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John Lennon
John Lennon 1969
Born 9 October 1940
Liverpool, England
Died 8 December 1980 (aged 40)
New York City, US
Occupation Singer, songwriter, musician
Association with the Beatles Rhythm Guitarist and Singer/A founding member

John Winston Ono Lennon (born John Winston Lennon; 9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English singer, songwriter and musician who gained worldwide fame with the Beatles, for whom he played rhythm guitar and shared primary songwriting and lead vocal duties with Paul McCartney. Lennon was characterised for the rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, writing, drawings, on film and in interviews. His work included music, writing, drawings and film. His songwriting partnership with McCartney remains the most successful in history.

Born in Liverpool, Lennon became involved in the skiffle craze as a teenager. In 1956, he formed The Quarrymen, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Sometimes called 'the smart Beatle', Lennon initially was the group's de facto leader, a role he gradually ceded to McCartney. Through his songwriting in the Beatles, he embraced myriad musical influences, initially writing and co-writing rock and pop-oriented hit songs in the band's early years, then later incorporating experimental elements into his compositions in the latter half of the Beatles' career as his songs became known for their increasing innovation. Lennon soon expanded his work into other media by participating in numerous films, including How I Won the War, and authoring In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, both collections of nonsense writings and line drawings. Starting with 'All You Need Is Love', his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement and the larger counterculture of the 1960s. In 1969, he started the Plastic Ono Band with his second wife, multimedia artist Yoko Ono, held the two-week-long anti-war demonstration Bed-ins for Peace and left the Beatles to embark on a solo career.

Between 1968 and 1972, Lennon and Ono collaborated on many works, including a trilogy of avant-garde albums, several more films, his solo debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and the international top-10 singles 'Give Peace a Chance', 'Instant Karma!', 'Imagine', and 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'. Moving to New York City in 1971, his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a three-year deportation attempt by the Richard Nixon administration. Lennon and Ono separated from 1973 to 1975, during which time he produced Harry Nilsson's album Pussy Cats. He also had chart-topping collaborations with Elton John ('Whatever Gets You thru the Night') and David Bowie ('Fame'). Following a five-year hiatus, Lennon returned to music in 1980 with the Ono collaboration Double Fantasy. He was murdered three weeks after the album's release.

As a performer, writer or co-writer, Lennon had 25 number-one singles in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Double Fantasy, his best-selling album, won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. That year, he won the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (in 1997) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (twice, as a member of the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1994).


Early life

On 9 October 1940, in Liverpool, England, John Lennon was born to Julia Lennon (née Stanley) and Alfred Lennon, a merchant seaman. Mimi Smith, his mother's older sister, raised him. John joined the Quarrymen, a skiffle band, when he was 15 years old. The Quarrymen were playing a 'spirited set of songs' made up of half-skiffle and half-rock and roll during the summer of 1957. The Quarrymen's second performance, performed in Woolton on July 6 at the St Peter's Church garden fête, was John's first encounter with Paul McCartney. After that, John invited Paul to join the band.

George Harrison, a friend of Paul's, was recommended as the lead guitarist. On the upper deck of a Liverpool bus, Paul orchestrated an audition in which George performed 'Raunchy' for John and was invited to join. Paul staged an audition on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus, in which George performed 'Raunchy' for John and was invited to join. Later, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, a former art school classmate of John's, joined the band. The Beatles were booked for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, West Germany, in August of that year, and they were in desperate need of a drummer. They asked Pete Best to join them. When John's aunt heard about the trip, she was appalled and pleaded with him to continue his art studies instead. Following the initial residency in Hamburg, the band was offered a second in April 1961 and a third in April 1962. Preludin was given to John, like the other band members, while they were in Hamburg, and he used it as a stimulant during their lengthy, nighttime performances.

With The Beatles

From 1962 through 1967, Brian Epstein was the Beatles' manager. He had no prior management expertise, yet he had a significant influence on the group's dress code and stage demeanour. Although John originally opposed his attempts to get the band to put on a professional show, he eventually gave in. After Sutcliffe elected to stay in Hamburg, Paul took over on bass, and Pete Best was replaced by drummer Ringo Starr, completing the four-piece lineup that would last until the group's disbandment in 1970. 'Love Me Do,' the band's first single, was released in October 1962 and charted at No. 17 in the United Kingdom. They recorded their debut album, Please Please Me, in just ten hours on 11 February 1963, while John was sick with a cold, as evidenced by his vocal on the last song recorded that day, 'Twist and Shout.' Eight of the fourteen songs were written by the Lennon–McCartney songwriting collaboration, which remains the most successful songwriting partnership in history.

Early in 1963, the Beatles established widespread fame in the United Kingdom. Julian, John's first son, was born in April while he was on tour. Even during the height of Beatlemania, John began exploring outside of the group. In 1964, he published a collection of his writings called In His Own Write, which was followed in 1965 by A Spaniard in the Works, and in 1966, he appeared in Dick Lester's comedy How I Won the War. John and the Beatles continued to tour and perform live until 1966, when protests over his calling the Beatles phenomenon 'more popular than Jesus' and the frustrations of touring made the band decide to quit the road.

Following the band's final concert on 29 August 1966, John filmed the anti-war black comedy How I Won the War – his only involvement in a non-Beatles feature film – before rejoining his bandmates in November for an extended period of recording. John's use of LSD had escalated. The song 'Strawberry Fields Forever' was released in 1967, along with the group's seminal album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had lyrics by John that contrasted sharply with the group's early love ballads. The Beatles played John's 'All You Need Is Love' as Britain's contribution to the Our World satellite broadcast in late June, in front of an estimated 400 million international audience. After meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles spent an August weekend in Bangor, Wales, receiving personal instruction at his Transcendental Meditationseminar. It was here they were informed of Brian Epstein's death. The self-written, produced, and directed television film Magical Mystery Tour, which was released in December of that year, was Paul's first post-Epstein endeavour. While the picture itself was a critical disaster, the soundtrack, which featured John's Lewis Carroll-inspired 'I Am the Walrus,' was a hit.

In February 1968, the Beatles went to the Maharishi's ashram in India for more direction, prompted by George and John's curiosity. They wrote the majority of the songs for their double album The Beatles while they were there, but the band members' mixed experiences with Transcendental Meditation signalled a dramatic split in the group's cohesiveness. With the founding of Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation comprised of Apple Records and several other sister companies, they got actively involved in business activities upon their return to London. John described the venture as an attempt to achieve 'artistic freedom within a business structure'.

The band's debut single for the Apple label, released at a moment of civic turmoil and riots, including John's B-side 'Revolution,' in which he urged for a 'plan' rather than committing to Maoist revolution. Adding to the tensions at the Beatles' recording sessions that year, John insisted on having his new girlfriend, Japanese artist Yoko Ono, by his side, despite the band's policy prohibiting wives and girlfriends from being present in the studio. He was very happy with his compositional contributions to the double album, which he considered to be superior to Sgt. Pepper.

John appeared in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, a television programme that was never shown, at the end of 1968. The Dirty Mac, a supergroup consisting of John, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell, performed with John.

In September 1969, John departed the Beatles, but agreed not to tell the press while the group renegotiated their recording contract. John had told the Beatles before the release of his solo single 'Cold Turkey' that he intended to leave the group, but he agreed not to publicly declare his plans until Allen Klein's discussions with EMI on behalf of the Beatles were completed. John left the Beatles in September 1969, just after the group completed recording Abbey Road. The news of the break-up was kept secret until Paul announced his departure in April 1970, a month before the band released Let It Be, recorded just before Abbey Road.

Solo career

John didn't pursue a solo career until 1968, when he collaborated with his new partner, avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, on the experimental noise collage Unfinished Music, No. 1: Two Virgins. Two Virgins sparked a lot of debate, both because of its content and because of the cover image, which featured a naked shot of John and Yoko. On 20 March 1969, the pair married in Gibraltar. With their 'Bed-In for Peace' at the Amsterdam Hilton for their honeymoon, the couple launched the first of many political rallies. Unfinished Music, No. 2: Life with the Lions and The Wedding Album were published a few months later, as was the track 'Give Peace a Chance,' which was recorded during the Bed-In. John returned to live appearances in September 1969 with a performance at a Toronto rock & roll festival. The Plastic Ono Band, which included Yoko, guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann, and drummer Alan White, backed him up. The next month, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band published 'Cold Turkey,' a song about his heroin addiction. When the record failed to rank in the Top Ten in the United Kingdom and the United States, John returned his MBE to Queen Elizabeth II, citing Britain's role in Biafra, America's engagement in Vietnam, and 'Cold Turkey's' low performance.

John and Yoko resumed their peace effort by putting up billboards in 12 different cities with the slogan 'War Is Over! (If You Want It).' He wrote, recorded, and released the song 'Instant Karma' in less than a week in February 1970. The record was a big hit in the United Kingdom and the United States, reaching the Top Ten in both countries. John was enraged when Paul said the Beatles were breaking up two months after 'Instant Karma.' Much of this rage was expressed on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John's first full-fledged solo album, a brutally honest confessional work inspired by his and Yoko's primal scream therapy. Before coming to New York in 1971, he issued another protest hit, 'Power to the People.' He released Imagine in the fall of that year, which featured the Top Ten title single.

John and Yoko had returned to political activism by the time Imagine became a smash album. Their increased political involvement resulted in the double-album Sometime in New York City, which was released in the summer of 1972. Sometime in New York City was recorded with the New York hippy band Elephant's Memory and featured only political songs, many of which were panned for their simplicity. This album signalled the start of John's three-year downward slide. He began his long, drawn-out battle with US Immigration shortly before the album's release, after the agency refused to grant him a green card owing to a conviction for marijuana use in 1968. When he was told to leave the United States by Immigration in 1973, he went on a full-fledged campaign against the agency, constantly insulting them in public. The album Mind Games was released in late 1973 to mixed reviews, but the title single was a moderate hit. The following year, he and Yoko split up, and he moved to Los Angeles, where he started his year-and-a-half-long 'lost weekend.' In the years 1974 and 1975, John partied heavily in Los Angeles with superstars such as Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, David Bowie, and Ringo Starr. Walls and Bridges was released in November 1974 and was a hit owing to the inclusion of 'Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,' which he performed with Elton John. By the end of the year, John had persuaded John and Yoko to rejoin.

In the spring of 1975, Rock 'n' Roll, a collection of rock oldies recorded during the lost weekend, was released. Morris Levy, who John eventually sued, issued a bootleg of the album called Roots a few months before its official release. On 7 October 1975, a federal appeals court in the United States rejected John's deportation order, and in the summer of 1976, he was eventually issued his green card. Following the birth of his son, Sean, in October, John discreetly retired from music, deciding to become a house-husband after appearing on David Bowie's Young Americans album and co-writing the popular song 'Fame'. John returned to recording in the summer of 1980, signing a new contract with Geffen Records. Double Fantasy, which was released in November and received great reviews, was composed equally of compositions by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The album and its lead track, '(Just Like) Starting Over,' were on their way to the top of the charts.

Political activism

John and Yoko used their honeymoon as a Bed-In for Peace at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. During a second Bed-In three months later at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, John wrote and recorded 'Give Peace a Chance'. Released as a single, the song was quickly interpreted as an anti-war anthem and sung by a quarter of a million demonstrators against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC, on 15 November, the second Vietnam Moratorium Day. In December, they paid for billboards in 10 cities around the world which declared, in the national language, 'War Is Over! If You Want It'.

During the year, John and Yoko began to support efforts by the family of James Hanratty to prove his innocence. Hanratty had been hanged in 1962. According to John, those who had condemned Hanratty were 'the same people who are running guns to South Africa and killing blacks in the streets ... The same bastards are in control, the same people are running everything, it's the whole bullshit bourgeois scene.' In London, John and Yoko staged a 'Britain Murdered Hanratty' banner march and a 'Silent Protest For James Hanratty', and produced a 40-minute documentary on the case. At an appeal hearing more than thirty years later, Hanratty's conviction was upheld after DNA evidence was found to match.

John and Yoko showed their solidarity with the Clydeside UCS workers' work-in of 1971 by sending a bouquet of red roses and a cheque for £5,000. On moving to New York City in August that year, they befriended two of the Chicago Seven, Yippie peace activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Another political activist, John Sinclair, poet and co-founder of the White Panther Party, was serving ten years in prison for selling two joints of marijuana after previous convictions for possession of the drug. In December 1971 at Ann Arbor, Michigan, 15,000 people attended the 'John Sinclair Freedom Rally', a protest and benefit concert with contributions from John, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party, and others. John and Yoko, backed by David Peel and Jerry Rubin, performed an acoustic set of four songs from their forthcoming Some Time in New York City album including 'John Sinclair', whose lyrics called for his release. The day before the rally, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that significantly reduced the penalties for possession of marijuana and four days later Sinclair was released on an appeal bond. The performance was recorded and two of the tracks later appeared on John Lennon Anthology (1998).

Following the Bloody Sunday incident in Northern Ireland in 1972, in which fourteen unarmed civil rights protesters were shot dead by the British Army, John said that given the choice between the army and the IRA (who were not involved in the incident) he would side with the latter. John and Yoko wrote two songs protesting British presence and actions in Ireland for their Some Time in New York City album: 'The Luck of the Irish' and 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. In 2000, David Shayler, a former member of Britain's domestic security service MI5, suggested that John had given money to the IRA, though this was swiftly denied by Yoko. Biographer Bill Harry records that following Bloody Sunday, John and Yoko financially supported the production of the film The Irish Tapes, a political documentary with an Irish Republican slant.

Following the impact of 'Give Peace a Chance' and 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' on the anti-war movement, the Nixon administration heard rumours of John's involvement in a concert to be held in San Diego at the same time as the Republican National Convention and tried to have him deported. Nixon believed that John's anti-war activities could cost him his reelection; Republican Senator Strom Thurmond suggested in a February 1972 memo that 'deportation would be a strategic counter-measure' against John. The next month the United States Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) began deportation proceedings, arguing that his 1968 misdemeanour conviction for cannabis possession in London had made him ineligible for admission to the United States. John spent the next three-and-a-half years in and out of deportation hearings until 8 October 1975, when a court of appeals barred the deportation attempt, stating 'the courts will not condone selective deportation based upon secret political grounds'. While the legal battle continued, John attended rallies and made television appearances. He and Yoko co-hosted The Mike Douglas Show for a week in February 1972, introducing guests such as Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale to mid-America. In 1972, Bob Dylan wrote a letter to the INS defending John, stating 'John and Yoko add a great voice and drive to the country's so-called art institution. They inspire and transcend and stimulate and by doing so, only help others to see pure light and in doing that, put an end to this dull taste of petty commercialism which is being passed off as Artist Art by the overpowering mass media. Hurray for John and Yoko. Let them stay and live here and breathe. The country's got plenty of room and space. Let John and Yoko stay!'

On 23 March 1973, John was ordered to leave the US within 60 days. Yoko, meanwhile, was granted permanent residence. In response, John and Yoko held a press conference on 1 April 1973 at the New York City Bar Association, where they announced the formation of the state of Nutopia; a place with 'no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people'. Waving the white flag of Nutopia (two handkerchiefs), they asked for political asylum in the US. The press conference was filmed, and appeared in a 2006 documentary, The U.S. vs. John Lennon. Soon after the press conference, Nixon's involvement in a political scandal came to light, and in June the Watergate hearings began in Washington, DC. They led to the president's resignation 14 months later. In December 1974, when he and members of his tour entourage visited the White House, Harrison asked Gerald Ford, Nixon's successor, to intercede in the matter. Ford's administration showed little interest in continuing the battle against John, and the deportation order was overturned in 1975. The following year, John received his green card certifying his permanent residency, and when Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president in January 1977, John and Yoko attended the Inaugural Ball.


At approximately 5:00 p.m. on 8 December 1980, John autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for a Beatles fan, before leaving The Dakota with Yoko for a recording session at the Record Plant. After the session, John and Yoko returned to their Manhattan apartment in a limousine at around 10:50 p.m. EST. They exited the vehicle and walked through the archway of the building when John was shot twice in the back and twice in the shoulder at close range. John was rushed in a police cruiser to the emergency room of Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:15 p.m. (EST).

Yoko issued a statement the next day, saying 'There is no funeral for John', ending it with the words, 'John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him.' His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Yoko scattered his ashes in New York's Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. The Beatles fan who shot him avoided going to trial when he ignored his attorney's advice and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20-years-to-life.

In the weeks following the murder, '(Just Like) Starting Over' and Double Fantasy topped the charts in the UK and the US. In a further example of the public outpouring of grief, 'Imagine' hit number one in the UK in January 1981 and 'Happy Xmas' peaked at number two. 'Imagine' was succeeded at the top of the UK chart by 'Woman', the second single from Double Fantasy. Later that year, Roxy Music's cover version of 'Jealous Guy', recorded as a tribute to John, was also a UK number-one.

Every song John Lennon wrote for The Beatles


With The Beatles

Solo albums

Instruments Used




Other Instruments

  • 1965 Vox Continental (1965-1972)
  • Steinway Grand Piano (1965-1980)
  • 1965 Fender VI (1968-1970)