Why John Lennon Tried to Be Like Marlon Brando

John Lennon discussed the way that many musicians inspired his music. In addition, he revealed Marlon Brando had a very specific impact on him when he was young. Here’s a look at why John tried to be like Brando — and how he changed as he got older.

Marlon Brando | Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

John Lennon’s theory as to why John Wayne and Steve McQueen died of cancer

Jonathan Cott of Rolling Stone asked John about a Yoko Ono song called “Beautiful Boys.” In the song, Yoko sings “Don’t be afraid to be afraid.” John said he found that sentiment beautiful and encouraged men not to suppress their feminine sides. He theorized that people like John Wayne and Steve McQueen may have died of cancer because they were so macho. John added he was no expert, but he knew lots of people repressed themselves.

“I’m well aware of that because I come from the macho school of pretense,” John revealed. “I was never really a street kid or a tough guy. I used to dress like a Teddy boy and identify with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, but I never really was in real street fights or real down-home gangs.” For context, Teddy Boys were a British subculture composed mainly of young men. These young men would emulate Edwardian styles of dress and listen to early rock ‘n’ roll music.

A scene from A Streetcar Named Desire

RELATED: Paul McCartney: Elvis Presley Inspired The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’

How Yoko Ono changed her husband

In addition, John revealed he would still sometimes act like he was a street kid even though he never was a street kid. “That’s what Yoko has taught me,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it alone – it had to be a female to teach me. That’s it. Yoko has been telling me all the time, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right.’”

John looked at his younger self with some insight. “I look at early pictures of me-self, and I was torn between being Marlon Brando and being the sensitive poet – the Oscar Wilde part of me with the velvet, feminine side,” he revealed. “I was always torn between the two, mainly opting for the macho side, because if you showed the other side, you were dead.” Brando’s connection to The Beatles extended beyond John’s early days, as Brando’s visage is visible on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band alongside those of many other icons like Wilde, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Shirley Temple, and Bob Dylan.

The title track of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

RELATED: John Lennon: Why He Called a Yoko Ono Song 1 of the ‘Best’ Rock Songs

Marlon Brando’s dark connection to John Lennon’s death

John’s other connection to Brando is a lot more morbid. In 1980, John was shot by a man named Mark David Chapman. According to CBS New York, Chapman mentioned a number of other possible targets he considered besides John.

Among the others were Brando, Ronald Reagan, Johnny Carson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul McCartney, George C. Scott, and then-Hawaiian Governor George Ariyosha. Chapman chose to target John because of his accessibility. Brando was connected to John in many ways — some more innocent than others.