John Lennon's Long And Winding Life In 40 Rare Photos
By | October 6, 2022
The Beatles -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison -- are among the most influential and successful rock bands of all time. Of the four, John Lennon had the most turbulent and ultimately tragic story. It was John who had a secret wife and child; he had the artist-girlfriend (Yoko Ono) who "broke up" the band; he was viewed as a messianic figure, he was a constant advocate for peace; he was always getting naked; he was publicly bitter about his time with the Beatles and privately violent with the people he loved the most.
In 1980, John Lennon was murdered on the street outside his apartment building in New York City. Lennon's music is still loved and played today, and he will forever remain in our hearts. The following photos trace Lennon's short life from his birth in England to his last day on Earth.
Born on October 9, 1940, at Liverpool Maternity Hospital, John Lennon was named after his grandfather. Shortly after his birth, Lennon's father skipped out on his job as a merchant seaman and stopped sending money home to support his family. When he showed up six months later Lennon's mother was pregnant by another man and the couple split.
Throughout the earliest years of Lennon's life his mother worked a series of jobs while raising her children and dating as a young woman should. Lennon's aunt Mimi didn't think that he was being raised appropriately, and after multiple visits to Liverpool's Social Services offices the young Lennon was entrusted to his aunt at Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton.
Lennon visited his mother regularly and began turning to music as a means for expression at a young age, but he remembers being looked down upon by his neighbors during his adolescence. He said:
I was the one who all the other boys' parents – including Paul's father – would say, 'Keep away from him.' The parents instinctively recognized I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend's home. Partly out of envy that I didn't have this so-called home... but I did... There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women, five sisters. One happened to be my mother. [She] just couldn't deal with life.
Aunt Mimi Thought Music Was A Dead End
John grew up in Liverpool under the legal guardianship of Mimi Smith, his maternal aunt, who was famously dismissive of his interest in music. "The guitar's all right John, but you'll never make a living out of it," she told him, on numerous occasions. John and his aunt had a contentious relationship to say the least.
After becoming one of the greatest musicians of his day (you know, as one of the main songwriters in the most influential band of all time) he had a silver plaque engraved with her disparaging quote.
John Lennon Was Legally Blind
Very few people knew that John Lennon was legally blind without his glasses. With them on, good to go. Later on, it became public knowledge that John was also dyslexic.
He Was A Boy Scout And A Choir Boy
John Lennon, rock and roll legend, was a boy scout and choir boy. His choir boy stint was at the St. Peter’s church and he was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop. Who knew?
Lennon was only 15-years-old when he began the Quarrymen, a skiffle group, in 1956. Following the group's second performance he met up Paul McCartney outside of St. Peter's Church and asked him to join the band. The new version of the group began rehearsing at McCartney's father's home, and by 1957, a 14-year-old guitarist named George Harrison joined the group. In 1960, the band changed their name to the Beatles before setting off for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, in West Germany.
John in Germany
While performing with the Beatles during their residencies in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960, Lennon and the rest of the lads from Liverpool began using Preludin (a stimulant) to stay awake throughout their lengthy performances. Over the next two years Lennon and his compadres played anywhere with a dance floor as they cemented their status as England's greatest export.
He Hated His Own Singing
John Lennon, Beatles singer and songwriter didn’t like the sound of his voice. This information came from the Beatles manager at the time, George Martin. George said that John would constantly ask for special effects to change the sound of his voice.
He Was A True Tea Head
Never let anyone tell you that Lennon wasn't a true Englishman. You know how people say the English love tea? Well John was one of those Brits who liked his caffeine. Rumors are that he drank between twenty and thirty cups of tea and coffee daily.
He married Cynthia Powell in 1962
Lennon and Cynthia Powell's relationship was contentious to say the least. The two met when they were both attending the Liverpool College of Art in 19577, but it wasn't until she became pregnant in 1962 that the singer decided that they should become official. Manager Brian Epstein asked that the Lennons keep their marriage on the DL so fans wouldn't be turned off by a married Beatle.
Julian Lennon was born in 1963
On April 8, 1963, Julian Lennon was born, but rather than happily get the family together for some much needed TLC, John was on tour with the band and didn't see the boy for a solid three days. Their relationship remained contentious throughout John's life.
Lennon Was A Tyrant Of A Husband
John Lennon was very controlling when it came to his wives. He wanted his first wife, Cynthia, to look like Brigitte Bardot. (According to some accounts, Cynthia started it, making herself up to look like the French screen siren in order to catch John's eye.) When she cut her hair, he refused to talk to her for days. He also demanded that his second wife, Yoko Ono, write him a complete list of all the people she slept with, but that wouldn't happen for a few more years.
He Liked To Take A Walk On The Boardwalk
John was a Monopoly enthusiast. For those of you who didn’t know, the game has been around since 1935, three years before John was born. It was said that his goal (during every game) was to own Boardwalk and Park Place, even if it cost him the game.
He Was An Animal Lover
John Lennon loved animals. Throughout his extremely busy life, he had an array of pets, including a cat named Elvis, a black and white cat named Major and Minor, and two more cats who he named Salt and Pepper.
Meat The Beatles
During the group's existence John was the only member of the Beatles to not become a vegetarian. Paul and George adopted the lifestyle for philosophical reasons, Ringo took it up for health reasons, while John kept on eating meat.
Where He Slept When He Was Dead Tired
John used to nap in a coffin. One of their earlier managers, Allan Williams, had an old coffin at his bar, which John frequently took naps in. Apparently everyone, including John thought it was hilarious.
Lennon Disliked All The Fans' Screaming At Beatles Concerts
Apparently we shouldn’t be mad at Justin Bieber for demanding that his fans stop screaming during his performances because Lennon felt the same way. He said:
Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music any more. They’re just bloody tribal rites.
Lennon was increasingly tiring of touring
Beatlemania led to major burnout with the Lads from Liverpool, and Lennon was no exception. By 1965, the band's schedule was so horrendous that Lennon began lashing out at the people around him while eating to pass the time. He later referred to this period as his "Fat Elvis" era, but it's also when he grew the most acerbic with his audience. In 1966, he claimed that the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" and drew intense scrutiny from people across the world. This was just one more reason for Lennon and the band to stop touring for good.
Acid Changed Him, Said His Wife
Cynthia said that her and John’s relationship started falling apart when he started taking large amounts of LSD. He first experienced the drug at a party hosted by his dentist; the dentist slipped some into coffee that Lennon and Harrison were drinking, and only later told them what he'd done.
Continuous drug use nearly destroyed him
After his initial introduction to LSD by a very uncool dentist, Lennon upped his intake to the max in 1967. Author Ian Macdonald notes that the singer was using so many psychedelics at the time that he nearly erased his identity. Even though Lennon nearly destroyed his brain with his psychedelic usage he managed write some of the band's most beloved songs on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He Had His Own Island
It's safe to say that England's greatest hitmakers, The Beatles, had plenty of dough. In 1967, John Lennon used some of his boffo cash to buy an island off the coast of Ireland. He established a commune there which went well for two years before their supplies were burned in a fire. His wife, Yoko Ono, sold the island after John’s death.
He Wasn't A Great Dad To Julian
John had a strained relationship with his son Julian. The unexpected pregnancy forced him to marry his first wife Cynthia. Famously, following John's divorce from Powell in 1968, Paul McCartney wrote "Hey Jude" for the child. After John’s death, Julian said this about his father:
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?
Lennon tried to fix a hole in himself in India
In 1968, Lennon and George Harrison convinced the rest of the Beatles to travel to the Maharishi's ashram in India. While the group received teachings from the Maharishi they somehow found the time to write most of the songs for their self-titled double album. Rather than working together on the songs the members each worked on tracks individually, signaling major fractures in the group. At the same time, Lennon was beginning a relationship with multimedia artist Yoko Ono.
Lennon's life was on the precipice of a major change in 1968. The same year that he was leaning into transcendental meditation he began bringing his new squeeze Yoko Ono around to recording sessions, a major no-no in the world of the Beatles.
In 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and released a series of lithographs showing scenes from their honeymoon which was quickly deemed inappropriate. That wasn't Lennon and Ono's only collaboration in the short span of a year. 1969 saw the duo release "Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins," "Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions and Wedding Album," and "Live Peace in Toronto 1969."
John Played The First Solo Gig Out Of The Beatles
About that live Plastic Ono Band album... Lennon's performance with the group (also featuring Eric Clapton) cemented the fact that the singer-songwriter was ready to leave the Beatles. Although Paul McCartney was the first to announce his departure from the group, it was John who performed on his own (sort of) without his bandmates.
Lennon Gave Up His MBE Medal
The Beatles were made members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1969, Lennon returned his medal, telling the Queen:
Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a 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.
John Lennon Was A Bad Driver
John was one of the worst drivers on the planet. He got his license at the age of 25 and in 1969 crashed his infamous Rolls Royce in Scotland two short years after getting it; Ono, her daughter Kyoko, and his son Julian were all involved in the accident, but everyone came out okay. Lennon later said:
If you’re going to have a car crash, try to arrange for it to happen in the Highlands. The hospital there was just great.
John Lennon Wasn't A Fan Of Beatles Records
John thought that the best music the Beatles ever made were the songs they never recorded. John said the price that the group paid to make the music that people liked drained their creative juices.
Lennon Left The Beatles Before Paul
John really wanted credit for breaking up the Beatles. He left the band in September 1969, but kept mum for legal reasons.. John and the other group members kept his departure a secret so that they could renegotiate their recording contracts. The secret held up for months, until Paul McCartney released his own solo debut album and announced he was out. Lennon was reportedly furious that Paul was given credit for breaking up the group.
John And Yoko Took Advice From A Psychic
John Lennon and his babe Yoko Ono hired a psychic to help them make business decisions. We're not just talking one or two decisions, but enough for this consulting psychic to make boffo cash. The psychic on staff supposedly made as much money as their financial advisers and lawyers. We would love to see that contract.
Lennon and Ono were briefly obsessed with primal scream therapy
Following the end of the Beatles, Lennon and Ono traveled to America where they took part in primal scream therapy with Arthur Janov on Los Angeles, California. Once his American visa ran out Lennon and Ono returned to England where they completed the "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" LP. Released to critical acclaim, Lennon's close to the bone lyrics kept many fans of the Beatles and the ever important radio programmers at an arm's length.
'Imagine' proves that Lennon never lost his touch
Following the end of the Beatles each member of the band went their separate ways, releasing solo albums to varying levels of praise. With "Plastic Ono Band" Lennon showed that he was happy to stretch his artistic abilities, but with 1971's "Imagine" he proved that he never lost a step when it came to straight to the heart songwriting.
Featuring "Imagine," an anthem just as well known as any song by the Beatles, "Jealous Guy," a heart breaking song where Lennon deals with his abusive behavior towards women, and "How Do You Sleep," a response to Paul McCartney's "Too Many People."
Lennon's move to New York City put him on Nixon's radar
In August 1971, Lennon and Ono moved to New York City where they immediately dove head first into US liberal politics before recording 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," released in December. In 1972, the Nixon administration started digging into Lennon's anti-war statements and began a four year attempt deport the singer. During this time Lennon and Ono somehow found time to record "Some Time in New York City" and perform two benefit concerts in NYC to raise funds for patients at the Willowbrook State School mental facility.
Lennon's lost weekend
Lennon and Ono's relationship was put to the test following the 1972 presidential election where Nixon clinched a second term, inspiring Lennon to cheat on Ono at a post election "wake" they were both attending. The couple separated in 1973, leading Lennon to go on an 18-month binge in Los Angeles and New York City with his current gal pal and former secretary May Pang.
During this period Lennon holed up in a beach house with Pang, singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, and a bevy of other west coast musicians who were more interested in getting kicked out the Troubadour than they were with recording an album. After returning to New York City, Lennon recording "Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup) with Mick Jagger and the album "Walls and Bridges" which earned Lennon his only Top 10 solo hit in America while he was alive, "Whatever Gets You thru the Night."
Lennon claimed to have an experience with a UFO
In 1974, Lennon claimed to have seen a UFO levitating just outside his Manhattan apartment. At the time he was hanging out sans clothing on the roof of his building when the ship zoomed by so he did the only thing he could - he called his former secretary and current romantic partner May Pang who also claims to have seen it. By the time the authorities arrived the UFO was gone.
Lennon got his life back on track in 1975
Lennon's "lost weekend" came to an end in 1975 as he began work with David Bowie on his track "Fame," and Elton John on his cover of "Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds." He concurrently got things back together with Ono before the birth of his second son Sean, born on Lennon's 35th birthday. With the birth of Sean, Lennon began a five year hiatus from recording music. In 1977, Lennon said:
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.
Just like starting over
In 1980, Lennon returned to recording following a sailing trip to the Bahamas where he encountered a storm on the water that rendered everyone on board but him sea sick. After piloting the ship to safety he sat down and wrote a collection of songs that would appear on "Double Fantasy" and the posthumously released "Milk and Honey."
The songs are a monument to Lennon's newfound love of leading a stable home life with a family that he loves, but by the end of the year it would all be over.
The Most Famous Image Of Lennon And Ono Was Taken The Day He Died
The morning of John’s death on December 1980, he was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Lennon insisted that they be photographed as a couple, although Leibovitz later said that "nobody wanted her on the cover." He stripped his clothes off and wrapped himself around Ono for a photo that did indeed make the cover, which in 2005 was voted the greatest magazine cover of the previous 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
Lennon Signed An Autograph For His Killer
The last autograph John Lennon signed was for his killer Mark David Chapman. The record he signed was John’s "Double Fantasy" album outside the Dakota, the building where Lennon lived with Ono, before leaving for a recording session at the Record Plant around 5pm. Chapman shot Lennon at around 10:50 pm as he was about to enter his hotel building. He was pronounced dead at the Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 pm.
John Lennon's Death Was Announced On 'Monday Night Football'
An ABC television producer was in the hospital, being treated for a motorcycling injury, when Lennon was brought in accompanied by New York City policemen. The producer found out what was going on -- including the detail that Lennon was dead -- and got the morbid scoop to his boss, Roone Arledge. Arledge, who was at that very moment busy with Monday Night Football (where he was executive producer). Arledge told sportscasters Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford to deliver the news immediately, on the air, as a game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots was going down to the wire.
Cosell: ... but [the game]'s suddenly been placed in total perspective for us. I'll finish this; they're in the hurry-up offense.
Gifford: Third down, four. [Chuck] Foreman ... it'll be fourth down. [Matt] Cavanaugh will let it run down for one final attempt; he'll let the seconds tick off to give Miami no opportunity whatsoever. (Whistle blows.) Timeout is called with three seconds remaining; [Patriots field goal kicker] John Smith is on the line. And I don't care what's on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth.
Cosell: Yes, 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. Hard to go back to the game after that newsflash, which, in duty bound, we have to take. Frank?
Gifford: (after a pause) Indeed, it is.
The Patriots missed the field goal attempt, the game went into overtime, and Miami's Uwe von Schramann made a 23-yard field goal to win it.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Lennon's remains were scattered in Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later placed. Ono issued a statement saying:
There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him.
In the weeks following his murder "Double Fantasy" hit the top of the charts in the U.S. and the UK, "Imagine" went to number one in the UK, with "Happy Xmas" following up at number 2.