Publicly, John Lennon promoted peace, but he was known for displays of surprising violence. He admitted to abusive behavior and getting into fights, but he claimed to have sworn this off in his early twenties. At Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party, Lennon said he began attacking a friend. He was sued for the behavior, and he claimed to have sworn off violence afterward.
John Lennon feared violence in the United States
In 1966, Lennon landed The Beatles in hot water with comments about the band’s popularity.
“Christianity will go,” he said, per Rolling Stone. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
While many brushed off his comments, some people, particularly in the United States, were furious with him. He feared traveling to the country.
“I didn’t want to talk because I thought they’d kill me, because they take things so seriously [in the States],” he said. “I mean, they shoot you and then they realize it wasn’t that important. So I didn’t want to go, but Brian [Epstein] and Paul [McCartney] and the other Beatles persuaded me to come. I was scared stiff.”
John Lennon made a shocking display of violence at a party
Years earlier, Lennon instigated violence at McCartney’s birthday party. He’d recently returned from a trip with The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, and there were rumors they’d had an affair. When the DJ Bob Wooler brought it up, Lennon flew into a rage.
“I was out of my mind with drink. (You know, when you get to the point where you want to drink out of all the empty glasses, that drunk),” Lennon said in The Beatles Anthology. “And Bob was saying, ‘Come on, John, tell me about you and Brian — we all know.’”
Lennon lashed out at Wooler.
“If somebody said it now I wouldn’t give a s***, but I was beating the s*** out of him, hitting him with a big stick, and for the first time I thought, ‘I can kill this guy,’” Lennon said. “I just saw it, like on a screen: if I hit him once more, that’s going to be it.”
Lennon claimed that he swore off violence after this moment.
“I really got shocked,” he said. “That’s when I gave up violence, because all my life I’d been like that. He sued me afterward. I paid him £200 to settle it.”
The former Beatle admitted to abusive behavior
Despite his claim to have sworn off violence, Lennon himself admitted to behaving violently toward his first wife, Cynthia, and many other people. He said that this was why he sang about peace in his music.
“I fought men and I hit women,” he told Playboy in 1980. “That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace.”
How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.