Elton John, who turned 70 this year, is celebrating 27 years of sobriety, and he recently spoke openly about cleaning up his act at Harvard.

As People reports, John told the audience at Harvard, “My passion and commitment to music opened up imaginable doors and took me to new heights in life. But once I hit the pinnacle, happiness became elusive and darkness crept in. I lost my own humanity in an excess of drugs, alcoholism, and eating disorders.”

John also fell into despair when the AIDS epidemic hit in the eighties, and he lost many friends to the disease. “I didn’t put myself on the line because of the addictions I was going through. The drugs turned me into a monster.”

One event that prompted John to clean up his act was meeting Ryan White, a brave young boy who eventually succumbed to AIDS, and who became the public face for the disease when many mistakenly thought it only affected gay people. “I had the luck to meet Ryan White and his family. I wanted to help them, but they ended up helping me much more. Ryan was the spark that helped me to recover from my additions and start the AIDS foundation. Within six months I became sober, and have been for the last 27 years.”

Speaking at Harvard, John added, “Today, my mission is to help other people embrace their own humanity and that of others is the most powerful and positive force in the whole wide world. The human spirit is the most powerful thing in the world, and when it embraces kindness and does good things, wonderful things happen. Nothing is more profound or powerful than recognizing our common humanity. I know how easy it is to despair. We can rise above it and lift people up.”