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Love Stories: John Lennon and Yoko Ono's creative, controversial romance

9Honey logo 9Honey 25/07/2020 Kahla Preston

Of his relationship with Yoko Ono, John Lennon once said: "If you love somebody, you can't be with them enough. There's no such thing. You don't want to be apart."

From the outside the two artists certainly seemed inseparable. For many, their love story is synonymous with images entwined around one another, most famously on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Behind the photos, Lennon and Ono's bond was not one without incident or controversy.

The relationship began when they were both married with children, and Ono was widely perceived to have been a factor in The Beatles breaking up. They also separated during their marriage, with Lennon starting an affair that Ono admitted to having encouraged.

Here, 9Honey looks at some of the key moments of Lennon and Ono's relationship before it was cut cruelly short with the former Beatle's murder in 1980.


The beginning

John Lennon and Yoko Ono say they met in November 1966 — though there are claims the first meeting occurred earlier — at the preview of a London exhibition of Ono's work.

John Lennon, Yoko Ono posing for the camera: John Lennon and Yoko Ono pictured in 1968. © Getty John Lennon and Yoko Ono pictured in 1968.

Lennon was 26 at the time and married to his first wife, Cynthia, with whom he had a son, Julian. Ono, 33, was in her second marriage, to producer Anthony Cox. The couple had a daughter, Kyoko.

Though The Beatles were one of the biggest musical acts in the world at the time, Lennon said the Japanese-American artist didn't know who he was.

He told Rolling Stone: "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."

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"I was very attracted to him. It was a really strange situation," Ono recalled to The Scotsman in 2002.

The pair met again at another gallery event, and Ono approached Lennon to sponsor one of her art shows.

John Lennon et al. sitting in a chair © Getty

The pair began corresponding in letters while Lennon spent time abroad, and in May 1968 he invited Ono to his home while Cynthia and their son Julian were away on holiday.

Their relationship was famously uncovered when Cynthia returned to find Ono and Lennon in dressing gowns.

"John looked at me, expressionless, and said: 'Oh, hi.' Yoko didn't turn around," she recalled in her book John.


A wedding and a bed-in

With their respective divorces finalised, Lennon and Ono wed at the British Consulate Office Gibraltar on March 20, 1969.

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Lennon described the wedding as "very romantic", adding: "I couldn't find a white suit – I had sort of off-white corduroy trousers and a white jacket. Yoko had all white on."

For their honeymoon, the newlyweds flew to Amsterdam to stage the first of their "bed-ins for peace", leveraging their wedding publicity to spread their anti-Vietnam War message.

They spent seven days sitting in a Hilton presidential suite bed together in pyjamas, two signs placed above their heads, with media invited to the room to witness the protest.

Along with activism, Lennon and Ono collaborated on several artistic projects, with Ono encouraging her husband's experimental side.

Beatles backlash

In 1970, a year after Lennon and Ono wed, The Beatles disbanded.

Fans were quick to point fingers at Ono, branding her as the catalyst of the band's breakdown, and the backlash was fierce. Though Lennon declared in 1991 that his wife had not split up The Beatles, public sentiment towards Ono remains mixed.

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The artist referenced the hatred directed at her in a 2012 interview with The Telegraph, saying, "I was very aware that we were ruining each other's careers and I was hated and John was hated because of me."

The couple eventually left London and moved to New York.

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The 'Lost Weekend'

An 18-month period between 1973 and 1975, dubbed 'The Lost Weekend' by Lennon, saw the couple separate. Cracks in their marriage began to show amid a disappointing reception to Lennon's latest work and the lingering "hatred" towards Ono over the Beatles' split.

During this time, Lennon had an affair with May Pang, the couple's young assistant; the pair split their time between New York and Los Angeles. Years later, Ono told The Telegraph she'd orchestrated the affair:

"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."

John Lennon et al. that are wearing glasses: May Pang with John Lennon during the 'Lost Weekend' period. © Getty May Pang with John Lennon during the 'Lost Weekend' period.

Pang recalled their conversation to The Independent:

"Yoko ... said, 'May, I've got to talk to you. John and I are not getting along,' which I knew because the tension was thick. She said, 'He's going to start going out with other people.' She said, 'I know you don't have a boyfriend and I know you are not after John, but you need a boyfriend and you would be good for him.'"


The reunion and the final years

Lennon and Pang returned to New York in early 1975, and their relationship ended when he and Ono reunited soon afterwards.

"It slowly started to dawn on me that John was not the trouble at all. John was a fine person. It was society that had become too much," Ono told Playboy in a joint interview.

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"We laugh about it now, but we started dating again. I wanted to be sure ... Nothing would have changed if I had come back as Mrs. Lennon again."

Later that year, on October 9 — Lennon's birthday — the pair welcomed their first and only child together, Sean.

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"We worked hard for that child. We went through all hell trying to have a baby, through many miscarriages and other problems. He is what they call a love child in truth," Lennon told Playboy.

Lennon took a five-year hiatus from the music industry and largely withdrew from the public eye to focus on his family.

a little girl standing in front of a building: Lennon pictured with Ono and their son Sean in New York in 1977. © Getty Lennon pictured with Ono and their son Sean in New York in 1977.

He told Playboy: "We learned that it's better for the family if we are both working for the family, she doing the business and me playing mother and wife."

In 1980, the couple released the album Double Fantasy, which would be Lennon's final studio album.

On December 8, 1980, the musician was assassinated as he and Ono approached the archway entrance of their New York apartment building that night. Lennon, 40, was shot by Mark David Chapman, who was jailed for 20 years to life and has since been denied parole 10 times.

The iconic photo of Lennon and Ono that would end up on the cover of Rolling Stone had been captured by Annie Leibowitz just hours before Lennon's murder.

Lennon was cremated on December 12, and Ono scattered her husband's ashes in Central Park. In place of a funeral, she requested people around the world observe 10 minutes of silence in his memory. "John's death was the worst of everything," the artist told The Telegraph.

Ono has not remarried in the years since Lennon's death; she occasionally shares images and memories from their life together on her social media feeds.


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