First wife of musician John Lennon, whose marriage ended in acrimony when the Beatles star met Yoko Ono
Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30
Cynthia Lennon, who died on Wednesday aged 75, was the first wife of the rock musician John Lennon and the mother of his son Julian; their 10-year relationship began before he was famous and endured through the early days of the Beatles, but foundered when he met Yoko Ono.
Cynthia was Lennon's first real love and was with him, as Julian Lennon pointed out, for half his adult life. Julian resented pop historians relegating his mother to "a puff of smoke in Dad's life".
Yet the bell-curve of Cynthia Lennon's career as a Beatle wife peaked early, and even before she was confronted by the bleak reality of her husband's infidelity with Yoko Ono - walking into her own house in 1968 to find them sitting cross-legged on the floor, gazing raptly into each other's eyes - Cynthia knew that her marriage was doomed.
Cynthia Lilian Powell was born at Blackpool, Lancashire, on September 10, 1939, and brought up at Hoylake on the Wirral.
A year after enrolling at the Liverpool College of Art in September 1957, shortly after her 18th birthday, the prim young Cynthia Powell encountered a fellow student in her lettering class called John Lennon, who exhibited a rebellious streak, a caustic wit and a passion for rock and roll. Although he was as middle-class as she was, he archly called her "Miss Hoylake", adopting the conventional working-class Liverpool view that people from "over the water" in Wirral were snobs.
This opinion was reinforced for Lennon when Cynthia, in her twin set and tweeds, demurred at his suggestion of a date. "I didn't ask you to f***ing marry me, did I?" he snapped. Later that evening, they slept together at a flat Lennon shared with a friend.
During a demanding and, at times, abusive courtship, Cynthia became a loyal follower of his various groups as well as a girlfriend, and was with him during the drinking session at the Renshaw Hall, Liverpool, at which Lennon came up with the name "Beatles" in the summer of 1960.
While Lennon was thrown out of art college for failing his exams before his final year, Cynthia passed. While he and his fellow Beatles were in Germany playing in Hamburg for six weeks, she concentrated on catching up on her own studies, intent on becoming an art teacher. In Easter 1961 she accompanied Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison on their second Hamburg trip.
When, in the summer of 1962, Cynthia discovered she was pregnant, Lennon insisted on getting married. In August, after the ceremony at Liverpool register office, the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein stood them a 15 shilling [75p] alcohol-free lunch at Reece's cafe. Their son Julian was born at Sefton general hospital, Liverpool, in April 1963.
On the orders of Epstein, the existence of both Cynthia and the child had to be kept secret from the growing legions of Beatles fans. But that summer, when Beatlemania seized Britain following the huge success of 'She Loves You', reporters traced Cynthia and her infant son to Hoylake. When the story of Lennon's secret wife and baby broke, she felt relief that the pretence was over. Early in January 1964 the Lennons moved to London and rented a top-floor flat at Emperor's Gate, off the Cromwell Road.
Cynthia Lennon was the only Beatle wife to accompany the group on their first American tour that spring. During the Beatles' first full-scale tour of the States that summer, however, she stayed at home, supervising the family's move to Kenwood, a mock-Tudor mansion at Weybridge, Surrey. Eventually, the Lennon menage comprised a housekeeper, gardener, chauffeur, and 10 cats.
As the wife of one of the most famous men in the world, Cynthia shared her husband's hectic social life, but there were times when she struggled to control her insecurities - particularly concerning John Lennon and other women.
In 1965, life at Kenwood took an unexpected turn. Lennon had started taking copious amounts of LSD and, under its influence, began to bring home what Cynthia later described as "a ragged assortment of people he'd met through drugs". Many stayed for days on end. At her husband's insistence, she agreed to try LSD herself, but was so terrified by the hallucinations that she desisted, a decision that contributed to the gulf that was beginning to open up between them.
A crisis point came in August 1967, when the Beatles and their womenfolk caught a train to Bangor, north Wales, to meet the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Not knowing who she was, a policeman at Euston stopped Cynthia from boarding, and as the train pulled out Lennon leaned out of the window calling after her: "Tell them to let you on!"
Cynthia, who broke down in tears, later reflected that the incident symbolised the direction her marriage was taking, with Lennon speeding into the future and she being left behind. Although Cynthia accompanied Lennon on his visit to the Maharishi's ashram in India in February 1968, she found him increasingly cold and aloof.
Following the Beatles' decision 18 months earlier to stop touring and to concentrate on recording, Cynthia had hoped to restore a semblance of conventional family life at Kenwood. This was thwarted on two counts:
Lennon's continued drug-taking and his growing obsession with Yoko Ono, a sphinx-like Japanese artist he had met in London, and who had made a film consisting of close-ups of people's bottoms.
At first Lennon had seemed genuinely baffled by Yoko Ono's artistic endeavours. "Cyn, you've got to look at this," he exclaimed. "It must be a joke." But when, after a solo holiday in Greece, Cynthia returned to Kenwood to find Lennon and Yoko Ono ensconced at Kenwood together, the penny finally dropped. Their subsequent divorce became acrimonious, with Lennon barking his final offer down the telephone. It was £75,000. "That's like winning the pools," he asserted, "so what are you moaning about? You're not worth any more." Cynthia eventually accepted £100,000, an annual payment of £2,400, the marital home at Kenwood and custody of Julian.
Cynthia had been distressed by Lennon's failure to make contact with their son for three years in the 1970s, but in 1974, the ex-Beatle paid for both of them to visit him in New York, which led to a rapprochement between father and son. But for Julian, his mother had been "the one who kept it all together, taught me what matters in life and stayed strong when our world was crumbling".
In her post-Lennon life, Cynthia ran her own bistro, worked as a television interviewer, and designed bed linen and paper products.
She published two volumes of memoirs, A Twist of Lennon (1978) and a biography titled John (2005), in which she re-examined her life with the former Beatle. Latterly she had lived on the island of Majorca.
Cynthia Lennon remarried three times. In 1970 she married an Italian hotelier, Roberto (dissolved in 1973); in 1976 an engineer, John Twist (dissolved 1983); and, after 17 years with her partner, Jim Christie, Noel Charles, a nightclub owner, in 2002; he died in 2013.
In December 1980, John Lennon was assassinated by a deranged fan in New York. Cynthia later changed her name back to Lennon by deed poll. Julian Lennon survives her.