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John Lennon
Background information
Birth name John Winston Lennon
Born 9 October 1940
Liverpool, England
Died 8 December 1980 (aged 40)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genre Rock, pop rock, psychedelic rock, experimental rock, rock and roll
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano, bass, harmonica
Occupation Musician, singer–songwriter, artist, peace activist, writer, record producer
Years active 1957–1975, 1980
Associated acts The Quarrymen, The Beatles, Plastic Ono Band, The Dirty Mac, Yoko Ono

John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English rock musician, singer-songwriter, author, and peace activist who gained worldwide fame as one of the founding members of The Beatles. With Paul McCartney, Lennon formed one of the most influential and successful songwriting partnerships of the 20th century and "wrote some of the most popular music in rock and roll history". He is ranked the second most successful songwriter in UK singles chart history after McCartney.

Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and biting wit in his music, on film, in books, and at press conferences and interviews. He was controversial through his work as a peace activist and visual artist. After The Beatles, Lennon enjoyed a successful solo career with such acclaimed albums as John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine and iconic songs such as "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine". After a self-imposed "retirement" to raise his son Sean, Lennon reemerged with a comeback album, Double Fantasy, but was murdered less than one month after its release. The album would go on to win the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

In 2002, respondents to a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted Lennon eighth. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Lennon number 38 on its list of "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time" (The Beatles being number one). He was also ranked fifth greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone in 2008. He was posthumously inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.


John Winston Lennon was born in the Liverpool Maternity Hospital, Oxford Street, Liverpool, to Julia Lennon (born Stanley) and Alfred (Alf, or Freddie) Lennon, during the course of a German air raid in World War II. Julia's sister, Mary "Mimi" Smith, ran through the blacked-out back roads to reach the hospital. During the two-mile trek to the hospital, she used the explosions to see where she was going. Lennon was named after his paternal grandfather, John 'Jack' Lennon, and Winston Churchill. Alf was a merchant seaman during World War II, and was often away from home, but sent regular pay cheques to Julia, who was living with the young Lennon at 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, but the cheques stopped when Alf went absent without leave in 1943. When Alf eventually came home in 1944, he offered to look after his wife and son, but Julia (who was pregnant with another man's child) rejected the idea. After considerable pressure from her sister, Mimi Smith (who contacted Liverpool's Social Services to complain about Julia), Julia handed the care of Lennon over to Mimi. In July 1946, Alf visited Mimi and took Lennon to Blackpool, secretly intending to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia followed them, and after a very heated argument, Alf made the five-year-old Lennon choose between Julia or him, and Lennon chose him twice. As Julia walked away, however, Lennon began to cry and followed her. Alf then lost contact with Lennon for twenty years until the height of Beatlemania, when father and son met again.Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi and her husband George Smith, who had no children of their own, in Woolton, in a house called "Mendips" (251 Menlove Avenue). Mimi bought volumes of short stories for Lennon, and George, who was a dairyman at his family's farm, engaged Lennon in solving crossword puzzles, and bought him a harmonica. (Smith died on 5 June 1955). Julia Lennon visited Mendips almost every day, and when Lennon was 11 he often visited her at 1 Blomfield Road, Liverpool. Julia taught Lennon how to play the banjo, and played Elvis Presley's records for him. The first song he learned was Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame".

Lennon had a large affiliation with Fleetwood where he regularly visited his cousin Stanley Parkes, the 'big brother' to the young John, the son of his Aunt Elizabeth (known as Mater). Unfortunately George Parkes, the husband of Elizabeth and father of Stanley, died young and they moved to 33 Galloway Road where they lived with a local Fleetwood solicitor Mr Hodson. Stanley recalls he would often visit Liverpool and return to Fleetwood in the school holidays with his othe cousin Leila, Aunt Harriet's daughter. Stanley recalls they would all go up to Blackpool on the tram two or three times a week during their summer holidays to see separate shows. They would visit the Blackpool Tower Circus and see artists such as Dickie Valentine, Arthur Askey, Max Bygraves and Joe Loss and his big band. However, Stanley recalls it was George Formby who John particularly liked. The duo used to pass Formby's house regularly on the bus journey from Preston to Fleetwood where he and his wife would often be sitting in deck chairs in their garden at the front of their house. Stanley recalls he and John would wave and they would wave back. Stanley and the young John were keen fans of Fleetwood Flyers Speedway Club and Fleetwood Town FC.

Lennon was raised as an Anglican and attended Dovedale Primary School until he passed his Eleven-Plus exam. From September 1952 to 1957, he attended the Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, where he was known as a "happy-go-lucky" pupil, drawing comical cartoons and mimicking his teachers.

Julia bought Lennon his first guitar in 1957, which was a Gallotone Champion acoustic (a cheap model that was "guaranteed not to split"). Julia insisted it be delivered to her house and not to Mimi's, who hoped that Lennon would grow bored with music; she was sceptical of Lennon's claim that he would be famous one day, often telling him, "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it". On 15 July 1958, when Lennon was 17, Julia was killed in Menlove Avenue (close to Mimi's house) when struck by a car driven by an off-duty police officer. Her death would be a bond between Lennon and McCartney, who also lost his mother (to breast cancer) on 31 October 1956.

Lennon failed all his GCE O-level examinations, and was only accepted into the Liverpool College of Art with help from his school's headmaster and Mimi. There, Lennon met his future wife, Cynthia Powell, when he was a Teddy Boy. Lennon was often disruptive in class and ridiculed his teachers, resulting in their refusing to have him as a student. Lennon failed an annual Art College exam despite help from Powell, and dropped out before his last year of college.

The Beatles: 1957–70[]

When Lennon decided that he wanted to try making music himself, he and fellow Quarry Bank High School friend Eric Griffiths took guitar lessons at Hunts Cross in Liverpool, although Lennon gave up the lessons soon after. Lennon started The Quarrymen in March 1957. On 6 July 1957, Lennon met McCartney at the Quarrymen's second concert at the St. Peter's Church Woolton Garden fête. McCartney's father told his son that Lennon would get him "into a lot of trouble", but later allowed The Quarrymen to rehearse in the front room at 20 Forthlin Road. There, Lennon and McCartney began writing songs together. The first song Lennon completed was "Hello, Little Girl" when he was 18 years old, which later became a hit for the Fourmost. McCartney convinced Lennon to allow George Harrison to join the Quarrymen (even though Lennon thought Harrison to be too young) after Harrison played the song "Raunchy" for Lennon on the upper deck of a bus. Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist, and Stuart Sutcliffe — Lennon's friend from art school — later joined as bassist. After a series of name changes, the group decided on The Beatles. Lennon was always considered the leader of the group, as McCartney explained: "We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader - he was the quickest wit and the smartest and all that kind of thing".

Allan Williams became the Beatles' first manager in May 1960, after they had played in his Jacaranda club. A few months later he booked them into Bruno Koschmider's Indra club in Hamburg, Germany. Lennon's Aunt Mimi was horrified when he told her about the trip to Hamburg, and pleaded with him to continue his studies. After the first residency Sutcliffe left The Beatles to concentrate on his artwork, and to be with his girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr. McCartney took over as bass player for the group. Koschmider reported McCartney and drummer Pete Best for arson after the two attached a condom to a nail in the 'Bambi' (a cinema where they were staying) and set fire to it. They were deported, as was Harrison for working under age. A few days later Lennon's work permit was revoked and he went home by train.After Harrison turned 18 and the immigration problems had been solved, The Beatles went back to Hamburg for another residency in April 1961. While they were there, they recorded "My Bonnie" with Tony Sheridan. In April 1962, The Beatles went back to Hamburg to play at the Star-Club, and were told that Sutcliffe had died two days before they arrived. This was another blow for Lennon, after losing his uncle and his mother.

On 9 November 1961, The Beatles performed a lunchtime concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Brian Epstein, owner of NEMS Music Store, attended the performance and was quite impressed. In a meeting with the group at NEMS on 3 December 1961, Epstein proposed the idea of managing them, and they ultimately agreed.

Although Epstein had had no prior experience of artist management, he had a strong influence on their early dress-code and attitude on stage. He encouraged them to wear suits and ties and insisted that they stop swearing, smoking, drinking or eating onstage. He also suggested the famous synchronised bow at the end of their performances. Lennon was against the idea of wearing suits and ties, but later agreed, saying "I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me". Epstein began auditioning the group to all the major record labels, and was rejected by all. His persistance paid off when on 9 May 1962, George Martin signed The Beatles to EMI's comedy label, Parlophone.

The Beatles released their first double-sided original single, "Love Me Do" b/w "P.S. I Love You" on 5 October; it reached #17 on the British charts. On 11 February 1963, the group recorded their first album Please Please Me in one day with Lennon suffering from a common cold. Originally the Lennon-McCartney songs on the first pressing of the album, as well as the single "From Me to You" and its B-side "Thank You Girl", were credited to "McCartney-Lennon", but this was later changed to "Lennon-McCartney". Lennon and McCartney usually needed an hour or two to finish a song, most of which were written in hotel rooms after a concert, at Wimpole Street — Jane Asher's home — or at Cavendish Avenue; McCartney's home or at Kenwood (Lennon's house).

The album and single hit #1 in Britain, and EMI offered the album to their US subsidiary, Capitol Records, but they turned it down. Epstein finally secured a deal with Vee-Jay Records; a predominantly black R&B and gospel label. Neither the single nor the accompanying album, Introducing... The Beatles was successful in the US. By the time the group recorded "She Loves You", they were dropped from Vee Jay and once again, Capitol declined to release their records. EMI were forced to release it on the even more obscure Swan Records label. It did eventually hit #1 in January 1964, after Capitol Records finally released "I Want To Hold Your Hand" in America. Following their historic appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles would embark on a two-year non-stop period of productivity: constant international tours, making movies, and writing hit songs. Lennon wrote two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, while The Beatles achieved recognition from the British Establishment when they were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire in the 1965 Queen's Birthday Honours.Lennon complained that nobody heard them play for all the screaming, and their musicianship was beginning to suffer. By the time he wrote his 1965 song "Help!", Lennon had put on quite a bit of weight (and would later refer to this as his "Fat Elvis" period) and realised he was subconsciously crying out for help and seeking change.

The catalyst for this change occurred on 4 March 1966, when Lennon was interviewed for the London Evening Standard by Maureen Cleave, and talked about Christianity by saying: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink… We're more popular than Jesus now—I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity." Lennon's comment went virtually unnoticed in England but created a controversy when quoted by American teen magazine Datebook five months later. Burning of Beatles records, the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan and threats against Lennon greatly contributed to the band's decision to stop touring.

But Lennon soon felt lost without the group. "No more touring... life without the Beatles, it's like a black space in the future", he said, and considered leaving the band at this time. With the group's live performance days behind them, they concentrated on studio recording and songwriting. Up to this point, Lennon had been the more dominant songwriter (more of his songs were featured as singles), but from the album Revolver, McCartney would become the driving force behind the band. Harrison was also becoming a prolific songwriter. Shortly after their landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, the sudden death of Brian Epstein also changed the dynamic within the group.

McCartney orchestrated the group's first post-Epstein project, the film Magical Mystery Tour, which proved to be the group's first critical flop. "I knew we were in trouble then", Lennon later said. "I didn't have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared".

To further complicate things, The Beatles would, as Lennon put it, "become businessmen" and form their own record (and film, clothing, electronics and publishing) company, Apple. By now Lennon had met Yoko Ono and was retreating into his own world of drugs, McCartney had met his future wife, Linda Eastman, and the group realised that they needed professional management of Apple. Lennon reached out to American music executive Allen Klein to take the helm, despite warnings from Mick Jagger (Klein had also managed The Rolling Stones). McCartney also voiced his displeasure, preferring his future in-laws to take charge. Harrison and Starr, however, also went with Klein and tensions were mounting.

Just as The Beatles released their final album, Abbey Road, Lennon left the group in September 1969, but agreed not to make an announcement while the band renegotiated their recording contract. He became irate when McCartney issued a self question-and-answer interview in April 1970, declaring that he was no longer a member of The Beatles. Lennon's reaction when told was, "Jesus Christ! He [McCartney] gets all the credit for it!" Lennon later told Rolling Stone: "I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record." (McCartney's first solo album) and later wrote, "I started the band. I finished it".

In 1970, Jann Wenner conducted an interview with Lennon for Rolling Stone (known as "Lennon Remembers") that revealed his bitterness towards McCartney and the hostility he felt that the other members had for Ono. Lennon said: "[W]e 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?"

Solo career[]

At the end of 1968, Lennon performed as part of the group Dirty Mac, in The Rolling Stones' film Rock and Roll Circus. The supergroup, made up of Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell, also backed Ono's performance. Lennon and Ono were married on 20 March 1969, and he soon released a series of 14 lithographs called "Bag One" depicting scenes from their honeymoon, eight of which were deemed indecent and most were banned and confiscated.

Lennon and Ono recorded three albums of experimental music together: Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an album known more for its cover than the musical content, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album. His first "solo" album was Live Peace in Toronto 1969—recorded prior to the breakup of The Beatles—recorded at a Rock 'n' Roll Festival in Toronto with The Plastic Ono Band. He also recorded three solo singles: the anti-war anthem, "Give Peace a Chance", "Cold Turkey", and "Instant Karma!". Following The Beatles' split in 1970, Lennon released John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, a raw emotional album that dealt with Lennon's pain in losing his mother and split with The Beatles. It included "Working Class Hero", which was banned by BBC Radio for its inclusion of the word "fucking".

His album Imagine followed in 1971, and the title song would later become an anthem for anti-war movements. It also included the track "How Do You Sleep?" -- a musical attack on McCartney. Although Lennon softened his stance in the mid-70s and claimed he wrote the song about himself, he revealed in 1980, "I used my resentment against Paul... to create a song... not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta... I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write 'How Do You Sleep'. I don't really go 'round with those thoughts in my head all the time".

On 31 August 1971, Lennon left England for New York, and released the "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" single in December 1971. To advertise the single, Lennon and Ono paid for billboards in 9 major cities (and 7 different languages) which declared: "WAR IS OVER!... if you want it". Some Time in New York City was then released in 1972. Recorded with Elephant's Memory, it contained songs about women's rights, race relations, Britain's role in Northern Ireland, and Lennon's problems obtaining a United States Green Card. Lennon had been interested in left-wing politics since the late 1960s, and reportedly donated money to the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party.

In 1972, Lennon released "Woman Is the Nigger of the World". Many radio stations refused to broadcast the song, although Lennon was allowed to perform it on The Dick Cavett Show. On 30 August 1972 Lennon and Elephant's Memory gave two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York to benefit the patients at the Willowbrook State School mental facility on Staten Island. These were to be Lennon's last full-length concert appearances.

In November 1973, Lennon released Mind Games, which was credited to "the Plastic U.F.Ono Band". He also wrote "I'm the Greatest" for Starr's album Ringo (his own demo version of the song appears on the John Lennon Anthology), produced Harry Nilsson's album Pussy Cats and also produced "Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)" for Mick Jagger. In September 1974, Lennon released Walls and Bridges and the single "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" (a #1 duet with Elton John). A second single from the album, "#9 Dream", was released in December. He wrote "Goodnight Vienna" for Starr, and played piano on the recording. On 28 November, Lennon made a surprise guest appearance at Elton John's Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden after he lost a bet with John that "Whatever Gets You" would reach #1. Lennon performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and "I Saw Her Standing There".

In January 1975, Lennon co-wrote and recorded "Fame" with David Bowie and Carlos Alomar which became Bowie's first US #1 hit. Lennon released Rock 'n' Roll, an album of cover songs, in February 1975 – with Phil Spector as co-producer.

Lennon made his last stage appearance on ATV's 18 April 1975 special called A Salute to Lew Grade performing "Imagine", "Stand By Me" (cut from the televised edition), and "Slippin' and Slidin'" from his Rock 'n' Roll LP. Lennon's backup band was BOMF (known as "Etc." that evening). The band members wore two-faced masks which were digs at Grade, with whom Lennon and McCartney had been in conflict because of Grade's control of The Beatles' publishing company. Dick James, The Beatles' publisher, had sold his majority share in Maclen Music (Lennon's and McCartney's publishing company) to Grade in 1969. During "Imagine", Lennon interjected the line "and no immigration too", a reference to his battle to remain in the United States. In October 1975, Lennon fulfilled his contractual obligation to EMI/Capitol for one more album by releasing Shaved Fish, a greatest hits compilation.

In June 1976, Lennon wrote and recorded "Cookin' (In The Kitchen of Love)" with Ringo Starr, his last recording session until his 1980 comeback. Lennon also offered to design the cover for an upcoming Beatles compilation album from Capitol/EMI, Rock 'n' Roll Music, but EMI declined his offer.

In 1977, Lennon announced in Tokyo that "we have basically decided, without any great decision, to be with our baby as much as we can until we feel we can take time off to indulge ourselves in creating things outside of the family." During this period he also drafted a manuscript that would be posthumously published as a book called Skywriting by Word of Mouth as well as several series of drawings which would also be published posthumously.

He emerged from retirement in November 1980, releasing Double Fantasy, which also featured Ono. That previous June, Lennon traveled to Bermuda on a 43-foot sloop, where he wrote songs for the album. The name of the album refers to a species of freesia flower that Lennon had seen in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens and saw it as a perfect description of his marriage to Ono. Lennon had written and recorded enough material for another album and was already planning his follow-up, Milk and Honey, which was released posthumously in 1984.


On the night of 8 December 1980, at around 10:50 pm, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times in the entrance of the Dakota apartment building. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman who had been stalking Lennon since October.

Lennon was taken to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 pm. On the following day, Ono issued a statement, saying "There is no funeral for John." Ono ended her statement with the words, "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean."

Chapman pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life; he remains in prison, having been repeatedly denied parole. Lennon's body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. According to some accounts, Ono scattered Lennon's ashes on Strawberry Fields; according to others, she kept them.

Two days before his murder, Lennon told Andy Peebles of the BBC that he felt he could go out anywhere in New York City and feel safe. On another occasion while still a Beatle, Lennon was asked how he might die. Lennon replied, "I'll probably be popped off by some loony." During an interview with Dave Sholin at The Dakota hours before his murder, Lennon stated, "I've always considered my work one piece whether it be with Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John, or Yoko Ono. And I consider that my work won't be finished until I'm dead and buried and I hope that's a long, long time."

Marriages and relationships[]

In one of his last major interviews Lennon said that he had never questioned his chauvinistic attitudes towards women until he met Ono. Lennon was always distant with his first son, Julian, but was close to his second son, Sean, calling him "My pride". Near the end of his life, Lennon said that he accepted the role of househusband, after taking on the role of 'housewife' in his relationship with Ono. Lennon was always asked about his fellow Beatles and his answer would change with every interview.

Cynthia Lennon[]

Cynthia Powell met Lennon at the Liverpool Art College in 1957. Although Lennon was not her type, she was attracted to him. After hearing Lennon comment favourably about another girl who looked like Brigitte Bardot, Powell changed the colour of her hair to blonde. Their relationship started after a college party before the summer holidays when Lennon asked Powell to go to a public house with him and some friends. Powell told him she was engaged (to a young man called Barry, in Hoylake) so Lennon stormed off, shouting, "I didn't ask you to fucking marry me, did I!?" Lennon was often jealous, and once slapped Powell across the face (knocking her head against the wall) the day after he saw her dancing with Sutcliffe. In mid-1962, Powell discovered she was pregnant with Lennon's child. They were married on 23 August at the Mount Pleasant Register Office in Liverpool. Manager Epstein thought a married Beatle might alienate some fans and insisted the Lennons keep their union a secret. John Charles Julian Lennon was born in Sefton General Hospital on 8 April 1963.

Lennon was on tour and would not see his new-born for three days. He then went on holiday to Spain with Epstein, which would lead to speculation of an affair between the two (Epstein was widely known to be gay). Shortly afterwards, at McCartney's twenty-first birthday party on 18 June 1963, Lennon physically attacked Cavern Club MC Bob Wooler for saying "How was your honeymoon, John?". The MC, known for his wordplay and affectionate but cutting remarks, was making a joke; however, ten months had passed since Lennon's marriage, and the honeymoon, deferred, was still two months in the future. To Lennon, drunk, the matter was simple: "He called me a queer so I battered his bloody ribs in". In 1991, a fictionalized account of the Lennon/Epstein holiday was made into an independent movie called The Hours And Times. Lennon was distant to Julian, who felt closer to McCartney than to his father. Julian 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."

Cynthia Lennon had become aware of Lennon's infidelities, but cites his increasing drug use for their growing apart. She was also aware of Lennon's friendship with Ono. Eventually, according to Powell, she suggested to Lennon that perhaps Ono was the woman for him. When Lennon and The Beatles went to Bangor to do meditation, Powell and Lennon were separated on the train platform. A policeman, who did not recognize her, kept her from boarding the train. As she watched Lennon's train pull out of the station, she broke into tears. In the documentary Imagine she explained, "Normally I wouldn't have broken down, I'd have kept my cool... I knew I'd get there anyway. But at that point I felt so sad. This was symbolic of our life... I'm getting off at this station." Lennon later tried to sue Powell for divorce, claiming she had committed adultery and not him. When it was discovered that Ono had become pregnant, Powell petitioned Lennon for divorce. During negotiations Lennon refused to give his wife any more than £75,000, supposedly saying, "What have you done to deserve it? Christ, it's like winning the bloody pools." The case was settled out of court, with Powell receiving £100,000, £2,400 annually, custody of Julian and the Lennons' house (Kenwood).

Yoko Ono[]

There are two versions of how Lennon and Ono met: The first version says that on 9 November 1966, Lennon went to the Indica gallery in London, where Ono was preparing her conceptual art exhibit, and they were introduced by gallery owner John Dunbar. Lennon was intrigued by Ono's "Hammer A Nail" Piece: patrons hammered a nail into a wooden board, creating the art piece. Lennon wanted to hammer a nail in the clean board, but Ono stopped him because the exhibit had not opened. Dunbar then said to Ono, "Don't you know who this is?" Ono had not heard of The Beatles but relented, on the condition that Lennon pay her five shillings. Lennon then said, "I'll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail." The second version is that in late 1965, Ono was in London compiling original musical scores for a book that John Cage was working on. She knocked on McCartney's door, but he declined to give her any manuscripts as he kept all his originals, but suggested that Lennon might oblige. When asked, Lennon gave the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word" from Rubber Soul to Ono. They were reproduced in Cage's book, Notations.

Lennon began his sexual relationship with Ono in May 1968, after Lennon returned from India, where he had received numerous postcards from Ono, who was in London. As Cynthia Lennon was in Greece on holiday, Lennon invited Ono to his home, where they spent the night recording what would become the Two Virgins album, and later said they made love at dawn. On Sunday morning Lennon brought in the newspapers, laying them down on the coffee table, but when Ono tried to pick up one of the papers Lennon slapped her hand, saying "I read them first".

When Cynthia returned home she found Lennon and Ono, who was wearing Cynthia's bathrobe, drinking tea together. Lennon simply said, "Oh, Hi". Cynthia filed for divorce later that year, on the grounds of Lennon's adultery, which was proven by Ono's pregnancy. Ono later miscarried John Ono Lennon II on 21 November 1968.

From the beginning, the new relationship was rather bizarre. In a 1981 interview, Ono light-heartedly remarked, "I used to say to [Lennon], ‘I think you’re a closet fag, you know.’ Because after we started to live together, John would say to me, ‘Do you know why I like you? Because you look like a bloke in drag.’" According to The Mirror, 1 October 2000, "Cynthia was not the only one hurt by John and Yoko's bizarre relationship." According to author Albert Harry Goldman, Ono was regarded by Lennon as a “magical being” who could solve all his problems, but that this was a “grand illusion”, and that she openly cheated on Lennon with gigolos. Finally “both he and Yoko were burnt out from years of hard drugs, overwork, emotional breakdowns, quack cures, and bizarre diets, to say nothing of the effects of living constantly in the glare of the mass media.” However, even after their separation, when they “were no longer collaborating as a team, they remained in constant communication. Their relationship had taken another bizarre turn. No longer able to live together, they found that they couldn’t live apart either.”

During Lennon's last two years in The Beatles, he and Ono began public protests against the Vietnam War. Lennon sent back his MBE insignia in 1969, which Queen Elizabeth had bestowed upon him in 1965. He wrote: "Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against "Cold Turkey" slipping down the charts. With love. John Lennon of Bag." The couple were married in Gibraltar on 20 March 1969, and spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam campaigning for an international "Bed-In" for peace. They planned another "Bed-in" in the United States, but were denied entry. The couple then went to neighbouring Montréal, and during a "Bed-in" at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel recorded "Give Peace a Chance". Lennon and Ono often combined advocacy with performance art, as in their "Bagism", which was first introduced during a Vienna press conference. Lennon detailed this period in The Beatles' song "The Ballad of John and Yoko". In April 1969, on the roof of Apple Records, Lennon changed his middle name to Ono. After Ono was injured in a car accident, Lennon arranged for a king-sized bed to be brought to the recording studio as he worked on The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road. To escape the acrimony of The Beatles' breakup, Ono suggested they move permanently to New York, which they did on 31 August 1971. They first lived in the St. Regis Hotel on 5th Avenue, East 55th Street, and then moved to a loft at 105 Bank Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, on 16 October 1971. After a robbery, they relocated to the more secure Dakota at 1 West 72nd Street, in February 1973.

May Pang/The "Lost Weekend"[]

In June 1973, as Lennon was about to record Mind Games, Ono decided that she and Lennon should separate. Ono suggested that he take their personal assistant, May Pang, as a companion. Lennon soon moved to California with Pang, and embarked upon an eighteen-month period he would later call his "Lost Weekend". While Lennon and Pang were living in Los Angeles, Lennon's drunken behaviour was widely reported by the media. Lennon took the opportunity to mend fences with the other Beatles and get reacquainted with his son, Julian, whom he had not seen in four years.

In May 1974, Lennon and Pang returned to New York where Lennon began work on Walls and Bridges. On the evening of 23 August 1974, both Lennon and Pang claimed to have seen a UFO in the sky from their balcony. Lennon mentioned the sighting in the booklet accompanying the Walls and Bridges album. When Lennon lost a bet to Elton John and joined him on stage at Madison Square Garden in November 1974, Ono was in the audience. Although Lennon would later claim he had no idea she was there, it was he who arranged for her seats.

Sean Lennon[]

Lennon and Ono reconciled in 1975. Their son, Sean Lennon, was born on Lennon's 35th birthday, October 9, 1975. After Sean's birth, the couple lived in relative seclusion at the Dakota in New York. Lennon retired from music to become a househusband caring for their child. He cited many reasons for his hiatus from music: he had been under contract since he was 22 years old and he was now free from obligation; rock and roll was not as interesting as it once was; and, because of his limited relationship with his first son, he decided to devote all his time to Sean.

Julian Lennon[]

Lennon's relationship with his first son was always strained. After Lennon and Ono moved to New York, Julian would not see his father again until 1973. With Pang's encouragement, it was arranged for Julian (and Powell) to visit Lennon in Los Angeles, where they went to Disneyland. Julian started to see his father more regularly, and played drums on "Ya Ya" from Lennon's 1974 album Walls and Bridges. Lennon also bought Julian a Gibson Les Paul guitar, and a drum machine for Christmas in 1973, and encouraged Julian's interest in music by showing him some chords. "Dad and I got on a great deal better then," recalls Julian. "We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot and had a great time in general when he was with May Pang. My memories of that time with Dad and May are very clear - they were the happiest time I can remember with them."

In his 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon was quoted as saying: "Sean was a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don't love Julian any less as a child. He's still my son, whether he came from a bottle of whiskey or because they didn't have pills in those days. He's here, he belongs to me, and he always will." In an interview shortly before his death, Lennon said he was trying to re-establish a connection with the then 17-year-old Julian, and confidently predicted that "Julian and I will have a relationship in the future." Both Julian and Sean Lennon went on to have recording careers years after their father's death. After Lennon's death, it was revealed that Julian was not mentioned in Lennon's will. It was said that Ono gave Julian £20 million, which Julian refuted by saying that it was minimal compared to the figure reported.

The former Beatles[]

Although his friendship with Ringo Starr would remain consistently warm, Lennon's public feelings towards his other fellow Beatles would often vary. He was close to Harrison after the initial break-up, but the two had drifted apart after Lennon moved to America. In December 1974, Harrison was in New York for his Dark Horse tour, and Lennon agreed to join him on stage. However, an argument ensued over Lennon's refusal to sign the agreement that would legally dissolve The Beatles partnership (meant to be at New York's Plaza Hotel on 19 December) and Lennon never appeared. (Lennon would eventually sign the papers in Walt Disney World in Florida, while on holiday there with Pang and Julian.) In 1980, after Harrison released an autobiography called "I Me Mine", Lennon was angered that he was not properly acknowledged and issued some stinging remarks voicing his displeasure.

Lennon's most intense feelings were reserved for McCartney. In addition to "How Do You Sleep?", Lennon would argue with McCartney through the press for three years after the group split. In 1974, the two would become close again, and even played together for the only time since the Beatles split (see A Toot and a Snore in '74). In later years, the two grew apart again. Lennon said that the last time McCartney had visited they watched the episode of Saturday Night Live in which Lorne Michaels made a $3,000 cash offer to get The Beatles to reunite on the show. They had considered going to the studio to appear as a joke, attempting to claim their share of the money, but were too tired. This event was fictionalized in the 2000 television film, Two of Us.

Lennon always felt a musical competitiveness with McCartney and kept an ear on his music. During his "retirement", Lennon was content to sit back as long as McCartney was producing "garbage". In 1980, McCartney released "Coming Up", and Lennon took notice. "I can't get that song out of my head," he would jokingly complain, and felt compelled to record again.

Perhaps most telling was Lennon's summation of his artistic collaborations: "I only ever asked two people to work with me as a partner...one was Paul McCartney, and the other Yoko Ono. That's not bad, is it?"

In 1980, Lennon was asked whether the group were dreaded enemies or the best of friends. He replied that they were neither, and that he had not seen any of them in a long time. But he also said, "I still love those guys. The Beatles are over, but John, Paul, George and Ringo go on."

Political activism[]

Anti-war activities[]

Lennon and Ono used their honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton, in March 1969, as a "Bed-in for Peace" that attracted worldwide media coverage. At the second "Bed-in" in Montreal, in June 1969, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in their hotel room at The Queen Elizabeth. The song was sung by a quarter million demonstrators in Washington, D.C. at the second Vietnam Moratorium Day, on 15 October 1969. When Lennon and Ono moved to New York City in August 1971, they befriended peace activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Lennon performed at the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 10 December 1971. Sinclair was an anti-war activist, co-founder of the White Panther Party and poet who was serving ten years in state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover policeman after a series of previous convictions for possession of marijuana. Lennon and Ono appeared on stage with David Peel, Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder and other musicians, plus anti-war radical and Yippie member, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers. Lennon performed the song, "John Sinclair", which he had just written, calling on the authorities to "Let him be, set him free, let him be like you and me". Some 20,000 people attended the rally, and three days after the concert the State of Michigan released Sinclair from prison. This performance was released on the two-CD John Lennon Anthology (1998) and the album Acoustic (2004). Lennon later performed the song on the David Frost Show accompanied by Ono and Jerry Rubin. According to former MI5 intelligence officer David Shayler, Lennon gave financial aid to the Irish Republican Army, a claim which Sinn Féin have neither substantiated or denied.

Deportation attempt[]

In 1972, the Nixon Administration tried to have Lennon deported from the US, as Richard Nixon believed that Lennon's proactive anti-war activities and support for George McGovern could cost him re-election. Republican Senator Strom Thurmond suggested, in a February 1972 memo, that "deportation would be a strategic counter-measure" against Lennon. The next month the Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings against Lennon, arguing that his 1968 misdemeanor conviction for cannabis possession in London had made him ineligible for admission to the US. Lennon spent the next four years in deportation hearings. While his deportation battle continued, Lennon appeared at rallies in New York City and on TV shows, including a week hosting the Mike Douglas Show in February 1972, where Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale appeared as his guests.

On 23 March 1973, Lennon was ordered to leave the US within 60 days, while Ono was granted permanent residence. In response, Lennon and Ono held a press conference at the New York chapter of the American Bar Association on 1 April 1973 to announce the formation of the conceptual state of "Nutopia"; a place with "no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people", and all of its inhabitants would be ambassadors. The Lennons asked for political asylum in the US while waving the white flag of Nutopia; two white handkerchiefs. The entire press conference can be seen in the 2006 documentary released by Lions Gate, The U.S. vs. John Lennon. In June 1973, Lennon and Ono made their last political statement by attending the Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C.

Lennon's order of deportation was overturned in 1975. In 1976, Lennon's US immigration status was finally resolved favourably, and he received his green card. Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, showed little interest in continuing the battle. When Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president on 19 January 1977, Lennon and Ono attended the Inaugural Ball.

FBI surveillance and de-classified documents[]

After Lennon's death, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files on Lennon, which document the Bureau's role in the Nixon Administration attempt to deport Lennon in 1972 to stop his anti-war campaign before the Nixon re-election campaign. The FBI admitted it had 281 pages of files on Lennon but refused to release most of them, they contained "national security" information. In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. It took 14 years of litigation to force the FBI to release the withheld pages. The ACLU, representing Wiener, won a favorable decision in their suit against the FBI in the Ninth Circuit in 1991. The Bush Justice Department appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in April, 1992, but the court declined to review the case. The Justice Department settled most of the outstanding issues in the case outside the court in 1997, when most all of the contested documents but 10 were released, respecting President Bill Clinton's new rule that documents should be withheld only if releasing them would involve "foreseeable harm." In January 2000, Wiener published a book titled Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files which contains facsimiles of the documents, including "lengthy reports by confidential informants detailing the daily lives of anti-war activists, memos to the White House, transcripts of TV shows on which Lennon appeared, and a proposal that Lennon be arrested by local police on drug charges". The story is told in the documentary The U.S. Versus John Lennon. The final ten documents in Lennon's FBI file, which had been withheld as containing "national security information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality," and reported on Lennon's ties with London anti-war activists in 1971, were released in December 2006.

Drugs, meditation and primal therapy[]

Lennon was first given drugs in Hamburg, as The Beatles had to play long sets and were often given Preludin by customers or by Astrid Kirchherr, whose mother bought them for her. McCartney would usually take one, but Lennon would often take four or five, and later took amphetamines called "Black Bombers" and "Purple Hearts". The Beatles first smoked marijuana with Bob Dylan in New York in 1964; Dylan mistakenly interpreted the lyric "I can't hide" from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "I get high" and presumed that The Beatles were already familiar with the drug. Lennon later said that, during the filming of Help! in 1965, The Beatles "smoked marijuana for breakfast", and that other people had trouble talking to them "because we were just all glazed eyes, giggling all the time".

In a 1995 interview, Cynthia said there were problems throughout their marriage because of the pressures of The Beatles' fame and rigorous touring, and because of Lennon's increasing use of drugs. During his first marriage Lennon tried LSD, and read The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, which was based on, and quoted from, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He later used heroin, and wrote about the withdrawal symptoms he experienced in "Cold Turkey". On 24 August 1967, The Beatles met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the London Hilton, and later went to Bangor in North Wales, to attend a weekend of personal instruction. The time Lennon later spent in India at the Maharishi's ashram was productive, as most of the songs recorded for The Beatles, and Abbey Road were composed there by Lennon and McCartney. Although later turning against the Maharishi, Lennon still advocated meditation when interviewed. In 1968, Cynthia Lennon went on vacation to Greece, leaving Lennon at Kenwood with Pete Shotton; his school friend and so-called assistant.

In 1970, Lennon and Ono went through primal therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov in Los Angeles, California. The therapy consisted of releasing emotional pain from early childhood. Lennon and Ono ended the sessions before completing a full course of therapy, as Ono constantly argued with Janov. The song "Mother" is based on Lennon's experience and understanding of Primal Therapy.


Lennon was known, especially during Beatlemania, for his sense of humour. During live performances of "I Want to Hold Your Hand", Lennon often changed the words to "I want to hold your gland", because of the difficulty hearing the vocals above the noise of screaming audiences. At the Royal Variety Show in 1963—in the presence of members of the British royalty—Lennon told the audience, "For our next song, I'd like to ask for your help. For the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands... and the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery."

During the "Get Back" sessions, Lennon introduced "Dig a Pony" by shouting, "I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids; phase one in which Doris gets her oats!" The phrase was later edited to precede "Two of Us" on Let It Be. Lennon often counter-pointed McCartney's upbeat lyrics, as in "Getting Better":

McCartney: "I've got to admit it's getting better, a little better, all the time."
Lennon: "Can't get no worse."

Lennon appeared in various television comedy shows, such as the Morecambe and Wise show with the rest of The Beatles, and played a doorman in a gents' toilet in Not Only But Also. Lennon's humour could also be sarcastic, such as when Brian Epstein asked Lennon for a title for Epstein's autobiography, and Lennon answered: "How about Queer Jew ?" When Lennon heard that the title of the book would be A Cellarful of Noise, he said to a friend: "More like A Cellarful of Boys".

In 1967, Lennon appeared in the British black comedy How I Won the War. It was his only non–Beatles film role.

Writing and art[]

Lennon started writing and drawing early in life, with encouragement from his uncle George, and created his own comic strip in his school book, which he called "The Daily Howl". It contained drawings—frequently of crippled people—and satirical writings, often with a play on words. Lennon wrote a weather report saying, "Tomorrow will be Muggy, followed by Tuggy, Wuggy and Thuggy." He often drew caricatures of his school teachers, and when he was in Hamburg he sent love poems and drawings to Cynthia (his future wife) once writing, "Our first Christmas, I love you, yes, yes, yes."

When Liverpool's Mersey Beat magazine was founded, Lennon was asked to contribute. His first piece was about the origins of The Beatles: "A man appeared on a flaming pie, and said you are Beatles with an 'A'." The first two books by Lennon are examples of literary nonsense: In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965). Ono later allowed the works of Lennon to be published after his death: Skywriting by Word of Mouth (1986) and Ai: Japan Through John Lennon's Eyes: A Personal Sketchbook (1992), which contained Lennon's drawings illustrating the definitions of Japanese words. Real Love: The Drawings for Sean followed in 1999. The Beatles Anthology included writing and drawings by Lennon. Lennon's love of nonsense language was influenced by his appreciation for Stanley Unwin.


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. In the short-lived 1968 supergroup The Dirty Mac, Lennon performed under the name Winston Leg-Thigh. He appeared as John O'Cean and Joel Nohnn on Ono's albums, and he and Ono (as Ada Gherkin "ate a gherkin", and other sobriquets) also travelled under such names, thus avoiding unwanted public attention.

Lennon also named his session musicians under various different band names during his career, including:

  • The Plastic Ono Band (for the Plastic Ono Band album)
  • The Plastic Ono Band with the Flux Fiddlers (Imagine)
  • The Plastic U.F.Ono Band (Mind Games)
  • The Plastic Ono Nuclear Band/Little Big Horns and the Philharmanic Orchestrange (Walls and Bridges)


With The Beatles[]

BRIT Awards:

  • 1977: Outstanding contribution to music during the past 25 years.
  • 1977: Best British band of the past 25 years.
  • 1977: Best British album of the past 25 years (for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band).
  • 1983: Outstanding contribution to music.

Solo career[]

  • 1982 Grammy Award - 1981 Album of the Year (for Double Fantasy)
  • 1982 BRIT Awards - Outstanding contribution to music.
  • In 2002, a 100 Greatest Britons BBC poll voted Lennon into eighth place.
  • In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Lennon number 38 on its list of "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time".
  • In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Lennon number five on its list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time".


Musical instruments[]

Lennon played various guitars with The Beatles and during his solo career, including the Rickenbacker (four variants thereof), Epiphone Casino, and various models of Gibson and Fender guitars. His other instrument of choice was piano, on which he also composed many songs. Lennon's jamming on a piano together with McCartney led to creation of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in 1963. He also played harmonica, various percussion instruments and flute.

Monuments and sculptures[]