Born and raised in Liverpool, as a teenager Lennon became involved in the skiffle craze; his first band, the Quarrymen, evolved into The Beatles in 1960. When the group disbanded in 1970, Lennon embarked on a solo career that produced the critically acclaimed albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and iconic songs such as "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine". After his marriage to Yoko Ono in 1969, he changed his name to John Ono Lennon. Lennon disengaged himself from the music business in 1975 to raise his infant son Sean, but re-emerged with Ono in 1980 with the new album Double Fantasy. He was murdered three weeks after its release.
Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, writing, drawings, on film and in interviews. Controversial through his political and peace activism, he moved to New York City in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a lengthy attempt by Richard Nixon's administration to deport him, while some of his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement.
As of 2012, Lennon's solo album sales in the United States exceed 14 million units, and as writer, co-writer or performer, he is responsible for 25 number-one singles on the US Hot 100 chart. In 2002, a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted him eighth, and in 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him the fifth-greatest singer of all time. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
1957–70: The Quarrymen to the Beatles
1957–66: Formation, commercial break-out and touring years
McCartney says that Aunt Mimi: "was very aware that John's friends were lower class", and would often patronise him when he arrived to visit Lennon. According to Paul's brother Mike, McCartney's father was also disapproving, declaring Lennon would get his son "into trouble"; although he later allowed the fledgling band to rehearse in the McCartneys' front room at 20 Forthlin Road. During this time, the 18-year-old Lennon wrote his first song, "Hello Little Girl", a UK top 10 hit for The Fourmost nearly five years later.
George Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist, even though Lennon thought Harrison (at 14 years old) was too young to join the band, so McCartney engineered a second audition on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus, where Harrison played "Raunchy" for Lennon. Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon's friend from art school, later joined as bassist. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe became "The Beatles" in early 1960. In August that year, the Beatles engaged for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, Germany, and desperately in need of a drummer, asked Pete Best to join them. Lennon was now 19, and his aunt, horrified when he told her about the trip, pleaded with him to continue his art studies instead. After the first Hamburg residency, the band accepted another in April 1961, and a third in April 1962. Like the other band members, Lennon was introduced to Preludin while in Hamburg, and regularly took the drug, as well as amphetamines, as a stimulant during their long, overnight performances.
Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager from 1962, had no prior experience of artist management, but nevertheless had a strong influence on their early dress code and attitude on stage. Lennon initially resisted his attempts to encourage the band to present a professional appearance, but eventually complied, saying, "I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me". McCartney took over on bass after Sutcliffe decided to stay in Hamburg, and drummer Ringo Starr replaced Best, completing the four-piece line-up that would endure until the group's break-up in 1970. The band's first single, "Love Me Do", was released in October 1962 and reached No. 17 on the British charts. They recorded their debut album, Please Please Me, in under 10 hours on 11 February 1963, a day when Lennon was suffering the effects of a cold, which is evident in the vocal on the last song to be recorded that day, "Twist and Shout". The Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership yielded eight of its fourteen tracks. With few exceptions—one being the album title itself—Lennon had yet to bring his love of wordplay to bear on his song lyrics, saying: "We were just writing songs ... pop songs with no more thought of them than that–to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant". In a 1987 interview, McCartney said that the other Beatles idolised John: "He was like our own little Elvis ... We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest".
Lennon grew concerned that fans attending Beatles' concerts were unable to hear the music above the screaming of fans, and that the band's musicianship was beginning to suffer as a result. Lennon's "Help!" expressed his own feelings in 1965: "I meant it ... It was me singing 'help'". He had put on weight (he would later refer to this as his "Fat Elvis" period), and felt he was subconsciously seeking change. The following January he was unknowingly introduced to LSD when a dentist, hosting a dinner party attended by Lennon, Harrison and their wives, spiked the guests' coffee with the drug. When they wanted to leave, their host revealed what they had taken, and strongly advised them not to leave the house because of the likely effects. Later, in an elevator at a nightclub, they all believed it was on fire: "We were all screaming ... hot and hysterical." A few months later in March, during an interview with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon remarked, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink ... We're more popular than Jesus now—I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity." The comment went virtually unnoticed in England but caused great offence in the US when quoted by a magazine there five months later. The furore that followed—burning of Beatles' records, Ku Klux Klan activity and threats against Lennon—contributed to the band's decision to stop touring.
1970–80: Solo career
1970–72: Initial solo success and activism
Lennon and Ono moved to New York in August 1971, and in December released "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)". The new year saw the Nixon Administration take what it called a "strategic counter-measure" against Lennon's anti-war and anti-Nixon propaganda, embarking on what would be a four-year attempt to deport him. In 1972, Lennon and Ono attended a post-election wake held in the New York home of activist Jerry Rubin after McGovern lost to Nixon. Embroiled in a continuing legal battle with the immigration authorities, Lennon was denied permanent residency in the US (which wouldn't be resolved until 1976). Depressed, Lennon got intoxicated and had sex with a female guest, leaving Ono embarrassed. Her song "Death of Samantha" was inspired by the incident.
Recorded as a collaboration with Ono and with backing from the New York band Elephant's Memory, Some Time in New York City was released in 1972. Containing songs about women's rights, race relations, Britain's role in Northern Ireland and Lennon's problems obtaining a green card, the album was poorly received—unlistenable, according to one critic. "Woman Is the Nigger of the World", released as a US single from the album the same year, was televised on 11 May, on The Dick Cavett Show. Many radio stations refused to broadcast the song because of the word "nigger". Lennon and Ono gave two benefit concerts with Elephant's Memory and guests in New York in aid of patients at the Willowbrook State School mental facility. Staged at Madison Square Garden on 30 August 1972, they were his last full-length concert appearances.
8 December 1980: DeathAt around 10:50 pm on 8 December 1980, as Lennon and Ono returned to their New York apartment in the Dakota, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times at the entrance to the building. Lennon was taken to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 pm. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman.
Ono issued a statement the next day, saying "There is no funeral for John", ending it with the words, "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him." His body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Ono scattered his ashes in New York's Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. Chapman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life. As of 2013, he remains in prison, having been denied parole seven times.