What The Beatles' Relationship Was Like With Each Other After They Broke Up

Humans are strange and complicated creatures, so it makes sense that when you put four ultra-creative, super-talented, ridiculously imaginative musicians in a room together, there's bound to be some conflict. In the case of The Beatles, there ended up being a lot of conflict — and that means that even though it's Yoko Ono who frequently gets blamed for their honestly inevitable breakup, that's not actually the case. Not entirely, at least.

What happened was more along the lines of a perfect storm of trials and tribulations that the band just couldn't weather — starting with the death of their longtime manager and massive disagreements over who was going to replace him. Add in more disagreements over their direction, individual members who wanted to nurture their individual talents, arguments over who was going to get their songs on albums, stress from rampant drug use, and yes, the added pressures of Yoko Ono's appearances on the scene and in the studio, and something just had to give. 

Unfortunately, that was the entity that was The Beatles. Just what happened has been debated for a long time. In 2021, Paul McCartney clarified (via The Guardian): "I didn't instigate the split. That was our Johnny. ... This was my band, this was my job, this was my life, so I wanted it to continue." The breakup didn't happen overnight, and The Beatles would be bound by their shared experiences for the rest of their lives. So, what was it really like, post-breakup?

One angry letter from John Lennon to Paul McCartney spoke volumes

The breakup of The Beatles didn't happen overnight: Negotiations and legal problems went on well past the official 1969 announcement that they were done, and in 1971, John Lennon did a fire-breathing act and sent a letter that seemingly burned any proverbial bridges. It was addressed to "Dear Paul, Linda et al the wee McCartney's," and he didn't pull any punches, as per Billboard.

Written partially with a typewriter and partially by handwritten notes, it included sentiments like, "Wanna put your photo on the label like uncool John and Yoko, do ya? (Ain't ya got no shame.) If we're not cool, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU? ... I thought you'd have understood BY NOW, that I'm JOHNANDYOKO." In another part quoted by the Independent, Lennon claimed it was McCartney that had started the whole breakup, asking, "If you're not the aggressor (as you claim), who the hell took us to court and s*** all over us in public? As I've said before — have you ever thought you might possibly be wrong about something?" 

Billboard says that the letter wasn't an initial, unprovoked salvo, but was written in response to an interview McCartney had done, airing some of the behind-the-scenes dirty laundry. McCartney later said it was just as hostile as it seemed. In his 2021 book, "Lyrics: 1956 to the Present," he wrote (via People) that Lennon "turned nasty... firing missiles at me... I don't know what he hoped to gain, other than punching me in the face."

The Lennon-Harrison relationship was tainted by jealousy

This one comes with a bit of background, and that background comes with a bit of he-said, he-said. The story goes that around the time George Harrison left the band, he and former bestie John Lennon had some majorly ugly arguments. The debated part is whether or not things descended into a physical altercation, and it's worth noting (via Far Out) that George Martin says they absolutely started swinging. Why? Lennon was mad that Harrison was finding his feet, maturing as a musician, and demanding more equal treatment. Harrison, meanwhile, was mad that he was pushed aside in favor of Yoko Ono and still wasn't being given the credit he felt he deserved.

That said, that theme continued until Lennon's death. While Harrison did appear on some of Lennon's other work, they apparently never got over their individual beefs. Lennon continued to resent Harrison's blossoming talent and outspokenness, and Harrison continued to resent Ono. How certain is that?

In 1971, Harrison organized The Concert for Bangladesh, the Madison Square Gardens show that is now seen as the show that kicked off the concept of celebrity benefit concerts. He invited all three Beatles: Ringo Starr showed up, Paul McCartney did not, and Lennon? It's impossible to tell whether or not he would have participated, had Harrison made it clear that Ono was absolutely not invited. Things between them remained rocky, and the release of Harrison's 1980 autobiography soured them for good when it appeared as if Harrison slighted his relationship with Lennon in the book.

The Starr-Lennon relationship was complicated

Here's a question for the next trivia night: Who was the first Beatle to leave? The answer: Ringo Starr. He technically bailed while they were still recording the "White Album," and while he quickly returned, one might say that the writing was on the wall. Matters definitely weren't helped any when he released his solo album "Sentimental Journey," and it didn't really go as planned. While George Harrison was politely supportive, it was lambasted by critics and John Lennon, who simply said it was "embarrassing."

While that might sound like Lennon just kind of washed his hands of the whole thing, that's not the case at all. He'd go on to support his old bandmate by writing several songs for him, including "The Greatest" and the appropriately light-hearted "Cooking in the Kitchen of Love." At the time of his death, Lennon was actually in the middle of writing another song for him called "Nobody Told Me." Starr declined to play it: Lennon's death made it too painful. 

Lennon's last major television interview was a 1975 piece on "The Tomorrow Show." During it, he spoke about his feelings for Starr, saying (via Far Out), "I'm most happy for Ringo's success because it always went round that Ringo was dumb but he ain't dumb. ... he wasn't known for writing his own material. There was a bit of a worry ... how was his recording career gonna be? And in general, it's probably better than mine, actually."

Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney: From uncertain footing to lifelong friends

In 2001, Ringo Starr spoke with Billboard about his career post-Beatle breakup. Specifically, he was talking about his album "Ringo" and confirmed that yes, although the other Beatles contributed, he hadn't been certain that they would. "At that point, I felt that when John comes to town, I know he's gonna play with me, and if George comes to town, I know he'll play with me, and if Paul comes to town, I 'wonder' if he's gonna play." That was, he clarified, at the time when Paul McCartney was in court with the others to settle the business affairs and finalize the breakup, so it's understandable that things were rocky.

Fast forward to 2023, and there's good news for fans. When Starr spoke with CNN around his current tour and band, he added that he and McCartney were as tight as ever. "Paul called me the other day ... We're close, close friends. We're brothers and you know, for me it was great because I'm an only child and suddenly I had three brothers that I could love, I could rely on, I could help out."

In another 2023 interview — this one with AARP — Starr revealed that he and McCartney had been having dinner when he jokingly pitched the idea that McCartney should write a song for him: So, he did — "Feeling the Sunlight." He added, "Paul loves me as much as I love him. He's the brother I never had."

Paul McCartney and John Lennon had a reunion ... of sorts

While it might seem like The Beatles' breakup was the end of things for the once-close friends, that wasn't the case at all. Initially, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had the kind of relationship that had them writing hateful, not-at-all-veiled, and very public song lyrics, but as the 1970s dragged on, they had actually taken some pretty extreme steps toward reconciliation. 

The mid-70s were a bit of a turbulent time for Lennon: Yes, he was releasing albums, but he was also struggling with substance abuse while carrying on an affair — reportedly with Yoko Ono's blessing. It was on March 28, 1974, that he was recording in Burbank and two unexpected guests showed up at the studio: Paul and Linda McCartney. It's the only time they would ever play together again, but those in-the-know say that it had laid the groundwork for a potentially serious reunion. 

May Pang, Lennon's assistant and brief partner during his separation from Ono, wrote that after that unexpected meeting, he was increasingly open to a reunion and full reconciliation. The McCartneys had invited him to a Wings recording session, and while that wasn't destined to happen — he reconciled with Ono in that time period instead — Lennon had apparently been keen to see it. In her book, "Loving John: The Untold Story," Pang wrote, "He kept bringing up the trip, and each time he mentioned it he grew more enthusiastic." 

The Starr/Harrison/Clapton love triangle

As famous as the Lennon/McCartney feud was and as unlikely as it might seem, it's possibly Ringo Starr and George Harrison that had the most fraught post-Beatles relationship for an incredibly bizarre reason. In a nutshell, Harrison was fond of other men's wives, and that included Starr's.

In the mid-70s, Harrison was married to Patti Boyd. She told Starts at 60 that the breakup strained their marriage to the breaking point and described Harrison as the sort that kept everything bottled up until it became too much. She struck up a reportedly platonic friendship with Eric Clapton, who had been famously close to being hired by The Beatles as a Harrison replacement. Harrison, meanwhile, lashed out at everyone by kicking off an affair with Starr's wife, Maureen Starkey. He didn't hide it, either: Boyd said, "I became aware [of the affair] when she would turn up at midnight and she'd still be there the next day. I'd have to be pretty stupid not to notice."

Philip Norman, author of "George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle," wrote for the Daily Mail that Boyd had told Starr about the affair, tempers exploded, and Harrison explained that he was in love with Starr's wife. Lennon, meanwhile, dubbed the whole sordid thing "virtual incest," and after Boyd and Harrison's inevitable divorce, she married Clapton — who had written "Layla" about her.

They nearly reformed The Beatles after an offer from Lorne Michaels

It's one of those things that sounds like an urban legend, and it's the story that Lorne Michaels made an appeal during an episode of "Saturday Night Live," offering cash to John Lennon and Paul McCartney if they'd just get the band back together. Not only was the offer really made, but it almost worked.

The episode aired on April 24, 1976, and it was a combination of a comedy sketch and an earnest plea. Michaels offered them a check for $3,000 to appear on the show and sing three songs, and here's the really weird thing: When the show aired, Lennon and McCartney were actually hanging out together at Lennon's New York City house. Lennon recalled in an interview with Playboy (via "All We Are Saying," by David Sheff): "Paul was visiting us ... We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired."

McCartney, too, has offered his side of the story and said that yes, it happened that way. He's said that one of the reasons that they didn't opt to take Michaels up on his offer was that they were having a relaxing night off, as per Ultimate Classic Rock: "And for a second ... but it would have been work ... so we elected not to go. It was a nice idea — we nearly did it."

They communicated via postcards

Communication has come a long way in just a few decades, and here's a pretty sweet bit of Beatles trivia: Ringo Starr loved postcards. He loved them so much that when they were still a group, he'd ask the other three to send him postcards wherever they went — and it continued post-breakup. In fact, one of the most poignant of the postcards that Starr saved for decades was sent by John Lennon in 1971, just when the expletives were really starting to hit the fan. Lennon wrote, "Who'd have thought it would come to this? Love John" (via The New York Times).

There were so many that in 2003, Starr published a book called "Postcards from the Boys." Starr told The New York Times, "Memories — what little is left of them. Half the cards, I still don't know what they're about. ... At the beginning, we were like these four guys in a van, and it was very, very close. And in the end, we ended up like this family and we had, to quote the old show, family feuds. It didn't stop us playing, you see. That was the deal."

George Harrison, too, has spoken about how often they would send postcards. In 1979, he revealed to Rolling Stone (via Far Out) that although he saw Starr and Paul McCartney fairly often, he didn't cross paths with Lennon too much. Instead? "I get postcards from him — it sounds like the Rutles, but he keeps in touch with tapping on the table and postcards."

John Lennon talked about Paul McCartney in his final interview

It's one of the great mysteries of music history: What would have happened if John Lennon hadn't been shot and killed in those last days of 1980? He would have undoubtedly made more music, but would have it included the other Beatles? Maybe, and his final interview — recorded just hours before his death — gave some fascinating insight into his relationship with Paul McCartney.

The three-hour interview was promoting his album "Double Fantasy," and it's worth noting that it's the same day he and Yoko Ono did that famous naked photo shoot with Annie Lebowitz. Afterwards, he sat down to talk with David Sholin, and it was then that he offered this prophetic thought: "We're either going to live or we're going to die. I consider that my work won't be finished until I'm dead and buried — and I hope that's a long time" (via Far Out). It, of course, was not. 

In 2014, Paul McCartney reflected on Lennon's death in a conversation with the U.K.'s Jonathan Ross (via CNN). He addressed his much-maligned reaction — "It's a drag, innit?" — by explaining that he'd been in shock at the time, and understandably so, considering Lennon's final public words about him. Lennon had said, "He's like a brother. I love him. Families — we certainly have our ups and downs and our quarrels. But at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, I would do anything for him, and I think he would do anything for me."

After John Lennon's death, Paul McCartney found comfort in an unlikely place

Paul McCartney has been heartbreakingly candid about how deeply John Lennon's death impacted him ... but only in recent years. In 2022, he was interviewed on Sirius XM's The Beatles Channel (via the Independent) and acknowledged the fact that at the time, he couldn't speak about his death. "I can't just go on TV and say what John meant to me. It was just too deep. It's just too much. I couldn't put it into words," he explained.

In a 2014 interview with Jonathan Ross of ITV (via the BBC), he said that he was grateful that they had mended fences before his death, saying "The story about the break-up, it's true, but it's not the main bit. The main bit was the affection." At the time of Lennon's death, McCartney says that they were once again friends. He found some comfort elsewhere, too — with Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono.

He spoke about the unlikely friendship in an interview with Playboy in 1984. While it's well-publicized that he absolutely didn't want her sitting in on recording sessions and guiding The Beatles' direction, he said that he reached out to her after Lennon's death, because he knew that's what he would have wanted. "I feel I started to get to know her then, to understand what she was going through instead of only my point of view all the time," he said. "After he died, the thing that helped me the most, really, was talking to Yoko about it."

George Harrison and Ringo Starr discussed John Lennon's death on a U.K. talk show

The show was called "Aspel & Company," and the episode featuring the two former Beatles aired in 1988. Ringo Starr offered his thoughts first, saying that he and George Harrison had just been watching a movie about John Lennon a few days before the interview, and it moved him to tears. "I still miss the man. I love the man, I was close to the man. And he went out in just a stupid way." Starr, of course, would famously be the only one of the three to immediately fly to New York to meet with Yoko Ono, and he explained on the talk show that he'd simply needed to feel as though he was doing something.

Harrison, meanwhile, revealed that the phone call arrived in the early morning when he was still asleep. He said that he turned over and went back to sleep, later suggesting that perhaps he had thought it was all a bad dream, and that he'd wake up in the morning and things would be different.

His spiritual beliefs helped him through it, especially considering he shared some of those beliefs with Lennon. "I believe what it says in the Bhagavad Gita ... there was never a time when you didn't exist, and there will never be a time when you cease to exist. The only thing that changes is our bodily condition. The soul comes in the body, and we go from birth to death. ... I can feel him around here."

Ringo Starr and George Harrison patched up their differences

George Harrison never joined Ringo Starr's All-Star Band, and Starr once told Conan O'Brien that he declined by — jokingly — saying that Starr would have to give him all the money, and that's kind of a sweet look into what their relationship was like. Surprising? Yes, considering George's affair with Starr's wife. Their lifelong friendship was perhaps no more poignant than in the tragic circumstances surrounding Harrison's 2001 death.

Starr and George's widow, Olivia Harrison, spoke with Rolling Stone in 2017. One of the things Starr talked about was her gift to him: hand-written lyrics to a song that he'd never seen, called "Hey Ringo." One of the lines? "Hey Ringo, there's one thing that I've not said, I'll play my guitar with you till I drop dead." Starr said, "He was my best friend. I had two other great friends, and three brothers. We were pals." At a gathering in Harrison's honor, Olivia gave Starr a shout-out as her late husband's best friend, and Starr has shared what happened during their last time together.

Harrison was in Switzerland, and in an interview, Starr revealed that George was unable to stand or walk at the time. Starr was also going through another family emergency: His daughter had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he was on the way to a hospital in Boston for her. He told Harrison, and Harrison replied, "Do you want me to come with you?"

Paul McCartney was with George Harrison in his last days

In an interview for Uncut, Paul McCartney spoke about the last time he saw George Harrison — and at the time, he pretty much knew it was going to be the end. Harrison had announced his diagnosis in July of 2001, and this was November — a November when doctors had told him just how limited his days were. McCartney — along with Ringo Starr — met Harrison and his wife for lunch in New York, and it was heartbreaking stuff. 

"I sat with him for a few hours when he was in treatment just outside New York. He was about 10 days away from his death, as I recall. We joked about things — just amusing, nutty stuff. It was good. It was like we were dreaming. He was my little baby brother, almost, because I'd known him that long. We held hands. ... It was lovely." Others who were there — including Harrison's medical team — recalled that the meeting was sorrowful but full of fondness, and that when everyone parted ways, Harrison was settled, content, and at peace with things.

On the 20th anniversary of his death, both surviving Beatles paid tribute to him with posts on Instagram. McCartney wrote, "Hard to believe that we lost George 20 years ago. I miss my friend so much. Love Paul." Starr, meanwhile, shared a similar sentiment: "Peace and love to you George I miss you man. Peace and love Ringo."

Paul McCartney on grief ... and keeping in touch

Grief is a deeply personal thing, and some relationships are so strong that it never really goes away. Decades after the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison, Paul McCartney says that he still struggles with it. He spoke with The Times in 2023 (via NME) and said that the memories, the music, and the photos were "bittersweet. ... They're in your memory, always in your heart. And, yes, that's certainly true of me and the boys."

In an interview with NPR, McCartney said that he held onto Lennon by reminiscing about fond memories, in the studio and out of it. "I'm often thinking of him," he said. "I dream of him. It's family." When it came to keeping his connection with Harrison, it was a little different but no less beautiful.

Harrison, he explained, had once given him a fir tree. McCartney planted it in his yard, and for decades after his death continued to speak to him through the tree. He says hello to it, and the tree — planted near his front gate — seems to welcome him home. "As the years go by, every time I look at it I go, 'That's the tree George gave me.' George has entered that tree for me. I hope he's happy with that." Grief, he says, could be overwhelming — and the only way for him to process it is to hold onto the good memories and use them to push the sadness away.

Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney: The last two standing

While Ringo Starr may have been initially unsure of just how friendly Paul McCartney was going to be after The Beatles' breakup turned into the stuff of ugly lawsuits, fast forward a few decades and not only has that all become water under the bridge, but the two remaining Beatles are once again fast friends. When Starr spoke to CNN in 2023 about his current tour, he said he was grateful that he had so many friends, including McCartney.

"I think it was the spark between the four of us. We understood each other and the music was important. It didn't matter if we were having a row or whatever, or a laugh, we all gave our best." That said, they didn't get together as much as they may have liked. In an interview a few years prior (via Express), Starr explained that any time they were in the same country, they'd make it a point to get together and hang out.

And when they do, it seems to be quite the time. In 2023, Starr posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter. It featured the two of them at a roller skating party, all smiles as they danced with each other. Starr wrote, "Man, this beautiful day is getting better and better ... What a time we had go get them, Paul, peace and love." Not only were they still dancing together, but McCartney was still writing songs for him, including 2023's "Feeling the Sunlight."

Here's how John Lennon came to sing with them again

Ringo Starr turned 83 in 2023 ... although he told People, "Nothing makes me feel old. In my head, I'm 27." It was the same year that the world was shocked to hear what most people figured was never going to happen — a Beatles reunion. Sort of ... it was, at least, a new song that featured the work of all four members. Yes, even the two that had passed away.

Starr explained how it all came together to AARP, and after joking that he was the glue that held everything else together, he said that it had been Paul McCartney who called him up and asked him if he would be interested in finishing and releasing one of John Lennon's previously unfinished songs. He said yes, and so they got together, added their parts to Lennon's vocals and George Harrison's guitar work, and released it. Rolling Stone lauded it as "one more classic to the world's greatest musical love story," and it's sort of even more than that: It's a tribute to The Beatles' long-lasting friendship and a love that reached well past the controversy, the lawsuits, and the angry words.

The song — "Now and Then" — was released, and Starr was forced to vigorously defend themselves against accusations that Lennon's voice was AI. "Paul and I would not have done that," Starr told AARP and added that for them, it brought them some finality. "It's a beautiful song and a nice way to finally close that door."