John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their two “bed-ins” for peace 45 years ago, starting this month. Also starting this month, the Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, will host an exhibit remembering the Beatle and his then-new wife as they attempted to use global media interest in anything Beatle-related to get their message of protest against the Vietnam War to the world.
Why is the Muhammad Ali Museum an appropriate setting for the John Lennon bed-in exhibit? The setting makes sense because Ali himself became — two years before the Lennon events and at the height of the Vietnam conflict — the world’s most famous Vietnam War protester.
On April 28, 1967, Ali refused to be drafted into the military to serve in Vietnam, citing his religious Muslim beliefs, and famously stating, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.”
At the time, Ali was the undefeated World Heavyweight boxing champion. But when he refused induction into the armed forces, he was stripped of his title and banned from fighting for another two years, losing the prime of his career.
John Lennon had just married Yoko Ono on March 20, 1969, and was already becoming involved in the anti-war movement. Like Ali, at that time, John Lennon was one of the world’s most famous people — and he and Ono knew that any chance they had at enjoying a private honeymoon was remote at best.
So they decided to use their “honeymoon” to promote their anti-war politics.
“We sent out a card: ‘Come to John and Yoko’s honeymoon: a bed-in, Amsterdam Hotel.’ You should have seen the faces on the reporters and the cameramen fighting their way through the door!” Lennon said later. “Because whatever it is, is in people’s minds – their minds were full of what they thought was going to happen. They fought their way in, and their faces dropped. There were we like two angels in bed, with flowers all around us, and peace and love on our heads.”
The first bed-in took place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and lasted a week starting on March 25, 1969.
John Lennon intended the second bed-in for New York, but at the time he was barred from entering the United States to to a marijuana possession conviction. So Lennon and Ono staged the event in a plush Montreal Hotel, where they entertained reporters, celebrities, debated various conservative and establishment media figures — and recorded what became a John Lennon classic, “Give Peace A Chance.”
“Give Peace A Chance” is also the name of the exhibit at the Muhammad Ali Museum, in Ali’s hometown of Louisville. The exhibit, running until Memorial Day, features photographs from the John Lennon bed-ins, first-person accounts of the event and a recreation of the hotel room bed where John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent the worldwide media events.
Check out a documentary about the John Lennon and Yoko Ono bed-ins, below.
Image: Dutch National Archive