May 20th, 2009
02:43 PM ET

Sir Elton's ashamed he didn't do more

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

Growing up, my musical taste was very different from most of the other kids'. While they were all listening to New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys, I was listening to the classics: The Beatles, Billy Joel, The Who, Elton John. Not necessarily because my tastes were more refined – it’s just what my dad listened to.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/20/sanjay.elton.bts.jpg caption="A behind the scenes look after we finished interviewing Sir Elton John."]I'll never get to meet The Beatles - at least not all four of them - but imagine how cool it was for me when I got to meet Sir Elton John, Tuesday, in Atlanta.

John was here speaking to more than 3,500 biotechnolgy industry experts about a very important global issue: HIV/AIDS. Although he does not personally battle HIV, he has taken on the disease since 1992 as if he had been sentenced to die like millions of others.

The Rocket Man raised more than $30 million last year alone in Oscar party fundraisers, benefit concerts and charity auctions, and it all goes directly to the people who need it most.

"We never really invested in vaccines or in research," he said in that famous British accent. "We left that to amFAR who do a fantastic job. We've always primarily concentrated on direct care and education."

That “direct care and education” goes to organizations like Baphumelele (which built houses for the caretaker of 150 children left orphaned by HIV in South Africa), sex education courses for thousands of kids in the Caribbean, and needle-exchange programs like the Syringe Access Fund.

All of this fundraising activity is going on even as he tours the country from left coast to right; just hours after we spoke to him, John played with another rock legend – Billy Joel – in Indianapolis.

John said he's trying to make up for lost time.

“I don’t know where I was [in the 1980s], and I really deeply regret that, and I try to make up for lost time by being far more outspoken now that I'm sober," said John, in response to Sanjay's question about why he was not more active when AIDS first reared its ugly head in 1981. "I am very lucky in the fact that I am a celebrity and that I can go out and do concerts and raise money for AIDS," he said. "I use my fame and my power and my personality to go there and kind of be like the whore of the organization, if you will."

At least for the forseeable future, this 62-year-old rock icon has no plans to slow down in his global fight to rid the world of HIV/AIDS.

Do you donate your time or money to HIV/AIDS? We'd like to hear about it!

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