Born October 9, 1940, John Lennon would have been celebrating his 80th birthday this year. Instead, shot on December 8, 1980 we will all soon be commemorating the 40th anniversary of his death. With this in mind, we’re taking a look back at this legendary musician’s life.
Born in Liverpool, John Winston Lennon had humble beginnings. His father, Alfred Lennon, a merchant seaman, was not around for a lot of his childhood due to his work, even missing his birth. John lived with his mother, Julia until she gave custody of John to her sister, Mimi. Julia would often visit and is often credited with inspiring Lennon’s love of music. She bought him his first guitar and taught him to play piano.
At the age of 16, Lennon began a skiffle band called the Quarrymen and during a church fete on July 6, 1957 he met a young Paul McCartney. He soon invited McCartney to join the Quarrymen, little did they know the pair of them would become one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in history.
On July 15, 1958 at the age of 44, Lennon’s mother was fatally hit by a car, traumatising, a then 17-year-old, Lennon. He would go on to write the 1968 Beatle’s song Julia in her memory.
As the Quarrymen began to perform more, McCartney suggested to Lennon that his young friend, George Harrison, be auditioned to be lead guitarist. Though only 14 at the time Harrison joined the group along with Stuart Sutcliffe who joined them on bass guitar. After searching for a drummer Pete Best joined in 1960. They took inspiration from Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets and called themselves the Beatles.
The band performed two residencies in Germany before returning to England. Though Sutcliffe remained behind in Hamburg, Lennon, Harrison, McCartney and Best continued to play. In 1961, after one of their many performances in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, Brian Epstein approached them to be their manager. One of the main changes made under Epstein was the change of drummer. Best was out and, Richard Starkey, a.k.a. Ringo was in. Cue Beatlemania! The four lads from Liverpool made hits, broke records – all of which can be read from news of the time.
In 1962 Lennon married Cynthia Powell and had a son, Julian who he named after his mother. Cynthia and Lennon’s marriage was short-lived due to the stress of Beatlemania and her needing to keep a low-profile so as not to affect the band’s image. The pair divorced in 1968 and Lennon remarried the following year to avant-garde artist, Yoko Ono, whom he had met in 1966.
Lennon and Yoko’s relationship has often been blamed for the breaking up of the Beatles. After the death of Epstein from an accidental overdose in ‘67, the commercial failure of Magical Mystery Tour and the band’s members looking for new directions to take their music can all be attributed towards Lennon leaving the band in September 1969, though it was not announced until after McCartney’s departure in 1970. Their recently recorded single, Abbey Road was to be their last.
Lennon did not give up on music. His peaceful protests with Ono and pursuit of a simple life of love and peace inspired Imagine – a record-breaking song which was later named number 3 in magazine Rolling Stone’s “All-Time Best Songs” list.
He and Ono moved to the United States in ’71 and became a voice against the Vietnam war. Lennon’s pacifism often saw him oppose the Nixon administration, who frequently threatened deportation, which did put a strain on their marriage. The two separated in ‘73, but reconciled a year later and celebrated the birth of their son, Sean on Lennon’s 35th birthday in 1975.
Throughout this time Lennon performed charity concerts and collaborated with musicians such as David Bowie.
In 1980, a few weeks after he released the album Double Fantasy, Mark David Chapman waited for Lennon outside his New York apartment. He shot 5 hollow point bullets, four of which hit Lennon in the back and shoulder. Police who attended the scene rushed Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Fans were shocked by his death and mourned through his records, posthumously awarding him number ones within two months of his murder. Lennon’s assassination continues to have a profound effect on pop culture, and he continues to be admired by new generations of fans. He was posthumously inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and 1994, respectively.
His Beatles legacy also lives on, fans of all ages continue to revisit their music, making now a perfect time to list our Beatles history book, a chronicle of Beatlemania told through newspaper reports of the time.