Ringo Starr Once Called Himself a Coward, and That Was a Good Thing

Ringo Starr might have been the glue that held The Beatles together. His easy-going personality made him a natural buffer between Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison. Ringo had the kind of attitude that allowed him to develop an intimate relationship with a drummer who wanted to replace him in The Beatles. When the band broke up, their glue stick came unstuck. Ringo called himself a coward during one low point in the mid-1970s, but that was a good thing.

Ringo Starr wears a blazer while sitting in a London office in 1973 with cigarettes and ashtray within reach on a table.
A 1973 photo of Ringo Starr | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Ringo Starr called himself a coward during a personal low point in the 1970s

Like the rest of his Beatles bandmates, Ringo found some solo success in the first half of the 1970s. His third and fourth solo records, Ringo (1973) and Goodnight Vienna (1974), crept into the Billboard top-10. Ringo made two No. 1 singles (“You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph”) in the United States. He climbed as high as No. 7 on England’s album charts, per Official Charts Company.

Things were different for Ringo in 1976. His album Ringo’s Rotogravure barely registered in the U.S. and failed to chart in England. The drummer, in the depths of alcohol addiction his friends were afraid to discuss with him, shaved his hair and eyebrows. Ringo joked about it initially but revealed the truth later, writes Michael Seth Starr in With a Little Help:

“It was a time when you either cut your wrists or your hair, and I’m a coward.”

Ringo Starr

Ringo called himself a coward when reflecting on a personal low point in the mid-1970s. Being a coward in that situation was a good thing.

We’d rather have Ringo the coward than no Ringo at all

Ringo once said he was angry for 20 years after The Beatles broke up. One way he coped was by routinely drinking heavily. He shaved his head and eyebrows during a trying time, later calling himself a coward. He continued imbibing for many years, but it’s a good thing Ringo cut his hair instead of the alternative.

First, he met Barbara Bach on a movie shoot several years later. After the end of his first marriage and rebound relationship, Ringo found love again in 1980. He and Bach miraculously survived a brutal car crash that year, a sign to the drummer that destiny brought them together. Ringo and Bach lived as co-dependent drinkers for several years, but they also found sobriety together. The drummer found love and a partner who eventually helped him successfully climb the depths of his addiction years after his mid-1970s low point.

Also, Ringo had more to give artistically beyond his early-70s peak. He narrated the Thomas & Friends series. When he embraced sobriety, he returned to that world playing Mr. Conductor on the Shining Time Station series. 

The former Richard Starkey had several notable accomplishments later in his life

Plus, had the drummer cut something besides his hair in the 1970s, he wouldn’t have experienced several notable achievements in his life. He wouldn’t have been there for The Beatles’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. Nor his own induction ceremony years later.

Ringo wouldn’t have entered a hall of fame his bandmates had no shot at joining. He also would have missed his rare French artistic honor and his knighthood in England. And we haven’t even mentioned the highlights of his latter-day solo songs.

Ringo called himself a coward for his actions in the mid-1970s. We’d say that being a self-described coward was a good thing after seeing all that he has accomplished since then.

The drummer proved to be an ideal friend over the years

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Ringo and a reinvigorated John planned to record together in early 1981. John’s tragic death prevented that collaboration, but Ringo proved to be an ideal friend even when his former bandmate wasn’t there to see it. 

The drummer was the only Beatle to fly to Yoko Ono’s side after John’s death. Ringo’s former bandmate had written a song for the drummer during their late 1980 gathering, which was set to appear on the subsequent Ringo solo record. Out of honor and respect, he refused to record the song, which turned into a top-10 hit for John.

Ringo also sped to George’s bedside in the guitarist’s final days, even though the drummer’s daughter was also battling cancer at the time. He and Paul maintain a close relationship more than 50 years after The Beatles broke up.

Ringo Starr called himself a coward during a trying time in the 1970s. We’d say that’s a good thing considering all he’s accomplished — personally and professionally — since then.

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.