John Lennon and Yoko Ono were definitely the strangest power couple of the ‘70s. John was suddenly making art and movies, while Yoko was making music. But this experimental sound was often too much for people to handle, with many fans writing their art off as too experimental for their liking.
And then, of course, came their eerie, all-in kind of love that made a lot of people uncomfortable. It got to the point where Beatles fans were concerned for his well-being and full-heartedly believed that she broke up the band. While their consuming relationship received a lot of criticism, the famous love birds didn’t exactly shy away from the spotlight.
From staging Bed-Ins to creating experimental albums, John and Yoko lived quite the life together. This is their story.
There are a few conflicting accounts about when and how the couple met. However, most sources say that John and Yoko first met in November 1966 at Indica, a hip London art gallery where Yoko was holding an art exhibition.
Although The Beatles were one of the biggest bands in the world, John told Rolling Stone magazine that his future wife had no idea who he was. “She’d only heard of Ringo, I think,” Lennon said in 1971. Regardless of whether Yoko was playing coy or not, she got John’s attention. “She came up and handed me a card which said ‘breathe’ on it, one of her instructions, so I just went [pant]. This was our meeting.”
Yoko had a unique art piece, Apple, on display at Indica. It was a simple piece, just an apple on top of a Plexiglass stand, but it was going for 200 quid (which is equivalent to $262). John was “astounded” at the piece of work and later told reporters that the piece intrigued him because he “didn’t have to have much knowledge about avant-garde or underground art.”
So what did John do? He grabbed the apple off of the stand at took a huge bite out of it. “I was so furious, I didn’t know what to say,” Yoko told reporters from the Museum of Modern Art. “And it all showed in my face: How dare this person mess around with my work? So he just said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and just put it on the stand again.”
While this seems like the perfect meet-cute, there was just one problem: both were married with children. John was married to his first wife, Cynthia, whose relationship had been on the rocks before he met Yoko. The pair shared a son named Julian, who was three years old at the time. Yoko, on the other hand, was on her second marriage.
The Japanese-American artist was married to film producer Anthony Cox. Just like with John, Yoko met Anthony after he came to see her artwork at an art exhibit in Tokyo. The pair married and had a daughter named Kyoko. After their divorce, Anthony took full custody of Kyoko and disappeared with her in 1971. It wasn’t until 1994 that Kyoko made contact with her mother.
It didn’t matter that the couple were married to other people, there was an instant connection. “I was very attracted to him. It was a really strange situation,” Ono told reporters from The Scotsman in 2002. John and Yoko eventually met again at another art gallery event, and that’s when the artist asked John to sponsor one of her art shows.
Only John and Yoko know when their love affair actually began, but it was sometime before he flew with the Beatles to India in February 1968. Before they left, Cynthia found letters exchanged between John and Yoko. But when she confronted him about it, he denied that the two were involved romantically. John wrote Yoko off as some “crazy artist” who wanted to be sponsored.
Cynthia was used to hearing whispers of John’s infidelity. However, she saw their upcoming trip to India as an opportunity to save their marriage. But John wasn’t exactly on the same page as his wife. “John was becoming increasingly cold and aloof toward me,” Cynthia wrote in her book, John.
“He would get up early and leave our room. He spoke to me very little, and after a week or two, he announced that he wanted to move into a separate room to give himself more space.” John said that he could only meditate alone. But Cynthia later learned that John woke up early every day to check the post office for a letter from Ono, who sent one almost daily.
When the band abruptly left India after a fallout with their transcendental meditation guru, Maharishi, John got very drunk. On the flight back to London, he confessed to Cynthia that he had been with many women during their marriage. He reportedly went on to detail encounters with numerous groupies, friends, and “thousands” of women around the world.
Cynthia didn’t want to hear his confession, but she knew that women were attracted like “moths to a flame,” according to author Larry Kane, who wrote the New York Times Best Seller Lennon Revealed. Despite his confession, Cynthia stayed with John. The two got off the plane and went back to their apartment in Kenwood like normal.
Then, in May 1968, two weeks after the couple returned from their transcendental meditation retreat in India, John suggested that Cynthia take a vacation in Greece with some friends. He explained to his wife that he was going to be busy recording songs for The Beatles’ White Album, and he needed this time to be alone.
So Cynthia packed her bags and jetted off to Greece, but what she didn’t know was that John had something else besides recording music on his mind. He had invited Yoko over to the couple’s London apartment, and they spent the night recording songs for what would become the Two Virgins album. The idea for the album came about after John showed her some of his avant-garde home recordings.
John played Yoko some of his tapes, which were filled with electric sounds and comedy recordings, sounds that The Beatles would never have allowed on their album. Yoko fell in love with John’s tapes and suggested that they make their own recordings. However, for one reason or another, Cynthia came back early from her trip only to discover John and Yoko sitting on the floor in matching white robes, staring into each other’s eyes.
She also found her slippers outside of their bedroom door. “John looked at me, expressionless, and said: ‘Oh, hi,’” Cynthia wrote in her autobiography. “Yoko didn’t turn around.” Shocked, Cynthia left the apartment. She called up her friends Jenny Boyd and John Mardas, also known as Magic Alex, and asked if she could go to their place to spend the night.
When she came back the next day, John seemed absolutely normal. But shortly after, John booked a trip to New York with his bandmate Paul McCartney, and Cynthia was specifically not invited. Instead, John sent Cynthia on a trip to Italy with her mother. One night during her trip, Magic Alex came to her hotel to break the news that John was planning on suing her for divorce on the grounds of adultery and was seeking full custody of their son Julian.
“The mere fact that ‘Magic Alex’ [Mardas] arrived in Italy in the middle of the night without any prior knowledge of where I was staying made me extremely suspicious,” she told British reporter Chris Hunt in 2005. “I was being coerced into making it easy.”
During the divorce proceedings, Yoko and John were staying at 34 Montagu Square, an apartment rented by Ringo Starr in Central London. The couple was enjoying themselves, until one day, the police arrived on their doorstep with a warrant to search the apartment for drugs. The couple, who had been tipped off by British journalist Don Short three weeks prior, believed that the house was clean.
But when the police came inside, armed with drug-sniffing dogs, they found over 200 grams of hashish, among other things. Yoko thought that maybe the drugs had been planted, while John thought maybe it was a hidden stash forgotten by Jimi Hendrix (who had previously stayed at the apartment). Regardless, the couple was immediately arrested.
Fearing that Yoko would get deported back to the United States, John pleaded guilty in court. He was fined £150 (almost $200) and told that another offense would send him to jail for a year. Days after the debacle, Yoko announced to the press that she was pregnant. John and Yoko were expecting a baby boy’s arrival in February 1969.
While the couple was elated, their announcement caused a huge scandal in the media, especially because they were still married to other people at the time. Sadly, their happiness was short-lived. Yoko miscarried in November, nearly a month after being arrested. Reportedly, the stress of the arrest and court hearings contributed to her miscarriage.
While many people blame Yoko for John’s divorce from Cynthia (among other things), John believed that wasn’t the case. In a 1976 letter addressed to Cynthia, John wrote, “As you and I well know, our marriage was over long before the advent of [psychedelics] or Yoko Ono, and that’s reality!” But for anyone who had been in this position knows that it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
While Cynthia was devastated about the divorce, John was obviously happy with his decision. To John, Yoko represented a strong woman who was similar to the other women who raised him. “John loved strong women. His mother was a strong woman, his auntie who brought him up was a strong woman, and bless her, but his first wife wasn’t,” Paul McCartney said.
Once John and Cynthia’s divorce was finalized in November 1968, he and Yoko planned on getting married. “We wanted to get married on a cross-channel ferry, that was the romantic part,” John said in the Beatles’ Anthology documentary. “We went to Southampton, and then we couldn’t get on because she wasn’t English, and she couldn’t get the day visa to go across.”
The couple eventually got married on March 20, 1969, in a 10-minute ceremony at the British Consulate Office in Gibraltar, near Spain, one week after Paul McCartney’s marriage to Lina Eastman. The wedding was just as romantic and low-key as they hoped it would be. However, their honeymoon was a completely different story.
John and Yoko knew that their wedding was going to be a huge press event, so they decided to take this publicity and spend their honeymoon promoting world peace. Five days after their wedding, the couple decided to do a sit-in, but with their own twist, of course. So from March 25 to 31, John and Yoko staged a Bed-In for Peace at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel.
They invited the press to their room every day from 9 am to 9 pm. Given the couple’s avant-garde nonconformity, the press expected the couple to do something crazy in bed. But much to their surprise, Yoko and John just sat in bed wearing pajamas, talking about peace with reporters.
By the time May rolled around, John and Yoko realized that it was time to take their War is Over campaign to North America. There was just one problem: John was barred entry to the US because of his minor drug bust the year before. So the couple decided to fly to the Bahamas, where they spent a night at the Sheraton Oceanus Hotel, but it was nothing like they expected.
John was charged $130 for orange juice, and the hotel staff reportedly demanded tips for services before they were actually completed. Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor was not impressed by the hotel’s behavior. “It was too hot down there, too far from the US, and the hotels were terrible,” he told Australian journalist Ritchie Yorke.
So after one night, the party decided to fly to Toronto, Canada. After a grueling immigration interview, the Lennons were granted temporary 10-day visitor status. But after landing in Toronto, they didn’t like it either. John and Yoko thought that it was too old school and conservative for their sit-in, according to Yorke. So after much discussion, they decided to travel to Montreal.
The city was edgy, cosmopolitan, and, most important, only an hour from New York City. Yorke, who was with the couple as they traveled from Toronto to Montreal, said the scene was Beatlemania at its peak. “The car was covered in a crush of slithering bodies, fervent fans desperate to find some physical connection with John Lennon of the Beatles,” Yorke wrote in 2015. “Just to touch him, reach him, grab him, and capture him!”
The War is Over party eventually made it to the Toronto airport and flew to Montreal. The entire party stayed at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel for one week. “It was an extremely colorful scene: a potted purple gloxinia plant, signs, placards, and proclamations covering the walls, John’s Gibson guitar, candles, other burning objects and an expanding set of lyrics to a new and emerging Lennon song temptingly entitled “Give Peace a Chance,”” Yorke wrote.
Just like in Amsterdam, Yoko and John sat perched on their beds wearing white pajamas. This Bed-In came at a time where the winds of change began to blow in the United States. Between the war in Vietnam and university protests, John was keen on playing a role in finding a peaceful resolution.
Following their two-week-long Bed-Ins, the couple returned to their home in Tittenhurst Park and picked up their, let’s just say intense, romance. “In a way, both John and I ruined our careers by getting together,” Yoko told reporters at The Telegraph. “Although we weren’t aware of it at the time.” How did they do that exactly?
For starters, Yoko was an avant-garde artist who encouraged John to pursue a more experimental sound. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go over that well with Beatles fans. And then there was the problem with time commitment. Yoko says that John wanted to be with her every minute of every day, even following her into the bathroom so that they wouldn’t be apart. His new obsession didn’t leave that much time for anything else, including music.
It was a known fact that the Beatles didn’t allow anyone into their recording sessions. But when John met Yoko, all of that changed. Yoko became a permanent presence during all of their sessions. John even brought in a bed for Yoko while she recovered from injuries she suffered from a car accident. “I’d spent nearly seven years of my life in recording studios and I thought I’d seen it all,” recording engineer Geoff Emerick wrote in his 2006 memoir. “But, this took the cake.”
John set up a microphone and placed it next to her bed so she could speak with the band the entire time they recorded their last album, Abbey Road. Since she was recovering in bed, she only wore nightgowns and a tiara on her head to cover her injuries, according to Emerick.
While many fans insist that Yoko broke up the Beatles, the band is still adamant that she was not to blame. In Paul McCartney’s infamous 2012 interview with Sir David Frost, he said that John was planning on leaving the band for a while, and his departure was expected by the whole group. “She certainly didn’t break the group up,” Paul said.
“The group was breaking up, and I think she attracted John so much to another way of life that he then went on to, very successfully, add a sort of second part to his career, writing things like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ I don’t think he would have done that without Yoko.”
After John’s seemingly sudden departure from the band in September 1969, John and Yoko decided to record an album together. But first, the couple needed some inspiration. They flew to Los Angeles and enrolled in primal therapy sessions, which were designed to “release emotional pain from early childhood.” After four months, the Lennons flew back to London, ready to record their album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
While critics praised the album, the lyrics were very personal, which hurt its mainstream commercial performance. Yes, John was far from mainstream, but he still wanted a successful career after leaving The Beatles. So in 1971, he finally adopted a more accessible sound and released Imagine, with its first track becoming John’s signature song.
Even with the release of two successful albums, the couple could not escape the media’s wrath. Fans hated Yoko for “breaking up the band,” and the tabloid coverage was too much. The Lennons decided they had enough of England and permanently moved to Manhattan. However, this move finally exposed some of the cracks in their four-year marriage.
From the minute that the Lennons landed in the US, John faced deportation. Then came Yoko’s estrangement from her daughter, which put even more strain on the couple’s relationship. While the exact reason behind the break up is unknown (some people say that John was jealous of his wife’s creative ability, while others say it was because Yoko felt smothered by John’s constant presence), the couple separated in July 1973.
John moved out of their New York apartment and started an affair with the couple’s assistant, May Pang. The new couple split their time between May’s apartment in New York and a house they rented in Los Angeles. While many people would have been furious at their husband for moving on so quickly, Yoko felt relieved.
“The affair was not something that was hurtful to me,” Yoko told reporters at The Telegraph in 2012. “I needed a rest. I needed space. 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. May Pang was a very intelligent, attractive woman and extremely efficient. I thought they’d be OK.”
During this 18-month affair, John seemed more productive. Yes, he drank more, but he started to feel more inspired. John collaborated with Phil Spector to record Rock ‘n’ Roll, and he even had an impromptu jam session with Paul McCartney in March 1974. “I jammed with Paul,” John later revealed in a televised interview.
“I did actually play with Paul. We did a lot of stuff in L.A., though there were 50 other people playing, all just watching me and Paul.” While nothing substantial came from this jam session, it was the only known time that John and Paul played together in the ten years between The Beatles’ breakup and John’s murder.
It wasn’t just Rock and Roll music from his past that John became more acquainted with. John, with the help of May, reconnected with his first wife, Cynthia, and their son Julian. May even became good friends with Cynthia and arranged for everyone to meet. “We met in 1973 when we arranged for Julian to visit his dad,” May said in a 2011 interview with The Beatles Bible. “Cynthia came with him, and we got along right away.”
By December the following year, John and May not only started house hunting, but he stopped answering Yoko’s calls. According to May, Yoko had become increasingly controlling and even tried to suggest how she and John should deal with life. “The problem was 99 percent of her calls weren’t, ‘Hello, how are you?’” May said.
May says that at first, Yoko called to make sure that the couple was doing everything they could to keep their relationship quiet. But when John kissed May for Time Magazine, she says that “crisis mode kicked in.” May says that Yoko started calling with directions with what to say in interviews.
“She would call with instructions of what to say, that she had thrown John out. She’d call every day to remind us of what to say. One drama after another.” But after John stopped answering her calls, Yoko became frustrated. She reportedly kept calling until John picked up the phone. When he finally did answer, Yoko told him that she found a cure for smoking and that she wanted to meet with him.
John caved in and met with Yoko in January 1974. After the meeting, however, he failed to come home to May. The next day, May called John, but Yoko answered the phone, telling her that John was unavailable to talk because he was exhausted from a hypnotherapy session. John eventually showed up to a dental appointment he had scheduled with May, but something was off.
In his book, The John Lennon Encyclopedia, author Bill Harry claims that John was in a daze, leading May to believe that he had been brainwashed. John told May that he was officially going back to Yoko, but that she would allow him to continue seeing May as his mistress. According to May’s memoir, Loving John, she and John would quietly meet up until 1977, and they remained in contact until his death.
By 1975, John’s “Lost Weekend” was officially over. He and Yoko reunited, and by October 1975, Yoko gave birth to their son Sean Lennon. After his son’s birth, John took a break from music to focus on being a stay-at-home dad. Whether it was his choice or Yoko’s is up for debate, but either way, John was in love with his son.
“He didn’t come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I’ve attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish,” John told reporters. The proud father also hired a photographer to take pictures of Sean every day during his first year of life, which was posthumously published as Real Love: The Drawings for Sean.
John and Yoko explained their decision to reunite during a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine. Yoko explained that it “slowly started to dawn on me that John was not the trouble at all. John was a fine person. It was a society that had become too much. We laugh about it now, but we started dating again. I wanted to be sure.”
She went on to explain that she was happy that John was intelligent enough to know that this was the only way that they could save their marriage “not because we didn’t love each other but because it was getting too much for me.” John echoed Yoko’s reasoning and went on to explain that “The number one priority is her and the family.”
After taking a five-year break from music, John decided to return to his songwriting career. On December 8, 1980, Yoko and John had spent several hours at the recording studio before returning home at 10:50 pm. The couple planned on going out for dinner at the Stage Deli in New York, but John wanted to go back home to say good night to Sean before he was put to bed.
But as the couple walked towards the entrance of their building, John was shot in the back at close range. Mark Chapman, a Beatles fan from Hawaii, had traveled all the way to New York to carry out the shooting. John was rushed to the hospital, but it was already too late. He was pronounced dead on arrival.
Dr. Lynn was the one who informed Yoko about her husband’s death. While the doctor claims that Yoko started sobbing and banging her head on the floor, his account was disputed by two nurses and Yoko herself. During a 2015 interview with Fox News, Yoko denied hitting her head on the floor. She said that her only concern at the time was to remain calm and strong for Sean.
Yoko was then led out from the hospital by a policeman and the president of Geffen Records, David Geffen. The widow asked the hospital not to report John’s death to the media because she wanted to tell her son, who was five years old at the time. However, they weren’t alone in the hospital that evening.
News producer Alan Weiss was at the same hospital waiting to be treated for a motorcycle accident when he saw John being wheeled into the hospital, surrounded by several police officers. After some digging, Weiss learned what happened and called his news station, and the news eventually reached ABC news president Roone Aldredge.
News of John’s death broke immediately, and the entire country mourned his loss. The following day, Yoko released a statement: “There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him. Love, Yoko, and Sean.” Following his murder, Yoko went into complete seclusion for a very long time.
After John’s tragic passing, Yoko funded and participated in several projects dedicated to his life. She funded the construction of the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park and collaborated with Jeff Pollack for a worldwide broadcast of Imagine on what would have been John’s 50th birthday. She also founded the John Lennon museum in Japan and dedicated the Imagine Peace Tower memorial in Iceland.
We know that Yoko is a person everyone loves to hate. But say what you want about her, she and John made a lasting impression on each other’s lives. Today, the now 87-year-old has definitely slowed down, but she is still keeping John’s peace activism and memory alive.