John Lennon Went Into ‘Hysterics’ When He Learned ‘Soul Mate’ and Beatles’ Guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe Died
Before The Beatles were a quartet, band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe traveled to Hamburg to play a residency. Their days in Hamburg were foundational for the group, but both Best and Sutcliffe were only briefly with the band. The group replaced Best with Ringo Starr, and Sutcliffe left to pursue work as an artist. Lennon was particularly close with Sutcliffe and was devastated to learn of his friend’s premature death. According to Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, he thought of Sutcliffe as a soul mate.
John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe met in art school
Lennon and Sutcliffe met at the Liverpool College of Art. Sutcliffe was an exceptionally talented painter and helped Lennon better understand the art form. In return, Lennon taught his friend all he knew about music.
In 1959, Sutcliffe sold a painting and, with the funds, bought a guitar and joined Lennon’s band with fellow members McCartney and Harrison. His playing was rudimentary, but he also helped the band secure a second amplifier. When Sutcliffe moved into a loft, Lennon quickly followed, and it soon became a spot where the band could spend time together.
Sutcliffe had another crucial contribution to The Beatles: the band’s name. With Lennon, he thought of a pun that referenced the Beat Generation and Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets. Though Sutcliffe didn’t remain with the group, the name stuck.
John Lennon was devastated to hear that Stuart Sutcliffe had died
In 1961, Sutcliffe was kicked in the head during a fight. While he continued to play with The Beatles after this, he drew back from the group. Eventually, he left in order to pursue a career in painting. He complained of worsening pain in his head, and on April 10, 1962, he died of a brain hemorrhage.
Sutcliffe’s girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, broke the news to The Beatles when they arrived in Hamburg for a new residency.
“John went into hysterics,” Kirchherr said, per The New Yorker. “We couldn’t make out . . . whether he was laughing or crying because he did everything at once. I remember him sitting on a bench, huddled over, and he was shaking, rocking backward and forward.”
Kirchherr said that in his grief, Lennon hung photos of Sutcliffe in his room along with drawings and writings from his late friend. The pain became less fresh over the years, but Ono said that Lennon always thought of Sutcliffe. She said that “there was not a period in our lives” when Lennon did not speak of Sutcliffe. According to her, he thought they were “soul mates.”
Lennon’s biographer said ‘In My Life’ referenced the former Beatles guitarist
Sutcliffe’s face is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Lennon reportedly referenced his old friend in the song “In My Life.”
“All these places have their moments/With lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all.”