Billie Jean King wasn’t exactly thrilled when Donald Trump referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” in his address to the United Nations on Tuesday, September 19 — but for a different reason than you may think.
“There’s only one ‘Rocket Man,’” the tennis legend, 73, told Us Weekly in an interview that same day. “And that’s Elton John! Anything else is an insult.”
King’s friendship with the “Tiny Dancer” singer stretches back 46 years. The rather unlikely friends met in 1971 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, two years before her fateful match against Bobby Riggs, which inspired the new film Battle of the Sexes.
“We couldn’t stop talking,” the 39-time Grand Slam champion tells Us. Six months later, the Grammy winner picked her up in a Rolls Royce and they listened to music all night. “Lily Tomlin said we were separated at birth,” she recalls. “We were both chubby and couldn’t see well. I wanted to play the piano and he wanted to be an athlete.”
To this day, the Hall of Famer says the “Candle in the Wind” crooner has a tennis pro on tour with him so he can practice on a regular basis. And every year for the past 24 years, the pair have hosted a charity tennis match together. “He’s very competitive,” King said of her good pal.
Despite their bond, the friendship did hit a bump in the road at one point. “There was a period of about five years when we didn’t talk,” she admits. “But then one day he called me and asked me to meet him in rehab in Chicago. And we just reconnected.”
These days, King sits on the board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “We each have foundations that support the other. It’s all about equality and freedom,” she tells Us, also mentioning that she will be in attendance at the EJAF’s Enduring Love gala this November in New York, where Aretha Franklin is set to perform. The soul singer is King’s favorite artist — second to John, of course.
Meanwhile, when Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, opens in theaters on Friday, September 22, fans might catch a nod to their deep-rooted friendship. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris included one of his hits from that era — the one and only “Rocket Man.”
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