Beatles star John Lennon would have been 80 today (9 October 2020).
The ‘Imagine’ singer, who was shot in Manhattan in 1980 two months after he turned 40, will be the object of mourning around the world today.
He likely will be again in December, when the 40th anniversary of his untimely death rolls around.
Here's everything you need to know about the iconic songwriter.
Who was John Lennon?
Born John Winston Ono Lennon in 1940’s Liverpool, Lennon found worldwide fame as a founding member of The Beatles, of which he was the group’s co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist.
Prior to his starring role in one of the most successful bands of all time, Lennon formed The Quarrymen in 1956; the band would eventually evolve into the Beatles a few years later.
Following The Beatles’ split, Lennon produced over a dozen records with then wife Yoko Ono, as well as his own solo works, including international hits like ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’.
Lennon slowly phased himself from the music industry in the mid-70s to care for his son Sean Ono Lennon.
He was shot and killed in the archway of his Manhattan apartment building in 1980 by Mark David Chapman, who remains in prison.
Lennon has had 25 number one singles in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, won a posthumous Grammy Award, a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, as a member of the Beatles and as a solo artist.
(Photo: Harry Benson/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Lennon was The Beatles’ most outspoken member.
His “bigger than Jesus” remarks caused furore and led to their records being burned in America, and in 1969, he and Yoko Ono staged a series of so-called “bed-ins” to promote peace.
His songwriting was known for its rebellious nature and acerbic wit, and his songs became synonymous with social justice, with many - especially those from later in his career - adopted as anti-war anthems.
He wasn’t afraid to speak out on issues like the war in Vietnam and the FBI was so concerned about his ties to left-wing and anti-war groups that it kept a file on him when he moved to the US in the early 70s, and there was a three-year attempt by the Nixon administration to deport him.
What have other Beatles said about him?
As part of a special documentary broadcast on BBC Radio 2 last weekend, John’s son Sean interviewed Sir Paul McCartney, who offered unique insights, thoughts and recollections about Sean’s father.
“I look back on it now like a fan,” he said. “You think, ‘Wow, how lucky was I to meet this strange Teddy boy off the bus who turned out to play music like I did.
“Boy, we complemented each other. They say with marriages opposites attract and I think we weren’t like madly opposite, but I had some stuff he didn’t have, and he had some stuff I didn’t have. When you put them together it made something extra, which I think was this.”
McCartney admitted he was pleased that he and Lennon put their differences aside before Lennon’s death, following a very public falling out when The Beatles split.
“It really, really would have been a heartache to me if we hadn't reunited," he said. “It was so lovely that we did and it really gives me sort of strength to know that.
The John and Yoko partnership
(Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Speaking as part of Alec Baldwin’s SiriusXM podcast – to be broadcast this weekend – McCartney credited Lennon’s second wife, Yoko Ono, as the major influence on his life.
“I remember his first wife, Cynthia, telling me that all she wanted was for John to come home, put on his slippers and smoke a pipe. I said, ‘you picked the wrong guy there’.
“When he met Yoko she was so different and the two of them were a tight little unit. She was showing him new things in life.
“John had always had strong women in his life – his Auntie Mimi was strong – and he liked that. He was very happy to be influenced.
“It caused problems with us until we realised that he had every right to do what he was doing because he was in love. And you don’t just do what everyone expects when you’re in love.”
What would he be like today?
His former songwriting partner would have been “very literate” in his later years added McCartney: “He would be writing and not necessarily just music. I think he would have matured nicely.”
Indeed, Danny Boyle’s 2019 film Yesterday imagines a universe bereft of The Beatles and their music, and shows just what could have become of Lennon in his latter years.
Lennon, played to a tee by an uncredited Robert Carlyle, is shown safe and sound in his dotage painting landscapes in a remote coastal location somewhere in Scotland.
It's realistic to think that Lennon may have retired to the Highlands had he lived long enough; the filmmakers were all too aware of the former Beatle’s lifelong infatuation for the lands north of Hadrian's Wall.
How is Julia Baird celebrating?
John Lennon's sister is celebrating his 80th birthday with a series of special events in Liverpool.
As the honorary president of Strawberry Field, the site immortalised in the hit Beatles song which is now a tourist attraction, Baird is putting the piano used by Lennon to write ‘Imagine’ on display there.
The exhibition will help support the Steps to Work programme, which helps young adults with learning disabilities get work experience.
A set of previously unseen photographs of Lennon are also going on display at The Beatles Story, another Liverpool museum Ms Baird works with as an ambassador.
The black and white pictures of the musician were taken in New York on 17 October 1974 by Robert Deutsch.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, the Yorkshire Evening Post