John Lennon, the lad from Liverpool, England, who formed the greatest and most influential band in rock music history — The Beatles — and became one of the most successful songwriters of all time, was born 77 years ago on October 9, 1940.
But not only was Lennon one of the most important musicians of the 20th Century, he made himself into one his era’s most prominent cultural and political figures as well, becoming the world’s most famous peace activist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the height of the Vietnam War.
From his infamous “more popular than Jesus” comment in 1966, to his marriage to Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, to his battle against the United States government to fight his deportation, Lennon was consistently the most controversial and outspoken Beatle — an uncompromising quality which only became more evident in his life as an ex-Beatle.
Lennon spent most of the 1970s, the final decade of his life, living in New York City, a city he loved for the freedom and relative anonymity he enjoyed there, finding that New Yorkers were largely unimpressed by his worldwide celebrity, allowing him to lead something close to a normal life.
Sadly, New York was also the city where Lennon’s life ended, when he was gunned down by a deranged stalker in front of The Dakota apartment building where he and Ono had lived since 1973. John Lennon died on December 8, 1980, barely two months past his 40th birthday.
His shocking death came exactly three weeks after Lennon released Double Fantasy, his first new album in more than five years — since his 1975 compilation of cover songs, Rock and Roll — and first album of original Lennon songs (though he split Double Fantasy‘s track listing with Ono’s compositions) since Walls and Bridges was released in September of 1974.
Here are five more facts that fans may not have known about John Lennon, who would have turned 77-years-old today.
John Lennon Owned His Own Island — But Rarely Visited
In 1967, just months after The Beatles stopped what had been a seemingly non-stop touring regimen since 1963, Lennon saw a newspaper advertisement for an island that was up for sale. Believing that the little island, called Dorinish and located just off the coast of Ireland, would serve as a peaceful getaway home for his family, Lennon shelled out all of $2,108 for the 19-acre island. That would be just over $15,000 in 2017 cash.
Lennon never built a home on the island, however, setting up only “a wooden ‘gypsy caravan’ painted in psychedelic colors” as a residence on Dorinish. But he is said to have visited the island only one time — and after he divorced Cynthia Powell, his first wife and mother of his son, Julian, in 1968, Lennon reportedly never set foot on Dorinish again. In 1970, however, he loaned the island free of charge to a commune of hippies who planned to start their own utopian society there, plans that never fully worked out.
Shortly before his death, Lennon’s interest in Dorinish was somehow reignited, saying in an interview that he planned to build a home there after all, and eventually retire to the island. But in 1984, four years after Lennon was killed, Ono sold Dorinish for a price equivalent to about $40,000. She donated the money she made from the sale to an orphanage in Ireland.
He Once Named His Favorite Comedian As Jerry Lewis
As a major countercultural figure in 1972, a time when comedy like most other forms of entertainment often took on a sharply political edge, Lennon named one of the most mainstream, stereotypically “show biz” comics as his personal favorite — Jerry Lewis.
In truth, Lennon was likely just being gracious toward Lewis, because the comment came during Lennon’s September 4, 1972, appearance on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, an annual event staged by the comedian to raise money for children with muscular dystrophy. But the appearance by Lennon and Ono, which can be viewed below, was to say the least unexpected on a show that was better known for spotlighting such “safe” entertainers as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Lewis introduced Lennon and Ono as “two of the most unusual people in all the world, and I don’t mean just in the world of entertainment.” Lennon opened with a performance of his hit single from the previous year, “Imagine,” followed by a Yoko Ono political protest song, “Now or Never.” The set concluded with a reggae version of Lennon’s anthem “Give Peace A Chance” — at a time when the Jamaican musical genre was little known in the United States — which Lennon and Ono peppered with awkwardly repeated pleas for viewers to send in their money.
Watch the odd Jerry Lewis Telethon appearance by Lennon and Ono in the video below.
John Lennon Created His Own Country
On April 1, 1973, Lennon and Ono announced the creation of what they said was a new country and gave it the name “Nutopia,” which in Latin translates to “no place.” Their announcement came a week after Lennon received a deportation order from the United States government, ordering him out of the country within 60 days.
Lennon fought the order and finally won his case in 1975. But in 1973, creating his own country seemed like his best bet to stay in his beloved New York City. Or at the very least, Nutopia was intended as a typically Lennonesque sarcastic jab at the government. Lennon requested diplomatic immunity as an “ambassador” of Nutpoia, but unsurprisingly, the United Nations never recognized the new “country.”
According to Lennon and Ono, Nutopia would be “a conceptual country” with “no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.” But the country did have an actual “embassy,” located at Number One White Street in New York’s TriBeCa district.
Lennon and Ono never occupied the 2,600 square-foot townhouse at that address, but fans sent stacks and stacks of mail there anyway, including a flood of condolence cards following Lennon’s assassination in 1980.
Just last week, the newly renovated townhouse was listed as available for rent, meaning that any Lennon fan can now live in the “embassy” of Lennon’s fictional country — for a rental fee of $19,500 per month.
Lennon’s ‘Rock And Roll’ Album Resulted From A Plagiarism Lawsuit Against Him
“Come Together,” the first track on the final Beatles album Abbey Road, like all of his Beatles tunes, was credited to Lennon and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney. But the song was in reality written entirely by Lennon and as a result, it was Lennon who was the target of a lawsuit by music impresario Morris Levy, who owned the copyright to the 1956 Chuck Berry song, “You Can’t Catch Me.”
Lennon had cited the Berry tune as an inspiration for “Come Together” in interviews, but Levy claimed that Lennon simply copied Berry’s song, slowing down the tempo and changing most of the lyrics. The opening lyrics of “Come Together” were, “Here come ol’ flat top, he come groovin’ up slowly,” which were admittedly similar to Berry’s lyric, “Here come a flat top, he was movin’ up with me.”
Lennon flatly denied copying Berry’s song, but rather than go to court he chose to settle with Levy. Part of that settlement was the requirement that Lennon record and release three Chuck Berry songs to which Levy owned the rights, allowing Levy to collect what would surely be the substantial royalties from a John Lennon recording.
Instead of simply recording the Berry songs and putting them out as singles, Lennon recorded an an entire album, with nothing but his own versions of classic 1950s-era rock and roll songs. They included “You Can’t Catch Me,” and another Chuck Berry composition, “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
But because Lennon released only two Berry songs on the Rock and Roll album instead of three, Levy sued Lennon again and won a judgment of almost $7,000. This time, however, Lennon had the last laugh. When Levy later audaciously released an album that included unauthorized Lennon bootleg recordings, Lennon sued Levy — and won $85,000 of his money back.
Only Yoko Knows For Sure Where John’s Ashes Are Located
John Lennon’s horrific murder in 1980 set off a worldwide wave of mourning, with thousands gathering in Central Park just outside of the Dakota apartment building at 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York City where Lennon had lived with his wife, Yoko Ono, and young son, Sean Lennon, who was born on October 9, 1975. The crowd remained there for weeks.
Perhaps worried that the massive public outpouring of grief would make it unmanageable, Ono chose not to hold a funeral for her husband. Instead she had his remains cremated on December 9, just one day after Lennon’s murder, and without consulting any other members of Lennon’s family. In addition to his son, Julian, from his first marriage, Lennon’s aunt Mary “Mimi” Smith, who raised him, was still alive — she would not die until 1991 — as was Julia Baird, the half-sister of John Lennon.
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Ono has never publicly revealed what she did with John Lennon’s ashes, though most fans and Beatle experts believe that they are scattered in the area of Central Park directly across the street from the Dakota, an area now known as “Strawberry Fields,” in honor of Lennon’s song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” But some believe that Ono herself, now 84-years-old, still keeps possession of the legendary Beatle’s cremated remains, perhaps intending to combine them with her own when she eventually passes away.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]