Lance Bass Remembers Getting a 'Welcome to the Club' Gift Basket from Elton John After He Came Out in 2006 (Exclusive)

Bass looked back on his groundbreaking cover as part of PEOPLE's 50th anniversary issue

<p>Karwai Tang/WireImage; Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty</p> Elton John in May 2019 in London; Lance Bass in January 2024 in Los Angeles

Karwai Tang/WireImage; Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty

Elton John in May 2019 in London; Lance Bass in January 2024 in Los Angeles

As Lance Bass looks back on coming out as gay in PEOPLE in 2006, he remembers feeling nervous, then relieved.

He also remembers getting a gift basket from Elton John himself.

But before the *NSYNC member received the sweet gift from the “Tiny Dancer” singer, now 77, Bass, now 44, had to decide whether or not to address the speculation about his sexuality that was heating up nearly two decades ago.

“Of course there were rumors, but that was also at a time where social media wasn't so much of a thing and you could actually have more of a private life,” Bass says in the new issue of PEOPLE. “No one was taking pictures everywhere you went. So it was kind of easy for me to live this kind of private life.”

“I had a boyfriend, my circle of friends knew about me, and I just didn't think [my sexuality] was such a big deal,” recalls Bass.

Related: Celebrities Share Their Coming Out Stories

But while he was on vacation in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular gay resort town, he was recognized by a man who struck up a conversation.

“I was talking to him in the bathroom line at one of the bars and he's like, ‘You're Lance, right?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘Wait, are you gay?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah.’ And it was the first time I told a stranger that I was gay,” says Bass.

Lance Bass on the cover of PEOPLE
Lance Bass on the cover of PEOPLE

The encounter was written up by a tabloid newspaper — Bass says the man who chatted him up was in fact a journalist — and the Mississippi native says speculation about his sexuality went into overdrive.

“I knew I had to say something. And at that point, I was so scared about what would happen in my life personally. I didn't want my family to get hurt by this,” says Bass.

He also feared the “complete death of my career,” explaining, “that's always what I was told: ‘If you come out, you're done.’”

Related: Lance Bass Reveals He Wore Disguise to Travel During Peak of *NSYNC Fame: 'I Looked Like This Goth Guy'

In the years leading up to his decision to come out publicly, he had a lot of lose. *NSYNC had been one of the biggest boy bands the world had ever seen, and after they went on hiatus as various members — which included Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake — pursued solo projects, Bass landed a deal for an Odd Couple-esque sitcom with Fatone.

Bass says the “only example” of a star publicly coming out in such a way was Ellen DeGeneres, whose career suffered for several years after she revealed in 1997 that she is a lesbian.

“I saw how she was treated. I'm like, ‘Oh, Lord have mercy. That's horrible,’” says Bass.

Nevertheless, he decided to “rip the band-aid off”  so he could control the story on his terms.

<p>Bob Berg/Getty</p> *NSYNC members Chris Kirkpatrick, Justin Timberlake, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass and JC Chasez in Los Angeles in August 1999

Bob Berg/Getty

*NSYNC members Chris Kirkpatrick, Justin Timberlake, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass and JC Chasez in Los Angeles in August 1999

“Who do I trust the most? Of course, it was PEOPLE that I knew would tell the real story,” says Bass, who did the interview less than 48 hours after making the decision to sit down for a talk.

Afterwards, he and then-boyfriend Reichen Lehmkuhl decided to lay low for a bit. “So many emotions were going through me at that moment. I remember I went to Catalina Island with my boyfriend at the time,” recalls Bass. “I said, ‘I can't watch this go down.’”

When the magazine hit, “everything in my life changed that day,” says Bass.

Some of it was bad — Bass lost his sitcom deal— but much of it was good. “I didn't expect how positive the rest of the world would treat it,” says Bass. “The industry said, oh, well, we can't use you now. But the public — they made it such a positive thing.”

“Once I was able to see that reaction, it made me feel so good that I wasn't going to be hated,” he continues.

Robin L Marshall/WireImage Michael Turchin, Lance Bass and their twins Violet and Alexander
Robin L Marshall/WireImage Michael Turchin, Lance Bass and their twins Violet and Alexander

Others accepted Bass with open arms. “The most fun thing I got after I came out was a nice gift basket — I think on my front step — and it was from Elton John basically saying, ‘Welcome to the club,’” he says.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I got a welcome basket from the king of the gay mafia,’” he jokes. “I'm like, ‘I'm in!’ I thought that was the most fun, welcoming basket you could ever get.”

And even though his family, including his parents, already knew that Bass was gay ahead of the article, “our relationship completely got better,” he says. “It took them a while to understand it. And to this day, it's incredible. They accept us like no other."

<p>Universal Pictures All-Access/ Youtube</p> Bass' mom Diane and Justin Timberlake in 2023

Universal Pictures All-Access/ Youtube

Bass' mom Diane and Justin Timberlake in 2023

The “us” Bass is referring to includes his husband of almost 10 years, Michael Turchin, with whom he shares 2½-year-old twins Violet and Alexander.

“I'm just one of those lucky people that had a family that supported me no matter what, even if they still don't understand it completely,” says Bass.

And as for his career, that rebounded too. While the sitcom deal may have went away, his 2007 autobiography Out of Sync became a New York Times bestseller, competed on Dancing with the Stars, launched a podcast and eventually found his way back to his boy band roots.

Related: Justin Timberlake Joined by *NSYNC to Perform Medley and New Song 'Paradise' at Los Angeles Show

*NSYNC released the single “Better Place” last year, they have a song called "Paradise" on Timberlake's latest solo album, and there’s “lots of ideas” for future projects together, he says.

Overall, Bass is incredibly grateful. “I have an incredible husband, two incredible children, a loving family. My parents are so amazing. My career is turning back into *NSYNC, which I didn’t think was going to happen,” he says. “Life is beautiful."

For more, pick up the 50th anniversary issue of PEOPLE, available on newsstands everywhere now.

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Read the original article on People.