlin.
John was joined on stage by eight musicians and singers on material which ranged from early hits like "Your Song" to the new, sassy "I Don't Want to Go On With You Like That."
It's not easy to perform in a hotel ballroom, especially when the audience is sitting uncomfortably in black-tie and has just eaten dinner. But John not only held the audience's attention, but had them standing and cheering during the closing moments.
After the show, John was asked if the pop world is doing enough to raise money (and consciousness) about AIDS.
"You can never do enough," he said. "It's frightening what's happening out there. We don't particularly want to shout about it from the rooftops, but sometimes you have to."