The Beatles Cope with John's Death

The following article appeared in the February 23, 1981 issue of People Weekly Magazine. The first part of this article (about Ringo) was written by Salley Rayl. The second part (about Paul, George and Yoko) was written by Carl Arrington and Fred Hauptfuhrer.

It was late November, recalls Ringo Starr, when he and his fiancee, actress Barbara Bach, visited Manhattan and last saw John Lennon. "He and Yoko came over to our hotel, and we had a great time saying 'hello' again. His head was together. His album was done, and we worked it all out that come January, we were going into the studio together," Starr continues. "Even though he was always treated in the press as a cynical put-down artist, John had the biggest heart of all of us. He was so up, so happy then-he blew me away, he was so happy."
He pauses. His eyes mist; for half Ringo's 40 years, Lennon had been, variously, colleague, mentor, friend and-in Barbara's words-"a brother."
"Barbara and I are sitting in the Bahamas," says Starr, picking up the story, "and we get these calls. He's been shot. And then...he's dead. Dead!" Unlike the McCartneys or the Harrisons, Ringo and Barbara flew to New York immediately to be with Yoko.
There was a time that Ono's extraordinary bond with Lennon bothered him, Starr concedes: "I didn't like because she was taking my friend away." More recently, through, the Lennons' inseparability has been reflected in his own life. Indeed, he notes that at the Dakota after the murder, "When Yoko asked just to see me, I told her, 'Look it was you who started all this. We're both coming in.' Barbara and I do everything together."
He and Bach, 31, had been drawing closer ever since they met a year ago while working on Caveman, a film farce due out this spring. "On April 27 he told me he loved me." Barbara smiles, and by wrap up time they had become roommates. Shortly thereafter they had their own firsthand brush with mortality. On a road near London, Ringo swerved to avoid a skidding truck; his Mercedes 350SL took out two light posts before flipping over twice. After they'd both walked away from the wreckage, he says, "We decided we wouldn't spend any time apart. So far the longest break was five days, and that was too long. I want to live every minute with Barbara."
"Ringo the perfomrer and Richard are two different people," observes Bach of the man she always calls either by his given name or Ritchie. "Ringo's going to sail through all that's happened recently, but Ritchie is moody. He's had a real rough time with it." The Lennon tragedy evokes in him both anger and introspection.
The ire is focused on exploiters of Beatles memorabilia, flourishing since John's death. "It pisses me off that what they're selling is not even old-made crap, it's new-made crap," snarls Ringo. "And 'Beatlefests,' Beatlemania and that TV thing, Birth of the Beatles, just used us, but we can't stop it." Still, Ringo can be as nostalgic about the quartet as their most devoted fan. "It's very hard to say what made it happen the way it did," he says. "We started out just players, fighting to make something of ourselves-it was the only way out of the factory. No one thought we were musicians until the Sunday Times wrote about us," he laughs. "We didn't even understand what all this 'candence' stuff was about, and we were the ones on the record! But the kids were onto us. You can't fool kids. And in the end, we played the finest music any band was playing."
Even so, he recalls, "It used to surprise me that the like of de Gaulle, Khrushchev, the British army and a lot of people in America all got on our case. I always wondered, 'Why aren't you running your country instead of wondering what we're playing?' Then," he continues, "we got married, had children, nice houses and found other things to do. We weren't giving everything to the group anymore, and when we toured we realized that they wouldn've applauded if we'd farted. We were turning into bad players simply because we had no time to really play," he muses, "so we decided to spend more time in the studio, creating." But by late 1969, Ringo says, "we'd all had enough." Despite "all the bullshit in the papers, the breakup was a mutual thing. John never did it. Yoko never did it. Paul never did it. [Paul's wife] Linda never did it." He laughs shyly. "Well maybe Linda did..."
Starr says that none of the four ever took the subsequent reunion idea seriously. "The only time we called each other was when the offer for $50 million came, and that was to say, 'Can you believe what they're offering?'" he reports. "We would have never done it for the money, not for $100 million."
"How do you refuse the boat people?" interjects Bach, referring to one of the causes proposed to inspire a reunion concert.
"Easy," Starr replies. "Say, 'No.' If we'd done it for one, the rest wouldn've hated us." Still, he sounds mournful when he adds that a comeback performace "wouldn't have saved the world, but we could have given it one good day. Now we will never know if it ever could have been again." With a resigned smile, Ringo begins to croon softly: When all my troubles seemed so far away...
The McCartney lyrics never really applied to Richard Starkey (the name that still graces his California driver's license), from the wrong side of the Liverpool tracks. When he was 6, a rupptured appendix turned into peritonitis, 10 weeks in a coma and a year in the hospital; at 13, a cold became pleurisy, then a lung effusion that kept him in bed for two more years. Starkey was an apprentice pipe fitter when his decorator stepdad, Harry Graves, bought him a $34 set of drums. Two and a half years later, while touring with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Ringo found himself in Hamburg's Kaiserkeller-and on the same bill as Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. His stage name came from his penchant for jewerly.
Starr's life and Bach's first crossed on August 23, 1965. A Long Islander and the eldest daughter of the then New York cop Howard Goldbach, Barbara was on of 55,000 jamming Shea Stadium, for the Beatles' historic U.S. concert. But she was hardly the most enthusiastic in the frantic throng. "My sister Marjorie was crazy about the Beatles," she grins. "I liked Dylan, Ray Charles and the Rolling Stones." She was "quite a tomboy" as a teen and her high school basketball captain, but Barbara became a star in Eileen Ford's stable of models by 17 under her own new professional name.
On one overseas assignment she met Augusto Gregorini, an Intalian businessman 11 years his senior. After they wed she moved to Rome and began acting in spaghetti shockers like the Spider with the Black Stomach, as well as five films opposite Giancarlo Giannini. Though she separated in 1975, and is now divorced, Barbara says, "My marriage was by no means a mistake. I have two wonderful kids-Francesca, 12, and Gianni, 8-and I learned a whole new culture. It just wasn't a lifetime commitment."
Since she returned to the States, her career has risen (in the 1977 Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me) and ebbed (Up the Academy). In fact, she was recovering from a blessing in disguise, losing a Charlie's Angels audition to Shelley Hack, when she signed for Caveman. Marriage was no more on her agenda then on Ringo's.
In 1975 he divorced Maureen, mother of his sons Zac, now 15, and Jason, 13, and daughter Lee, 10. He later had long-term romances with singer Lynsey de Paul and model Nancy Andrews. And his career was up and down, too. Starr is the first to admit that as the group's designated joker, and as its only noncompser, he had the hardest time escaping the Beatles' long shadow. "I sat around for a year wondering, 'What am I going to do?'"
In any case, Ring's solo LPs were evenually successful; his movie appearances, mostly in throwaways like Son of Drac and Sextette, are best forgotten. "People just want me to be cute," he complains. "They still think I'm just some rock'n'roll drummer and don't respect me as an actor, but the people I've worked with-like Peter Sellers [in The Magic Christian] and Richard Burton [in Candy]-gave me a far better education than an acting school could."
He and Bach met formally at a Caveman preproduction party last February, but it wasn't until 10 days before filming ended in Mexico, Ringo remembers, properly. Five days later-it's in me book, it was a Sunday afternoon-I was in love with the woman."
Barbara will become his real-life co-Starr this spring. The exact date is a secret. Meanwhile they're sharing a rented 12-room house in Beverly Hills with her two children. The family-to-be is an extended one; she travels with him to England to visit his brood, and Barbara's parents and siblings now live in L.A. Then, too, when her ex, Gregorini, is in town, he stays chez Starr.
Bach says she and Ringo would like children, "when and if they come." Meanwhile he has been tutoring Francesca and Gianni in drums, which both his sons Zak and Jason already play proficiently; Lee is studying piano. Barbara has been learning not only the skins but how to pick the Ovation guitar he gave her for Christmas. She accompanied him to the Nice sessions for his upcoming album, the title of which-Can't Fight Lightnin'-celebrates their relationship. And though when co-producer McCartney asked if she sang, Ringo joked that "the only thing she sings is F-demented," Barbara took part of the title track-on maracas. To complete the miscasting, Starr played guitar, McCartney drums.
That album, which Lennon planned to contribute to in January, also numbers Harrison, Harry Nilsson, Stephen Stills and Rolling Stone Ron Wood among its co-producers. It's due out about the same times as Caveman. Although he says they'll act together again "only it it's right," she adds that a role for just one of them "is really going to have to be something very good to separate us for any length of time." (She turned down one film because it called for two months on location in Yugoslavia.)
For now, they're left pondering imponderables. "We were at some friend's house the other night and they put on John's Starting Over, and I can't listen to that album," says Barbara. "It brings tears to my eyes. But I believe in something after death." She wraps her arms around Ringo and consoles, "John's probably in a better place than we are, darling."
Ringo stares blankly. Finally, he says softly, "That's what they all say. But I'll tell you one thing. I wish he was in this house right now, rather than one of those better places.

On the day the papers bore the grim headlines of his ex-songwriting partner's death, Paul McCartney went into a studio in London to work with Beatles producer George Martin on a new Wings LP due this summer. Paddy Moloney of the Irish group the Chieftains was one of the session musicians.
"When I woke up in the morning and heard the terrible news about John on the BBC," Moloney recalls, "I called to see if we were still going ahead and was a bit shocked that we were. Paul arrived with Linda and two of their children and I don't think it'd sunk in yet. His mind seemed to be on the work." Moloney continues, "Sure, there was a kind of unspoken sadness among Paul and the Wings lads like the kind when you lose an old soccer mate. It was subtle and there wasn't any crying or moping about. Get on the with the job was the attitude."
McCartney, 39, has now been a Wing as long as he was a Beatle. He, wife Linda and their three daughters and son live in an isolated country cottage and Sussex. His enthusiasm and recording schedule are relentless even through the far-flung McCartney enterprises now include a multimillion-dollar music publishing company that owns the royalty rights to such big-money scores are Grease and A Chrorus Line.
Earlier this month Paul retreated to George Martin's splendiferous recording studio on Montserrat in the Caribbean to finish the new Wings LP, and he invited Stevie Wonder and Ringo to sit in on the sessions. That two of the Fab Four and Martin would be working together again sparked rumors that George Harrison might join them to produce a memorial album to John. Collaborations between Beatles have not be unthinkable. George wrote and produced two songs for Ringo in his home studio last November. And Ringo returned returned the favor by playing on several tracks of George's forthcoming work. But last week Paul's camp roundly denied that any reunion tribute LP was planned, and a Harrison confidant said that even if one were, George would "definitely, emphatically not" participate.
Harrison got the news of Lennon's murder in a 4:45 a.m. call from his sister in Florida. He confined his public comment to a single, terse statement: "After all we went through together, I had and still have a great love and respect for him. To rob someone of life is the ultimate crime."
Since John's death Harrison, 38, has remained in the seclusion he shares only with his second wife, Olivia Arias, and their 2 1/2-year old son, Dhani, on a 33-acre estate called Frias Park at Henly-on-Thames near London. He has kept busy. Having financed Monty Python's Life of Brian, he is embarked now on the sound track for a new movie with three Pythoneers called Time Bandits. Still a devotee of Eastern religion and race-car driving, he became an author last year with an egocentric memoir titled, I, Me, Mine, which, bound in leather, was priced at $350. A more affordable version is coming out next fall, and next week he's delivering a new album for release in the spring. For all that, he seems to have worked hardest at keeping his distance from the world. A multilingual no-trespassing sing is posted at the gate of Friar Park with warnings next to each of nine flags. The legend next to Stars and Strips is: GET YOUR ASS OUT'A HERE. Coming from the connoisseur of Python wackiness, it could be a tease. But the message gets across.

Yoko Ono Lennon's amazing equilibrium showed up in an ad that appeared in several major newpapers worldwide on January 18. "I thank you for your feeling of anger for John's death," she wrote. "I share your anger...The only 'revenge' that would mean anything to us, is to turn the society around in time, to one that is based on love and trust as John felt it could be."
The Spirit Foundation, which she established with John in 1978 to benefit such diverse causes as the Salvation Army, the New York Founding Hospital and, ironically, a fund to buy bulletproof vests for New York City police, has profited from fans' desire to demostrate their grief tangibly. "The foundation is a very personal thing," says a spokesman. "Instead of giving $30,000 to a group, they will buy 1,000 baskets of food with $30 of food in each one."
Yoko has also just issued a new 45 on which she sings two of her own songs, Walking on Thin Ice and It Happened. Neither was contained on the chart-topping Double Fantasy LP, which has already sold more than four million copies. (Lennon and Ono recorded two LPs' worth of material and chose the most accessible for Double Fantasy, planning a follow-up album of more exotic compositions.) Walking on Thin Ice was the song she and John were remixing in the studio the night he was shot, and its lyrics are eerily apt in the aftermath: "Walking on thin ice/I'm paying the price/For throwing the dice in the air/Why must we learn it the hard way." The other song was one Yoko wrote and taped in 1973. John found it in a box at home two weeks before he died and begged her to release it. Yet it too speaks of nothing more clearly than her loss: "It happened at a time of my life when I least expected/...And I know there's no return, no way." For this record, Yoko wrote a liner note: "Getting this together after what happened was hard. But I know John would not rest his mind if I hadn't. I hope you like it, John. I did my best."

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