(WTNH) In all the stories of show business near-misses, none tops the story of Pete Best. He was the drummer in the Beatles right before he was told Ringo Starr would be taking his place..which happened right before the band became perhaps the greatest and most enduring phenomenon in popular entertainment history.
But the tale of Cynthia Lennon comes close. She was John Lennon’s first wife, and she died this week of cancer at the age of 75. The two married in 1962 after Cynthia got pregnant, right before “Love Me Do,” kicked off Beatlemania. Although John and Cynthia stayed married until 1968, she found herself very quickly marginalized years before Yoko Ono arrived on the scene. Beatles manager Brian Epstein, fearing a backlash from adoring young female fans, did his best to hide the fact that John was married at all, much less with a child. How would that feel, watching your husband reach the ultimate heights of superstardom, while your very existence and that of your baby’s was basically covered up?
Through no fault of her own, she became little more than as asterisk in the history of rock’s greatest band, and when I met her, the sting she must have felt from going through that was still palpable. I spent an afternoon with her in Philadelphia in the mid-1990’s. She was there to attend some sort of nostalgia convention; sort of a curiosity for Beatles fans seeking out any direct tie to the Fab Four in their heyday. I interviewed her for a profile, and we had a great talk. But I got the feeling this wasn’t what she wanted for herself — to be a walking Beatles trivia answer, posing for pictures with people who probably figured that’s as close as they’d ever get to John. The convention itself seemed small-time and dingy, adding to that aura of melancholy.
At that point, more than 25-years after John left her flat for Yoko Ono, she still had no kind words for the woman who would forever be considered the true keeper of John Lennon’s legacy. People might have remembered — and hated — Yoko for being “the woman who broke up The Beatles,” but Cynthia, at that point, didn’t seem to be remembered much at all. That’s been the picture of Cynthia Lennon I’ve had in my mind all the years since.
So I felt better yesterday, when I saw the touching tributes to Cynthia from the extended Beatles family; her son, Julian, of course, with whom she remained extremely close over the decades since John left her; also Ringo and Paul sent very heartfelt condolences. But most uplifting at all was this tweet — and picture — from Yoko Ono:
– Yoko Ono (@yokoono) April 1, 2015
It’s the only picture I’ve ever seen of John Lennon’s two wives and both his children, all together. I guess at some point Yoko and Cynthia made their peace, and I hope that helps Cynthia rest in peace. She was there at the Big Bang of modern pop entertainment, before being rudely exiled. I’m glad I had a chance to get to know her a little, on her way to what I hope was an eventual healing of most, if not all of her wounds.