With Yoko Ono7 November 1966 he met Japanese artist Yoko Ono at the Indica gallery in London, where she was preparing a conceptual art show. They began a relationship in May 1968, and Cynthia filed for divorce on the grounds of infidelity later that year.
Lennon and Ono began a series of peace protests against the Vietnam war. Lennon returned his MBE to the Queen in 1969, stating: “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 Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With love. John Lennon of Bag.”
The couple married in Gibraltar in March 1969, and spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam staging a ‘Bed-in’ for peace in the Hilton hotel. The period was documented by Lennon in The Beatles’ song ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’. In April 1969, Lennon changed his name to John Ono Lennon on the roof of Apple.
The Beatles disintegrated in 1969. Lennon left the group in September, but agreed not to announce it while the band were renegotiating their recording contract. When McCartney declared that he had left the group in April 1970, Lennon’s reaction was “Jesus Christ! He gets all the credit for it!” He later told Rolling Stone magazine: “I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record.”
Although Lennon harboured some bitterness towards his former bandmates, he was later quoted as saying “I still love those guys. The Beatles are over, but John, Paul, George and Ringo go on.”
The solo years
Lennon’s solo career had begun while The Beatles were still together. After three experimental albums recorded with Yoko Ono – Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No 2: Life With The Lions and Wedding Album – he recorded Live Peace In Toronto 1969 with Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s solo musical vehicle with an ever-changing line-up.
Three solo singles were released before The Beatles’ break-up: ‘Give Peace A Chance’, ‘Cold Turkey’ and ‘Instant Karma’.
In 1970 he released the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, his most powerful solo release, and followed it up by the enormously popular Imagine. Both were produced by Phil Spector, who Lennon collaborated with several times during the 1970s.
Lennon left the UK for New York in August 1971, never to return. Several solo singles and albums followed, of varying quality, and Lennon increasingly became involved in radical politics.
His marriage to Yoko Ono had become strained by 1973, and in November they separated. Lennon embarked on what he later called his “lost weekend” for 18 months, in the company of new partner May Pang and a series of drinking companions including Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr.
Ono and Lennon reconciled in November 1974 following his appearance at Elton John’s Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden. He eventually returned to live with her once more at their apartment in the Dakota building, New York City, on 31 January 1975.
The lost weekend was replaced by Lennon’s period of house-husbandry. His son Sean Ono Lennon was born on 9 October 1975 – Lennon’s 35th birthday – and John withdrew from the music business to raise him.
He re-emerged in November 1980 with the release of Double Fantasy, a split album with half the songs recorded by Yoko Ono.
Following its release Lennon began planning a follow-up, Milk And Honey. However, as he and Ono returned from a recording session on the night of 8 December 1980, he was shot by in front of the Dakota building by Mark David Chapman. Earlier that day Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for the gunman.
Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11.15pm. The following day Yoko Ono issued a statement, which read:
There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean.
John was one of the best musicians of all time, possibly the best, certainly a genius.