75 Facts About John Lennon On The Anniversary Of His Death
On the anniversary of John Lennon’s death (Dec. 8, 1980), we recount some fascinating facts about the legendary Beatle.
1. John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940 and was named after both his grandfather (John) and Winston Churchill.
2. Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, who largely raised him, claims that John was born during a Nazi blitz. Fans and historians debate this claim and, while historical documents and news reports show that the Nazi’s did execute bombing raids on Liverpool during the week Lennon was born, none contain specific records of bombings on October 9, 1940.
3. As a child, John served as a choirboy at his local church and was in the Boy Scouts.
4. In school, John created a book of his sketches and musings that he called The Daily Howl. Former classmate Bill Turner recalls, “It was an exercise book filled with his stories, poems, drawings and cartoons…One of his favourite cartoons was a bus stop scene. I remember he wrote under the sign, which said ‘Bus Stop’—’Why?’ And he had a flying pancake at the top of the cartoon and below it there was a blind man wearing glasses leading along a blind dog—also wearing glasses. At one time The Daily Howl was confiscated by one of the teachers and it went all round the staff before he got it back at the end of term.”
5. Not surprisingly, John was considered a poor student.
6. How poor a student was he? He was kicked out of school at age five.
8. John received his first instrument as a child: a harmonica. It was a gift from his uncle, George.
9. Years later, during the early Beatles days, John stole a harmonica from a store in Arnhem, a city in the Netherlands.
10. It’s believed that a group of Beatles fans eventually travelled to the store and officially “paid” for John’s harmonica.
11. A harmonica also figured into the decision to have Paul McCartney sing the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do.” Because John played the harmonica on the song, Paul was given the lead vocals.
12. John’s mother was hit and killed by a car when John was 17. He once said of her passing, “It was the worst night of my entire life. I lost my mother twice. Once as a child of five and then again at 17…It made me very, very bitter inside. We’d caught up so much in just a few years. We could communicate. We got on. Deep down I thought, sod it, I’ve no real responsibilities to anyone now.”
13. Also at age 17, John met Paul McCartney. In the beginning, however, John’s Aunt Mimi objected to his friendship with Paul, while Paul’s father felt the same way about his friendship with Lennon. Both reportedly thought the union would lead their kin down the wrong path.
14. Aunt Mimi is also quoted as telling John, “The guitar’s all right John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”
15. Lennon wrote his first song, “Hello Little Girl,” when he was 18 years old, and it charted for the British group The Fourmost a few years later.
16. According to Rod Davis, a member of one of John’s earliest bands, The Quarrymen, the group used to rehearse in Aunt Mimi’s bathroom: “You’d get the best reverberation off the tiles and you’d hear yourself better…If you’ve got no amplifier and no microphones, singing with someone surrounded by tiles, you get all the echoes come back at you and it sounds a lot better. It’s not as good as a microphone and an amp, but it’s a lot better than just singing in a cold room kind of thing.”
17. Cynthia Powell, a Liverpool art student, ended an engagement with another man to date Lennon. Lennon broke up with his current girlfriend to be with Cynthia. The couple later married and had one child—Julian Lennon.
18. The name “Julian” is in honour of Lennon’s mother, Julia. Julian’s full name is John Charles Julian Lennon.
19. Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, asked John and Cynthia to keep their marriage a secret. When adoring female fans found out about the marriage, they directed anything from proclamations of love for John to violent outbursts at Cynthia.
20. The Beatles’ cover of “Twist and Shout,” in which Lennon sang the famed, voice-straining lead vocals, is even more impressive given the fact that Lennon was sick during the recording session.
21. Paul McCartney is quoted as saying, “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.”
22. At a Beatles concert performed before members of the British royal family, Lennon famously addressed 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.”
23. John’s mouth, however, sometimes got the band in trouble. His infamous comment that “We’re more popular than Jesus now” in reference to the Beatles fame resulted in a major American backlash that saw fans burn the band’s albums and issue death threats. Fans in England, however, didn’t seem to get too riled up about it.
24. At many concerts, however, the crowd was so loud and enthusiastic that the band couldn’t hear themselves play. A frustrated John once quipped, “Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music any more. They’re just bloody tribal rites.”
25. One of the Beatles’ early managers owned a coffin and Lennon would sometimes take naps in it.
26 Every Beatle eventually became a vegetarian. Except John.
27. John wrote the song “I Am the Walrus” in response to a letter written to him by a student from his old high school who said his teacher was analysing Beatles lyrics in class. Lennon then decided to write a song so ridiculous that it would stifle anyone who tries to pick it apart.
28. Ironically, when reflecting upon the lyrics later, it was Lennon who realized he’d been confused. Lennon admitted later that he didn’t realize the Walrus was the antagonist in Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter, which was the source material for the character.
29. In the Beatles song “Glass Onion,” Lennon sings the lyric, “The Walrus was Paul.” Later, Lennon noted, “I threw the line in—”the Walrus was Paul”—just to confuse everybody a bit more. It could have been “The fox terrier is Paul.” I mean, it’s just a bit of poetry. I was having a laugh because there’d been so much gobbledygook about Pepper—play it backwards and you stand on your head and all that.”
30. John Lennon loved playing Monopoly and would travel with the board game.
31. In 1968, John formed a “super group” of sorts with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell known as Dirty Mac. The band performed on a Rolling Stones TV special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Lennon was still a Beatle at the time. The special didn’t air, however, until 28 years later.
32. Lennon said if he had his choice between groups, he’d pick being a member of Monty Python over being a Beatle.
33. Lennon once confessed to Beatles producer George Martin that he didn’t like any of the group’s songs and he would love to re-record every one.
34. However, when it comes to his song writing, John once claimed that “All You Need Is Love” was his best lyric.
35. John occasionally used pseudonyms, whether it was to check into a hotel unnoticed or to use in the credits on other musicians’ albums. His most famous fake name was “Winston O’Boogie.”
36. Lennon met Yoko Ono in November 1966 at an art gallery in London where she had an installation on display.
37. Lennon confessed many of his affairs to Cynthia, but she didn’t find out about his relationship with Ono until she returned home from a trip early to find her and Lennon seated together in robes in their home. John and Cynthia divorced.
38. Lennon later noted that the song, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” which he wrote for the Rubber Soul album, was about one of his affairs. It was a confession of sorts, though written in a way that the meaning couldn’t be deciphered.
40. On his relationship with Yoko, Lennon once said, “Both of us could survive apart but what for? I’m not going to sacrifice love, real love for…any friend or any business, because in the end you’re alone at night and neither of us want to be. And you can’t fill a bed with groupies. It doesn’t work. I don’t want to be a swinger. I’ve been through it all and nothing works better than to have someone you love hold you.”
41. The couple’s famous Bed-In, which first took place in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in 1969, was also John and Yoko’s honeymoon.
42. The second Bed-In, which took place later that year, occurred in Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel, though that wasn’t the first choice of location. It was originally to take place in New York but a past conviction for marijuana stifled those plans, as the U.S. refused to let him enter. When Plan B—to hold the Bed-In in the Bahamas—was thwarted by the extreme heat, the couple ended up in La Belle Province.
43. Lennon’s statement upon returning his MBE to the Queen in protest of the Vietnam War in 1969: “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 [his latest single] ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With love. John Lennon of Bag.”
44. John didn’t get his driver’s licence until age 24. According to one report, “…he was a terrible driver. He finally gave up driving after he totalled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono, his son, Julian, and Kyoko, Ono’s daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident. He and Yoko mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home in England. He always used a chauffeur or driver after this incident.”
45. During Lennon’s alcohol and drug-fuelled “lost weekend,”—an 18-month period between 1973 and 1975 when John and Yoko split and John began dating May Pang—Lennon recorded with Paul McCartney for the final time, produced an album for both Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson, recorded with Elton John and cut three of his own albums: Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.
46. In August 1974, John and then-girlfriend May Pang claimed they saw a UFO from their New York City apartment. “I was lying naked on my bed, when I had this urge,” Lennon said during an interview. “So I went to the window, just dreaming around in my usual poetic frame of mind…There, as I turned my head, hovering over the next building, no more than 100 feet away was this thing with ordinary electric light bulbs flashing on and off round the bottom, one non-blinking red light on top.”
47. In 2012, Ono spoke of the temporary split with John: “The affair was something that was not hurtful to me. I needed a rest. I needed space. Can you imagine every day of getting this vibration from people of hate? You want to get out of that. Also, we were so close John didn’t even want me to go to the bathroom by myself. ‘I will come with you’ he would say. And this would be in public places like the EMI recording studios. I started to notice that he became a little restless on top of that, so I thought it’s better to give him a rest and me a rest.”
48. Lennon and Ono owned an island off of Ireland.
50. Richard Nixon attempted to have Lennon, one of his highest-profile and most vocal critics, deported.
51. On Thanksgiving Day 1974, John Lennon joined Elton John on stage in Madison Square Garden during the latter’s concert for three songs—Lennon’s new single, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” a cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which John had released as a single, and the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.”
52. Lennon’s performance that night, which proved to be his last-ever in public, came as a result of a bet. Lennon had played on and contributed backing vocals to John’s cover of the Beatles hit, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” John, meanwhile, performed on Lennon’s new single, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” John bet Lennon that “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” would top the charts and that if it did then Lennon had to appear on stage with John. Lennon, confident the single would not hit number one, took the bet. Evidently, he lost.
53. Lennon was terribly nervous to perform on stage in Madison Square Garden. Even during the performance, when introducing their final song together, Lennon quipped, “We’re going to finish up here so I can get out of here and be sick.”
54. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” was Lennon’s first and only single as a solo artist to reach number one on the U.S. charts.
55. Every other Beatle had solo U.S. number one singles before John.
56. John Lennon had a fascination with the number nine, believing it held great significance in his life. An example of this is that his birthday is on October 9, which is also his son Sean’s birthday.
57. On February 9, 1961, the Beatles debuted at the Cavern Club. On the same date, exactly three years later, the group made their historic first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
58. Multiple songs written by John include the number nine in the title, such as “Revolution No. 9,” “No. 9 Dream” and “One After 909.” John died on the evening of December 8, 1980 in New York City, though due to the time zone difference it was already December 9 in his native England.
60. Many more examples exist, but perhaps the most chilling comes courtesy of author Bill Harry: “When John was shot he was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital—on 9th Avenue (Roosevelt also has nine letters, as does Manhattan, the district in New York where he lived and died).”
61. Peter Boyle, of Young Frankenstein, Taxi Driver and Everybody Loves Raymond fame, was a close enough friend to Lennon that John served as the best man at his 1977 wedding.
62. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were watching Saturday Night Live together on April 24, 1976, when the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, famously offered the Beatles $3,000 to show up and perform three songs on his show. Lennon recalled the evening, “Paul… as visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired. …He and I were just sitting there watching the show, and we went, ‘Ha ha, wouldn’t it be funny if we went down?’ But we didn’t.”
63. That evening was also the last time John and Paul ever saw each other.
64. John had retirement plans. In an interview with Rolling Stone in June, 1975, Lennon said, “I’ve always had this vision of bein’ 60 and writing children’s books. I don’t know why.”
65. It’s been reported that Lennon said his favourite album was The B-52’s self-titled debut, which was released in 1979.
66. The last known photo of John Lennon is a picture of him autographing his album, Double Fantasy, which had recently been released. The man he was autographing it for was the person who, later that day, assassinated him.
67. John was cremated, although Yoko Ono has never revealed where his ashes are interred.
68. John told his son Julian that, after his death, if Julian saw a white feather floating across the room he’d know it was him making contact.
69. Lennon’s song “Imagine” won a BBC poll of the United Kingdom’s favourite song lyrics in 1999.
70. Liverpool honours Lennon’s legacy with a number of memorials, including a statue of the singer outside the city’s famed Cavern Club, where the Beatles used to play and by renaming their airport the Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
71. An entomologist, who is also a huge Beatles fan, discovered a new species of tarantula in Brazil and named it after Lennon: Bumba lennoni. A type of wasp, Notiospathius johnlennoni, was also named after him.
72. There’s also an avalanchurus, “an extinct genus of trilobite…a fossil group of extinct marine arthropods that form the class Trilobita”—named after John: lennoni. Ringo Starr (starri), Paul Simon (simoni) and Art Garfunkel (garfunkeli) also have one named after them.
73. An impact crater on Mercury was named after John by the International Astronomical Union. It’s called, “Lennon.”
74. There are no beetles named after John.