John Winston Ono Lennon was best known as a singer, songwriter,
poet and guitarist for the English music group The Beatles. His
creative career also included the roles of solo musician, peace
activist, artist, actor and author. As half of the legendary Lennon-McCartney
songwriting team, he heavily influenced the development of rock
music, leading it towards more advanced multi-layered arrangements,
mature lyrical sentiments, and musical eclecticism.
is recognised as one of the greatest music icons of the 20th century
and many of his songs, such as "Imagine" and "Strawberry
Fields Forever", are often ranked among the best songs in
popular music history. In 2002, the BBC conducted a vote to discover
the 100 Greatest Britons of all time, and the British public voted
Lennon into 8th place.
Lennon was born John Winston Lennon in Liverpool, on 9 October
1940. Both of his parents had musical backgrounds and experience,
though neither pursued music seriously. Lennon lived with his
parents in Liverpool until his father Alfred (nicknamed Alf, and
later "Freddy"), a merchant seaman, walked out on the
family when John was five years old (John later met with his father
during his musical career). His mother Julia (under pressure from
the local authorities) decided that she was unable to care for
her son, and so gave him to her sister Mimi. Throughout the rest
of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his aunt Mimi
and her husband George at Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool.
much of the population of Liverpool, Lennon had some Irish heritage.
His grandfather, James Lennon, was born in Dublin in 1858; and
his grandmother, Mary (née Maguire), was Irish-born as
well. John Lennon's mother, Julia (née Stanley), was of
Welsh descent. Although she never knew in her lifetime, Julia
was in fact lineally descended from Thomas, Lord Stanley (1435-1504),
who dominated the Liverpool/Chester region and who commanded a
wing of the army which overthrew Richard III at Bosworth Field
in August 1485. While Lennon had little exposure to his Irish
heritage growing up, he came to identify with it later in life.
He lived in the working class section of Liverpool, from which
the Beatles emerged.
developed severe myopia as he grew up and was obliged to wear
glasses in order to see clearly. During his early Beatles career,
Lennon wore contacts or prescription sunglasses (or simply "toughed
it out" without them).
1966, on the set of How I Won The War, Lennon was issued a pair
of National Health spectacles. He continued to wear these round,
wire-rimmed glasses which became part of his iconic public image.
John lived apart from his mother, he still kept in contact with
her through regular visits. During Lennon's younger years, Julia
cultivated his lifelong interest in music by teaching him how
to play the banjo. She had actually learned the instrument from
John's father when they were dating, and when John began to play
guitar, he started out playing the same four-string chords, leaving
the bass strings untuned. It wasn't until Paul McCartney entered
John's life that John began to learn proper guitar chords.
15 July 1958, when John was 17, Julia was killed after being struck
by a car driven by a drunk off-duty police officer. Julia's death
was one of the factors that cemented his friendship with McCartney,
who had lost his own mother to breast cancer in 1956, when he
time of his mother's death was a very emotionally depressing time.
Years later, Lennon wrote the songs "Julia", "Mother"
and "My Mummy's Dead" regarding his mother, as well
as naming his firstborn son, Julian, after her.
1951 to 1955, John attended his middle school, Kent Middle School,
by which he explained as the start of his misery. He started making
cartoons mocking the teachers in an act of rebellion.
failing in grammar school, Lennon was accepted into the Liverpool
College of Art with help from his school's headmaster and his
Aunt Mimi. It was there that he met his future wife, Cynthia Powell.
Lennon would steadily grow to hate the conformity of art school,
which proved to be little different from his earlier school experience,
and ultimately dropped out.
instead devoted himself to music, inspired by American Rock 'n'
Roll and singers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly
and Little Richard. He had started a skiffle band in grammar school
called The Quarry Men (after his alma mater, Quarry Bank School).
With the addition of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the band
changed to playing rock 'n' roll, taking the name "Johnny
and The Moondogs", followed by "The Silver Beetles"
(a tribute to Buddy Holly's Crickets), which was later shortened
to The Beatles. He married Powell in 1962, after she became pregnant
in The Beatles
Lennon had a profound influence on rock and roll and in expanding
the genre's boundaries during the 1960s. He is widely considered,
along with songwriting partner Paul McCartney, as one of the most
influential singer-songwriter-musicians of the 20th century. Many
of the songs written exclusively or primarily by Lennon, however,
are more introspective — often in the first person —
and more personal than McCartney's.
most surreal pieces of songwriting, "Strawberry Fields Forever"
and "I Am the Walrus", are fine examples of his unique
style. Lennon's partnership in songwriting with McCartney many
times involved him in complementing and counterbalancing McCartney's
upbeat positive outlook with the other side of the coin, as one
of their songs, "Getting Better" demonstrates:
I've got to admit it's getting better, it's getting better all
Lennon: Can't get no worse!
popular than Jesus" controversy
Lennon often spoke his mind freely and the press was used to querying
him on a wide range of subjects. On 4 March 1966 in an interview
for the London Evening Standard with Maureen Cleave, who was a
friend of his, Lennon made an off the cuff remark regarding religion.
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. …
I don't know what will go first—Rock and Roll or Christianity.
We're more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right but his
disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that
ruins it for me." The article was printed and nothing came
of it, until five months later when a teen magazine called Datebook
reprinted part of the quote on the front cover.
firestorm of protest swelled from the southern U.S. Bible Belt
area, as conservative groups publicly burned Beatles records and
memorabilia. Radio stations banned Beatles music and concert venues
cancelled performances. Even the Vatican got involved with a public
denunciation of Lennon's comments. On 11 August 1966, the Beatles
held a press conference in Chicago, Illinois, in order to address
the growing furor.
"I suppose if I had said television was more popular than
Jesus, I would have gotten away with it, but I just happened to
be talking to a friend and I used the words "Beatles"
as a remote thing, not as what I think - as Beatles, as those
other Beatles like other people see us. I just said "they"
are having more influence on kids and things than anything else,
including Jesus. But I said it in that way which is the wrong
Reporter: "Some teenagers have repeated your statements -
"I like The Beatles more than Jesus Christ." What do
you think about that?"
Lennon: "Well, originally I pointed out that fact in reference
to England. That we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion
at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down. I was just
saying it as a fact and it's true more for England than here.
I'm not saying that we're better or greater, or comparing us with
Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is.
I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or it was taken wrong.
And now it's all this."
Reporter: "But are you prepared to apologise?"
Lennon: "I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying.
I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious
thing. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still don't
know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do
but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy,
then OK, I'm sorry."
governing members of the Vatican accepted his apology and the
furor eventually died down, but constant Beatlemania, mobs, crazed
teenagers, and now a press ready to tear them to pieces over any
quote was too much to handle. The Beatles soon decided to stop
touring, and indeed, never performed a scheduled concert again.
From this point onward The Beatles were a studio band (perhaps
the first ever). Freed from the problem of having to compose music
they could recreate live on stage, they could explore the technological
limits of music and create unique and original sounds.
and his family controversy
It is generally acknowledged that Lennon slapped his first wife,
Cynthia, at least once in the early years of their relationship,
as confirmed in her book, "John". The rise of Beatlemania
and rigours of touring, of course, only furthered the strain on
the relationship. He was also very distant to his son, Julian,
who felt closer to Paul McCartney than to his father. As the younger
Lennon later said, "I've never really wanted to know the
truth about how dad was with me. There was some very negative
stuff talked about me — like when he said I'd come out of
a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think,
where's the love in that? Paul and I used to hang about quite
a bit — more than dad and I did. We had a great friendship
going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing
together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad."
On 9 November 1966, after their final tour ended and right after
he had wrapped up filming a minor role in the film How I Won the
War, Lennon visited an art exhibit of Yoko Ono's at the Indica
art gallery in London. Lennon began his love affair with Ono in
1968 after returning from India and leaving his estranged wife
Cynthia, who filed for divorce later that year. Lennon and Ono
became inseparable in public and private, as well as during Beatles
press was extremely unkind to Ono, posting a series of unflattering
articles about her, one even going so far as to call her "ugly."
This infuriated Lennon, who rallied around his new partner and
said publicly that there was no John and Yoko, but that they were
one person, JohnAndYoko. These developments led to friction with
the other members of the group, and heightened the tension during
the 1968 White Album sessions.
the end of 1968, Lennon and Ono performed as Dirty Mac on The
Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus.
his last two years as a member of The Beatles, Lennon spent much
of his time with Ono on public displays protesting the Vietnam
War. He sent back the MBE (Member of the Order of the British
Empire) he received from Queen Elizabeth II during the height
of Beatlemania "in protest against Britain's involvement
in the Nigeria-Biafra thing and support of America in Vietnam,"
adding as a joke, "as well as 'Cold Turkey' slipping down
20 March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married in Gibraltar, and spent
their honeymoon in Amsterdam in a "Bed-In" for peace.
Behind their bed were posters displaying the words "Hair
Peace. Bed Peace." They followed up their honeymoon with
another "Bed-In" for peace, this time held in Montreal
at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. During the second "Bed-In"
the couple recorded "Give Peace a Chance", which would
go on to become an international anthem for the peace movement.
They were mainly patronised as a couple of eccentrics by the media,
yet they did a great deal for the peace movement, as well as for
other pet causes, such as feminism and racial harmony.
with the "Bed-In" campaign, Lennon and Ono usually advocated
their causes with whimsical demonstrations, such as Bagism, first
introduced during a Vienna press conference. Shortly after, Lennon
changed his middle name from Winston to Ono to show his "oneness"
with his new wife. Lennon wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko"
about his marriage and the subsequent press it generated.
Break-up of The Beatles
The failed Get Back/Let It Be recording/filming sessions did nothing
to improve relations within the band. After both Lennon and Ono
were injured in the summer of 1969 in a car accident in Scotland,
Lennon arranged for Ono to be constantly with him in the studio
(including having a full-sized bed rolled in) as he worked on
The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road. While the group managed to
hang together to produce one last superior musical work, soon
thereafter business issues related to Apple Corps came between
decided to quit The Beatles but was talked out of saying anything
publicly. Phil Spector's involvement in trying to revive the Let
It Be material then drove a further wedge between Lennon (who
supported Spector) and McCartney (who opposed him). Though the
split would only become legal some time later, Lennon and McCartney's
partnership had come to a bitter end. McCartney soon made a press
announcement, declaring he had quit The Beatles, and promoting
his new solo record.
1970 Jann Wenner recorded an interview with Lennon that was played
on BBC in 2005. The interview reveals his bitterness towards Paul
McCartney and the hostility he felt that the other members held
towards Yoko Ono. Lennon said: "One of the main reasons the
Beatles ended is because . . . I pretty well know, we got fed
up with being sidemen for Paul. After Brian [Epstein] died we
collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading
us when we went round in circles? Paul had the impression we should
be thankful for what he did, for keeping The Beatles going. But
he kept it going for his own sake."
Of the four former Beatles, Lennon had perhaps the most varied
recording career. While he was still a Beatle, Lennon and Ono
recorded three albums of experimental and difficult music, Unfinished
Music No.1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the
Lions, and Wedding Album.
first 'solo' album of popular music was Live Peace in Toronto
1969, recorded in 1969 (prior to the breakup of The Beatles) at
the Rock 'n' Roll Festival in Toronto with The Plastic Ono Band,
which included Eric Clapton and Klaus Voormann. He also recorded
three singles in his initial solo phase, the anti-war anthem "Give
Peace a Chance", "Cold Turkey" (about his struggles
with heroin addiction) and "Instant Karma!"
The Beatles' split in 1970, he released the John Lennon/Plastic
Ono Band album, a raw, brutally personal record, heavily influenced
by Arthur Janov's Primal therapy, which Lennon had undergone previously.
The influence of the therapy, which consists literally of screaming
out one's emotional pain, is most obvious on the songs "Mother"
("Mama don't go!/Daddy come home!") and "Well Well
centrepiece is "God," in which he lists all the things
he does not believe in, ending with "Beatles". His growing
political radicalisation is especially evident on the song "Working
Class Hero," whose use of the word "fucking" got
it banned from the airwaves. Many consider "Plastic Ono Band"
to be a major influence on later hard rock and punk music. Lennon
continued this effort to demythologise his old band with a long,
confrontational interview published in Rolling Stone magazine.
was followed in 1971 by Imagine, his most successful solo album,
which alternates in tone between dreaminess and anger. The title
track has become an anthem for anti-war movements, and was matched
in image by Lennon's "white period" (white clothes,
white piano, white room, etc).
in reaction, his next album, Some Time in New York City, was loud,
raucous, and explicitly political, with songs about prison riots,
racial and sexual relations, the British role in the sectarian
troubles in Northern Ireland, and his own problems in obtaining
a United States Green Card. Lennon had been interested in left-wing
politics since the late 1960s, and was said to have given donations
to the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party.
was during the period of the recording of this album that his
links to this group were perhaps at their strongest. On 30 August
1972 Lennon and his backing band Elephant's Memory staged two
benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York; it was
to be his last full-length concert appearance. Lennon and Ono
also did a week-long guest co-host stint on the Mike Douglas Show,
in an appearance that showed Lennon's wit and humour still intact.
1972, Lennon released an anti-sexism song, "Woman Is the
Nigger of the World", implying that as black people were
discriminated against in some countries, so were women globally.
Radio refused to broadcast the song, and it was banned nearly
everywhere, although he managed to play it to television viewers
during his second appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.
rebounded in 1973 with Mind Games, which featured a strong title
tune and some vague mumblings about a "conceptual country"
called "Nutopia", which satirised his ongoing immigration
case. His most striking song of that year was the wry "I'm
the Greatest," which he wrote for Ringo Starr's very successful
1973, Lennon's personal life fell into disrepair when Yoko kicked
John out of the house. Yoko approached May Pang, their personal
assistant at the time, with a unique proposal. Yoko, who thought
May Pang to be an "ideal companion" for John, asked
her to "be with John and to help him out and see to it that
he gets whatever he wanted."
and May soon moved to Los Angeles which had been dubbed the "lost
weekend" though it lasted until the beginning of 1975. During
their time together, May encouraged John to spend time with his
son, Julian Lennon, and became friends with Cynthia Lennon. Though
John's public drunkenness had been the subject of gossip during
1974, Pang wrote that John was usually sober in his private life
and created a large body of work.
alleged episodes of drunkenness, Lennon put together the well-received
album, Walls and Bridges, which featured a collaboration with
Elton John on the up-tempo number one hit "Whatever Gets
You Thru the Night". Another top ten hit from the album was
the Beatlesque reverie "#9 Dream". Also, on the album,
he made his last reference to primal therapy in his song "Nobody
Loves You (When You're Down and Out)", referring to Janov
as "the one-eyed witch doctor leading the blind."
capped the year by making a surprise guest appearance at an Elton
John concert in Madison Square Garden where they performed "Lucy
in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Thru the
Night" and "I Saw Her Standing There" together.
It was to be his last-ever concert appearance.
1975, Lennon released the Rock 'n' Roll album of cover versions
of old rock and roll songs of his youth. This project was complicated
by Phil Spector's involvement as producer and by several legal
battles; the result received generally negative reviews, though
it yielded a powerful, lauded cover of "Stand by Me".
this point Yoko was pregnant with what would be their first child,
and Lennon — saddened by the fact that due to Beatlemania
he had never gotten to experience fatherhood with his first son
Julian — retired from music and dedicated himself to family
life. This was made easier in 1976 when his US immigration status
was finally resolved favourably, after a years-long battle with
the Nixon administration that included an FBI investigation involving
surveillance, wiretaps, and agents literally following Lennon
around as he travelled. Lennon claimed the investigation was politically
in 1975, David Bowie achieved his first US number one hit with
"Fame", co-written by Bowie, Lennon (who also contributed
backing vocals) and Carlos Alomar.
retirement, which he began following the birth of his second son,
Sean in 1975, lasted until 1980, when Lennon wrote an impressive
amount of material during a lengthy Bermuda vacation and began
thinking about a new album. For this comeback, he and Ono produced
Double Fantasy, a concept album dealing with their relationship.
The name came from a flower Lennon saw at the Bermuda Botanical
Gardens; he liked the name, and thought it was a perfect description
of his marriage to Yoko. The plant still exists.
Lennons once again began a series of interviews and video footage
to promote the album. Although Lennon would say in interviews
for the album that he had not touched a guitar for five years,
several of the tunes, such as "I'm Losing You," and
"Watching the Wheels," had been worked on at home in
the Dakota in various stages with different lyrics from 1977 onward.
lyrics and Yoko's songs, though, for the most part, were created
as they stated. (Just Like) Starting Over" began climbing
the singles charts, and Lennon started thinking about a brand
new world tour. Lennon also commenced work on Milk and Honey which
he would leave unfinished. It was some time before Ono could bring
herself to complete it.
the end of his life, Lennon expressed his displeasure with the
scant credit he was given as an influence on George Harrison in
the latter's autobiography I Me Mine. According to Yoko, he was
also unhappy that Paul McCartney's Beatles songs, such as "Yesterday",
"Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" were more covered
than his own contributions. In a Playboy interview Lennon claimed
that his Beatles songs were sabotaged, and that the group put
more work and attention into McCartney's songs.
At 10:50 p.m. on 8 December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and
fatally wounded John Lennon in front of Lennon's residence, the
Dakota when Lennon and Ono returned from recording Ono's single
"Walking on Thin Ice" for their next album.
same day, at around 5 p.m., John and Yoko left their apartment
in the historic Dakota on Central Park West in New York City to
go to their recording studio to supervise the transfer of some
of the Double Fantasy album numbers to singles. David Geffen,
their record producer and friend, said that more than 700,000
copies of the album had already been sold up to that time.
they were leaving the Dakota, they were approached by several
people who were seeking autographs. Among them was a man who would
be later identified as Mark David Chapman. John Lennon scribbled
an autograph on the cover of Double Fantasy for Chapman.
Lennons spent several hours at the studio on West 44th Street,
returning to the Dakota at about 10:50 p.m. They exited their
limousine on the 72nd Street curb even though a car could have
driven through the entrance and into the courtyard.
witnesses--a doorman at the entrance, an elevator operator and
a cab driver who had just dropped off a passenger--saw Mark David
Chapman standing in the shadows just inside the arch.
the Lennons walked by, Chapman called, "Mr. Lennon."
Then he dropped into "a combat stance" and fired four
pistol shots. According to the autopsy, two shots struck John
Lennon in the left side of his back and two in his left shoulder.
All four caused serious internal damage and bleeding.
to police, Lennon staggered up six steps to the room at the end
of the entrance used by the concierge, said, "I'm shot,"
then fell down.
first policemen at the scene were Officers Steve Spire and Peter
Cullen, who were in the patrol car at 72nd Street and Broadway
when they heard a report of shots fired at the Dakota. The officers
found Chapman standing "very calmly" where he had been.
police said he had dropped the revolver after firing it, and said
Chapman had a paperback book, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher
in the Rye," and a cassette recorder with 14 hours of Beatles
second police team at the Dakota, Officers Bill Gamble and James
Moran, took Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital. Officer Moran said they
stretched Lennon out on the back seat and that the singer was
"moaning." He said he asked, "Are you John Lennon?"
and that Lennon had moaned, "Yeah."
Stephen Lyman of Roosevelt Hospital said Lennon was dead when
the policemen arrived with him. He was pronounced dead at 11:15
p.m. Dr. Elliott M. Gross, the Chief Medical Examiner, said after
the autopsy that Lennon had died of shock and loss of blood and
that no one could have lived more than a few minutes with such
Ono, crying "Tell me it's not true," was taken to Roosevelt
Hospital and led away in shock after she learned her husband was
dead. David Geffen later issued a statement in her behalf: "John
loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him."
minutes of the first broadcasts of the news of the shooting, people
began to gather at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota,
reciting prayers, singing Lennon's songs and burning candles.
14 December, all around the world, people paused to stand alone
or come together in silence, heeding a plea from Yoko Ono that
they take 10 minutes to remember the former Beatle.
died around 11:15 p.m of shock after losing more than 80% of his
first national transmission of the tragic news across the USA
was on the fledgling Cable News Network, on which anchorwoman
Kathleen Sullivan reported that Lennon had been shot and was en
route to a New York hospital (his death had not yet been confirmed).
But most Americans learned of the murder via an unusual source.
Lennon was shot, ABC Television was in the midst of airing an
NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots on
Monday Night Football. After having the news fed directly to his
headset by ABC News chief Roone Arledge, legendary football announcer
Howard Cosell (who had interviewed Lennon on MNF years earlier)
went ahead and announced the news of the murder:
we have to say it, remember this is just a football game, no matter
who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by
ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment
building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps
of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt
Hospital, dead on arrival."
news was broken on competing network NBC in a more traditional
manner: a comedy piece on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny
Carson" was interrupted by an anonymous announcer voicing
the news bulletin over a text slide visual, then returning, in
what had to seem surreal to viewers, to the Carson sketch that
had been interrupted.
asked once in the 1960s how he expected to die, Lennon's offhand
answer was "I'll probably be popped off by some loony."
Several Beatles concerts in the United States and Canada in fact
did see strengthened security forces because of threats against
the individual lives of the group members, and Ringo Starr himself
claims to have performed at a Montreal concert with his cymbals
positioned so as to block his view from the audience. In retrospect,
although Lennon might have meant it as a joke and did not expect
it to happen, the comment turned out to be chillingly accurate.
chillingly accurate comment was made in his last interview, where
he mentioned that he often felt that somebody was stalking him:
first it was federal agents in the 1970s trying to deport him
and later the obsessed fan in 1980.
eerie bit of trivia is that the Dakota was the setting for much
of the horror film Rosemary's Baby, directed by Roman Polanski.
Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family
as part of a plot based on their twisted views of Beatles songs.
was cremated, his ashes kept by Yoko Ono.
Lennon has been the subject of numerous memorials and tributes,
principally the Strawberry Fields Memorial, constructed in Central
Park across the street from the Dakota building. In 2002, Liverpool
also renamed its airport the Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and
adopted the motto "Above us only sky".
8 December, the anniversary of his death, there is a memorial
in front of Capitol Records on Vine Street in Hollywood, California.
It includes speakers discussing Lennon, musical tributes, and
Throughout his solo career, Lennon appeared on his own albums
(as well as those of other artists like Elton John) under such
pseudonyms as Dr Winston O'Boogie, Mel Torment (a play on singer
Mel Tormé), and The Reverend Fred Gherkin (a gherkin is
a small sweet pickle). He and Yoko (as Ada Gherkin — "ate
a gherkin", and other sobriquets) also travelled under such
names, thus avoiding unwanted public attention.