John Lennon is the focus of the new A&E special John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky. The special details the recording of Lennon’s seminal 1971 album Imagine, as well as his marriage to fell recording artist Yoko Ono. The special will also touch on the media controversy they sparked at the time of the album’s release.
Given the personal detail he put into his music, some viewers may be interested to learn about Lennon’s two children, as well as his relationships with his other family members. Read on to learn more about the Lennon family below.
1. His Oldest Son Julian Lennon Is a Musician & Photographer
Julian Lennon was born on April 3, 1963. As a child, he was the inspiration for several iconic songs recorded by his father’s group, the Beatles. These songs include “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”, which was inspired by a drawing he made in school, and “Hey Jude”, which Paul McCartney wrote to console him during his parents’ divorce. It’s also believed that the song “Good Night” was written by Lennon as a lullaby to his son.
Julian pursued a music career from an early age. He played drums on his father’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges, and released his solo debut Valotte a decade later. The album spawned two Top 10 singles, and established him as a musical force. Julian continued to release successful music throughout the 1980s, and even played with ex-Beatle George Harrison on the 1991 album Help Yourself. He’s also a photographer who’s displayed his work in numerous exhibitions during the 2010s. He does not have any children.
Julian has spoken openly about his relationship with his father, and how it became strained after he married Yoko Ono. “I’ve never really wanted to know the truth about how dad was with me,” he said in 1980. “There was some very negative stuff talked about me … like when he said I’d come out of a whisky bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think, where’s the love in that? Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit … more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad.”
2. His Youngest Son Sean Lennon Is a Musician & Actor
Sean Lennon was born on October 9, 1975. He was raised primarily by his father, who briefly retired to become a house husband. When Lennon made a comeback with his 1980 album Double Fantasy, he paid tribute to his son with the track “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy).” The final lyrics of the track read: “Goodnight, Sean. See you in the morning, bright and early.”
Like Julian Lennon, Sean began his music career at an early age. At age 5, he recited a poem on his mother’s album Season of Glass, and at 16, he co-wrote the song “All I Ever Wanted” with Lenny Kravitz. Sean released his debut album Into the Sun in 1996, which failed to spawn any hit singles but received positive reviews from critics.
He’s continued to put out music as both a solo artist and a member of the bands Cibo Matto and The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger. As an actor, Sean has starred in the 1988 film Moonwalker and the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Melrose Place. While Sean had a close relationship with his father, he has spoken about the difficulty of living in his shadow.
“People have said, why don’t you just do things under a pseudonym and then see what people’s true reaction would be? I always felt like doing that, though, would be sort of disrespectful to my dad and my family and myself,” he told the Guardian. “It’s like oh, well, I can’t be proud of who I am? I didn’t want to hide… No matter what I do, people see me as the spoiled slacker son of John and Yoko.”
3. He Was Still Married to His First Wife Cynthia When He Met Yoko Ono
Lennon met Cynthia Powell in 1958. They were both attending the Liverpool College of Art, which the former was thrown out of due to his bad behavior. Cynthia became pregnant with Julian soon after, and she and Lennon married on August 23, 1962. Paul McCartney and George Harrison were among those in attendance. Once the Beatles became global stars, however, Lennon pretended he wasn’t married so he could appeal to the group’s female fans.
“If the main man in the group, John, was found to be married, then it might take away from that particular success,” Cynthia later said. “So I walked around pregnant for quite a long time, hiding it. I’d wear very big, blousy clothes. In fact, I was asked many times if I was John’s wife, and I had to refuse and say, ‘No, no. I’m somebody else.'” Cynthia discovered Lennon’s affair with Yoko Ono in 1968, after coming home and finding the pair in his bedroom. She filed for divorce on August 22, and was awarded a settlement for both her and Julian.
Cynthia said that she still cared about Lennon after their divorce. “[After the divorce] I didn’t [stop] loving him or caring for him or worrying about him, I mean, because I didn’t have any anger or bitterness about it. I had a lot of hurt,” she admitted. “But, of course, I was looking after his interests, in my own little way, and caring about his future and hoping that he was happy, because he’d had to go through such hell to do what he did.” Cynthia married three more times before her death in 2015.
4. His Father Alfred Released Music Under the Name ‘Freddie Lennon’
Lennon had a volatile relationship with his father Alfred. He was only 3 years old when Alfred left him and his mother, and while it has been debated whether or not they had contact during his youth, Alfred did reach out after the Beatles became famous. According to , Alfred approached Lennon in April 1964, but the singer had no interest in talking to him and ordered him to leave.
Despite their lack of contact, Alfred leveraged his connection with Lennon to release music under the name “Freddie Lennon.” The single “That’s My Life” was put out in 1965, though it failed to perform well on the charts. The last time Lennon talked to his father was in October 1970, when he invited him, his second wife, and their infant son to his house. According to author Tony Cartwright, Lennon attacked his father and told him never to go to the press with his life story.
“John seized Freddie by the lapels and shook him, screaming and howling at him. The baby was crying too,” Cartwright said. “John told his father if he went to the press with his life story, he would lock him in a crate and throw him out of a plane into the ocean to be drowned. Freddie believed his son was unbalanced enough to do just that. Freddie never saw John again.” Alfred Lennon died on April 1, 1976.
5. His Mother Julia Was Killed In a Car Accident When He Was a Teenager
Lennon’s mother Julia gave birth to him on October, 1940. She received complaints from Liverpool’s Social Services when Lennon was still a baby, and subsequently agreed to hand over custody to her older sister Mimi. Julia was estranged from her son for much of his childhood, but they reconnected when the latter was a teenager. She was killed in a car accident on July 15, 1958. She was 44.
According to the book Revolution In the Head:The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties, Julia’s death had a profound impact on Lennon. He spent the next few years of his life drinking and getting into fights, and grew closer with Paul McCartney, who’s mother had passed away when he was a child. Julia would go on to inspire several of Lennon’s most personal songs, including 1968’s “Julia” and 1970’s “Mother.” Lennon also named his first son Julian after her.