Ten Facts You Didn't Know About John Lennon

Updated on May 8, 2020
Silvia Munguia profile image

I graduated from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Literature in Writing and a minor in Spanish Literature in 2013.

John Lennon's name is known around the world, but most people don't know just how  complex his life was. Read on to find out more.
John Lennon's name is known around the world, but most people don't know just how complex his life was. Read on to find out more.

Thirty-nine years ago, the rock ‘n’ roll idol and peace activist, John Lennon, was shot by a deranged fan outside of his home. The event shocked the entire world and deeply saddened millions of fans. Indisputably, Lennon was a talented singer-songwriter who left his mark on the music world as the founder and co-leader of what many regard as the greatest rock band of all time. On the other hand, the British musician was also a complex human being. His hunger for love, knowledge, and adventure makes him a fascinating character. In order to honor his life and legacy, I invite you to read ten intriguing facts about the Liverpudlian rocker.

Lesser-Known Facts About John Lennon

  1. His full name was John Winston Lennon.
  2. From a young age, Lennon showed artistic talent in drawing and in writing.
  3. Lennon, as well as the other Beatles, were big Elvis fans.
  4. Contrary to popular belief, John Lennon did not claim that the Beatles were better than Jesus.
  5. Number nine was a significant number for the rock ‘n’ roll icon.
  6. Lennon did not grow up with his parents.
  7. His song “Imagine,” was inspired by “Cloud Piece,” an instructional poem in his wife Yoko Ono’s book, Grapefruit.
  8. Both of Lennon’s wives were older than him.
  9. As a teenager, Lennon was infatuated with the stunning French actress, Brigitte Bardot (so much that he encouraged his then girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, to dress up like her).
  10. John admitted having been violent to women.

1. His full name was John Winston Lennon.

Lennon was born during WWII and was named after his paternal grandfather, John "Jack" Lennon and England’s Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill. Upon marrying the Japanese avant garde artist, Yoko Ono (in 1969), he added “Ono” to his name.

2. Lennon was multitalented.

From a young age, Lennon showed artistic talent not just in music but also in drawing and in writing. As a child, Lennon would spend a lot of time reading (one of his favorite writers was Lewis Carroll). His love for reading translated into writing short stories with illustrations. At the age of seventeen, Lennon was admitted into the Liverpool College of Art. Even though Lennon abandoned his art studies to concentrate solely on making music, he later returned to his other passions, writing and publishing books. His books “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works" were released in 1964 and 1965.

John Lennon in the early 1970s
John Lennon in the early 1970s

3. Lennon was a big Elvis fans.

Like most rock musicians who came of age in the late '50s, John Lennon idolized Elvis Presley, as well as other American rock ‘n’ roll stars, such as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard. Lennon, as well as the other Beatles, often cited Elvis as one of their musical influences and even recorded covers of some of his songs, such as “That’s All Right (Mama),” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You),” “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” and “I Got a Woman.” Once the Beatles had reached worldwide fame and got to tour the U.S. for the first time in 1964, they also got to meet Elvis, who invited them to his house and showed them the first remote control T.V. that they had ever seen.

The Beatles performing for the first time at the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964
The Beatles performing for the first time at the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

4. He didn't claim the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.

Contrary to popular belief, John Lennon did not claim that the Beatles were better than Jesus. In 1966, John Lennon and the other Beatles were interviewed separately by British journalist, Maureen Cleave. In his interview, Lennon made a controversial comment about Jesus which caused a lot of anger among American Beatles fans, so much that Lennon received death threats and the Beatles were banned from many radio stations in the U.S. However, contrary to what many believed, Lennon never claimed that the Beatles were superior than Jesus, his exact words were:

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right, and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity...”

In a press conference later that year, Lennon explained:

“If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it...I used the words ‘Beatles’ as a remote thing...Well, originally I pointed out that fact in reference to England. That we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact and it's true more for England than here. I'm not saying that we're better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or it was taken wrong..."

In spite of Lennon's subtle apology, American audience remained hostile towards the Beatles. In fact, one of the reasons why the Beatles stopped touring in 1966 was precisely to protect the band from angry fans.

John Lennon with his first wife, Cynthia Lennon, and his son, Julian.
John Lennon with his first wife, Cynthia Lennon, and his son, Julian.

5. He found the number nine significant.

Number nine was a significant number for the rock ‘n’ roll icon. He was born on October 9th, and so was his second son, Sean Lennon. He met his second wife, Yoko Ono, on November 9, 1966. The Beatles manager, Brain Epstein, who was a key figure in the band's success, first saw them perform in Liverpool’s Cavern Club on November 9th, 1961. Sadly, Lennon was also shot on December 9th, 1980 (in Western European Time). Many other important events in Lennon’s life coincided with the number nine (or with digits of it). Lennon mentioned the significance of the number in several interviews and even included it in three of his songs’ titles: “One After 909,” “Revolution 9,” and “No. 9 Dream.”

No. 9 Dream

6. Lennon did not grow up with his parents.

His parents, Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon, separated when he was only five years old. Shortly after, Lennon went on to live with his maternal aunt, Mimi Smith, and her husband, George Smith. Lennon’s mother tried to reconnect with him when Lennon was a teenager. Unfortunately, Julia passed away when her son was only seventeen years old, which forever stunted their flourishing relationship. Understandably, Lennon resented the loss of his parents, especially the loss of his mother. This pain later inspired him to write songs like “Mother” and “Julia.” Some have even claimed that part of Lennon’s deep love for his second wife, Yoko Ono, has to do with her resemblance to his mother and the fact that he found a mother figure in her. Like Julia, Yoko Ono was artistic, unconventional, and had a strong character. As a matter of fact, John used to refer to Yoko Ono as “mother.”

Julia

7. “Imagine” was inspired by the poem “Cloud Piece.”

The song “Imagine” was inspired by “Cloud Piece,” an instructional poem in his wife Yoko Ono’s book, Grapefruit. He was inspired by the lines “Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” In 2017, there was talk about the song’s authorship being changed from solely crediting Lennon to including Yoko Ono. But, until this day, the song's authorship remains the same.

8. Lennon’s wives were older than him.

John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940. His first wife, Cynthia Lillian Powell, was born on September 10, 1939, which makes her about a year older than Lennon. His second wife, Yoko Ono, was born on February 18, 1933, which makes her about seven years older than the rock ‘n’ roll icon.

John Lennon at the famous bed in for peace in Amsterdam with Yoko Ono
John Lennon at the famous bed in for peace in Amsterdam with Yoko Ono

9. Lennon was infatuated with Brigitte Bardot.

As a teenager, Lennon was infatuated with the stunning French actress, Brigitte Bardot. In fact, he was so enamored with her that he encouraged his then girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, to dress up like her.

Lennon was not alone in his infatuation with the French sex symbol. In fact, all of the other Beatles had a crush on Bardot and also encouraged their girlfriends to imitate her look. For example, Paul McCartney’s first girlfriend, Dot Rhone, has claimed the singer made her dye her hair blond a la Bardot and made her wear short, tight mini skirts. Understandably, this move has been widely criticized by many Beatles fans. Although it is undeniable that this behaviour was chauvinistic, it is important to consider the context (pre-second wave feminism) and the different gender norms at the time. Paul later confessed:

“At the time everyone was trying to turn their girlfriend into a bargain basement Bardot. We all happened to be at the age when a ravishing sex goddess taking off her clothes was the fantasy for us boys. We were all smitten. So the girls had to be blonde, look rather like Brigitte and preferably pout a lot. John and I used to have these secret talks intimating, although not actually saying it, that we could be quite happy for our girlfriends to be Liverpool’s answer to Bardot. My girlfriend was called Dot and, of course, John had Cynthia. We got them both to go blonde and wear mini skirts. It’s terrible really. But that’s the way it was.”

10. John was violent to women.

In a 1980 interview with Playboy, Lennon admitted his violent past, indicating that he used to fight men and hit women, and that the line in the Beatles song “Getting Better,” which reads “I used to be cruel to my woman and beat her and take her apart from the things that she loved," was, in fact, about him. "That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace,” said Lennon explaining that, in big part, his violence was rooted in the pain and anger from his sad and lonely childhood, and that he was trying to change his ways. In her memoir titled, John, Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Lennon, confirms her ex-husband's emotional and physical abuse towards her as well as his adultery.

“I never stopped loving John, but the cost of that love has been enormous. Someone asked me recently whether if I’d known at the beginning what lay ahead I would have gone through with it. I had to say no. Of course I could never regret having my wonderful son, but the truth is that if I had known as a teeneager what falling in love with John Lennon would lead to, I would’ve turned around right then and walked away.”

As Lennon matured and got older, he was able to deal with his inner demons and release his pent up anger through primal therapy. His second wife, Yoko Ono, has said that he was never abusive towards her.


Sources

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Questions & Answers

  • How long was Lennon’s lost weekend?

    I believe it was about a year and a half. He separated from Yoko sometime in 1973 and began a relationship with May Pang with whom he left NY to go to LA. There, he reconnected with old friends and recorded an album of covers of famous rock 'n' roll songs. In 1974, he returned to NY and soon he got back with Yoko Ono. A year later, Yoko gave birth to their son, Sean.

© 2019 Silvia Munguia

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