For years, many have speculated reasoning for the Beatles separation. Some have theorized it was Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono who broke up the band. Others have argued it was for solitary pursuits. Many have concluded it was the tragic overdose of manager Brian Epstein.
While most of these did contribute as major factors of the bands split, a new report from Salon details another dark component that added to the disbandment of the Beatles – John Lennon’s heroin addiction.
In the 21st century, the opiate epidemic has taken thousands of lives, stolen headlines, and swept the country into a public health crisis. However, to the Beatles in the 1960’s, the face of opioid addiction was John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
While the Beatles were not stranger to drug experimentation, they had become “veteran pill-poppers” during their early days, seeking out amphetamines to increase their stamina during shows. Bob Dylan later introduced them to marijuana in the summer of 1964. In 1965, they took their first acid trip accidentally when their dentist, John Riley and his girlfriend, Cyndy Bury slipped LSD into their coffee after dinner one night. Additionally, in 1968, McCartney went on extended cocaine benders in the studio while recording The White Album.
However, as any addiction begins to lose control, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s path to addiction took a much darker road. Lennon noted that the couple’s addiction was the aftermath of a hashish raid that led to their arrest. Following the raid, Ono suffered a miscarriage – leading to their heroin use.
“The two of them were on heroin,” said McCartney to Salon, “and this was a fairly big shocker for us because we all thought we were far-out boys, but we kind of understood that we’d never get quite that far out.”
Lennon’s Heroin Addiction
While any addiction often becomes the center of a user’s life, heroin began to take center stage for Lennon. As the Beatles began recording “Abbey Road,” Lennon’s participation was distracted by mood swings and erratic and unpredictable behavior.
“The other Beatles had to walk on eggshells just to avoid one of his explosive rages. Whereas in the old days they could have tackled him about the strain that Yoko’s presence put on recording and had an old-fashioned set-to about it, now it was impossible because John was in such an unpredictable state and so obviously in pain,” music historian Barry Miles wrote.
In 1969, John and Yoko decided to put the heroin down. Due to a lack of resources at the time, the couple quit cold turkey, leading to Lennon’s infamous song of the same name (Cold Turkey). Desperate to kick the drug, Lennon reportedly ordered Ono to tie him up to a chair and stayed there for 36 hours in pain.
By the time Lennon composed and played “Cold Turkey” for Bob Dylan a number of days later, he was back on the heroin – recalling that him and Dylan “were both in shades and both on fucking junk.”
It took several more attempts for Lennon to put down the heroin, however through the years he became transparent about his past use, advocating and nearly becoming a proponent for the education of heroin and drug use within society. In a September 1980 interview, he complained that BBC banned “Cold Turkey” from the radio in 1969, “even though it’s anti-drug,” he said.
“My body is aching, goose pimple bone, I can’t see nobody, leave me alone”
“They’re so stupid about drugs,” he said in the interview. “They’re not looking at the cause of the drug problem: Why do people take drugs? To escape from what? Is life so terrible? Are we living in such a terrible situation that we can’t do anything without reinforcement of alcohol, tobacco? Aspirins, sleeping pills, uppers, downers, never mind the heroin and cocaine – they’re just the outer fringes of Librium and speed.”
In today’s world, education and treatment for addiction and substance use disorder has advanced ten-fold from what Lennon knew at the time. What the three Beatles experienced through Lennon and Ono’s addiction provides a striking resemblance and of those experiences we commonly see today battling addiction – feelings of fear and frustration from family members and loved ones, to those of powerlessness and pain of those who are addicted. Decades have passed since that BBC interview, but those who have begun to seek recovery may have started to look within to find the answers to Lennon’s questions. While society may still chip away at the surface of the questions, Lennon may have been onto something.