Born in Liverpool to Julia (Stanley) and and Alfred Lennon on 9th October 1940. Named John Winston Lennon, his middle name in honour of his grandfather, his father missed his birth due to his duties as a merchant seaman. Alfred was often away during John’s early years, until 1944 when he disappeared, listed as AWOL. When he eventually returned six months later, he offered to stay home with Julia and John, but by now she was pregnant with another man’s child and refused. Alfred left.
Shortly afterwards, following complaints to social services, John was given to Julia’s older sister Mimi and her husband Geoff to raise. When John was five years of age, his father returned and following an argument over custody with Julia forced the young boy to choose between them. After choosing Alfred twice, his mother turned her back and started to walk away, John burst into tears and followed his mother.
He was alternatively noted as an unruly child at school, often disruptive, yet quick witted, and intelligent. He passed his eleven plus, and attended Quarry Bank High School. He continued to see his mother regularly and holidayed with his cousins in Scotland at the family croft. In 1955, his uncle Geoff died suddenly of a liver haemorrhage. The following year, encouraging her son’s love of music, Julia bought John his first guitar which she kept at her residence due to his aunt’s disapproval. She told him that he would never make anything from it. In 1958, when John was 17, his mother visited him at his aunt’s house and on her way home (on foot) was hit by a car and killed.
John left school after failing all his exams, but thanks to the intervention of his aunt, was accepted into Art College. His disruptive behaviour continued and he was dismissed from his classes one by one. He eventually was kicked out before his final year after failing his end of year exams. Fellow student Cynthia Powell had tried to help him, but to no avail. John would later marry Cynthia, in secret in 1962, after finding out she was pregnant. The Beatles’ manager persuaded the couple not to announce their marriage, nor the subsequent birth of their son Julian, for fear of upsetting the huge female fan base. Lennon was in Germany on tour when Julian was born in April 1963, not seeing him until three days later.
Lennon had started his first band, The Quarreymen in 1956/7and the group focused on a skiffle sound. Following introductions into the line-up of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the group transformed into the Beatles and were invited to a seminar in Hamburg in 1960, again in 1961 and a third in 1962. Bassist Stuart Sutcliffe had resigned, McCartney replacing him, on bass, and Pete Best was drummer. Best would famously leave the band before their big break, declaring that he felt the band were not destined to be famous. He was replaced by Ringo Starr. Brian Epstein was taken on as the group’s manager. By October 1962 they got their break with first single ‘Love me do’, shortly followed by their debut album ‘Please, Please me’ which they recorded in ten hours on 11th February 1963, whilst John was suffering a heavy cold, which is most apparent on single ‘Twist and Shout’. The Beatles were a success.
John had started taking drugs during this time, and following an incident after a seminar in Bangor, in 1967 when a policeman failed to recognise Cynthia and refused to allow her to board the group’s train, she was forced to make her own way home. When she arrived home, she found Lennon with Yoko Ono. Cynthia left and stayed with a friend. The following year, Cynthia took a holiday in Greece. When she returned home she found Yoko who was allegedly wearing only Cynthia’s robe, and drinking tea with John. Greeted simply with the words “Oh Hi!” Cynthia left again. Divorce followed shortly afterwards. John later admitted to being violent in his relationships. The break-up of his marriage started a period of virtual estrangement from his son, which was to last several years. It was later said, that Julian was closer to McCartney than his father, Paul wrote the song ‘Hey Jules’, which later morphed into ‘Hey Jude’ in an effort to cheer Julian up.
By the time his divorce came through in 1968, Yoko was pregnant. She subsequently suffered a miscarriage, a son whom the couple named John Ono Lennon II. Another two miscarriages would follow. The couple married in 1969, and John left the Beatles the following year. Several songs were released in this period with Lennon and Ono’s collaborative group, the Plastic Onos. Yoko eventually persuaded John to move to New York permanently in 1971 by which time Lennon was actively addicted to drugs including Heroin, which had been reflected in his final work with the Beatles.
He became publicly vocal in his support of various anti-war movements, including his opposition of the British involvement in Vietnam, and known sympathy for the victims of the British Army on Bloody Sunday. After Yoko was afforded a green card, Lennon’s own application was denied. Thus began a five year battle with the US government and immigration to fight his threatened deportation. Lennon was only successful following Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal and was forced to resign. His replacement Gerald Ford seemed less inclined to continue the deportation which was finally dissolved in 1976.
Yoko and John became somewhat estranged in 1973/4, Yoko actively encouraging their assistant May Pang to take her place in John’s life ‘because he liked her’. The couple moved to Los Angeles and Pang helped John build a new relationship with his son Julian during their 18 month affair, referred to by John as his ‘Lost Weekend. When they returned to New York, they rented an apartment and allocated a spare room for Julian’s visits. Lennon began to re-establish lost relationships with other family members and friends, and started to sever his contact with Yoko. In January 1975 he agreed to meet with her to discuss a cure for smoking that Ono claimed to have found, he didn’t return after the meeting. When he surfaced for a dental appointment a few days later, Pang claimed later, he appeared disorientated and confused. She felt he had been brainwashed somehow. Lennon told her that he had decided to stay with Ono, but he was able to continue seeing her as a mistress. Ono later discovered she was pregnant but as a result of her previous miscarriages, decided to terminate the pregnancy. Lennon agreed to give up his career for five years and raise the child himself. Sean Lennon was born on 9th October, 1975, his father’s 35th birthday. John stayed true to his word, and spent every day with his son.
In 1980, as Lennon slowly reintroduced himself back into the public eye, he and Ono went out for a meal on 8th December, where he signed a copy of his album for a fan who approached their table. Mark Chapman followed the couple back to their apartment building and shot Lennon four times in the back. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Yoko later announced there would be no funeral. She had John cremated and his ashes scattered in Central Park opposite their apartment building where the ‘Strawberry Fields’ memorial now stands. A further memorial – the John Lennon Peace Memorial – was dedicated on his 70th Birthday in Chavasse Park in Liverpool, by his son Julian.
Mark Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment on a count of second degree murder, to which he pleaded guilty. 35 years later, following 8 unsuccessful parole hearings, each one attended by Lennon’s widow where she continues to make a statement against Chapman’s release, he remains imprisoned.