Here's What We Know About John Lennon's Tragic Childhood

John Lennon is a musical legend. From his time with The Beatles — one of the biggest and most influential rock bands in history — to his solo work, Lennon is remembered as a musical genius. Even his untimely death at the age of 40 via assassination helped cement his place in musical history. However, we've learned a lot more about Lennon's personal life in recent years, and most of it is unflattering, to say the least. Lennon himself admitted he was a no angel in an 1980s interview with Playboy (via Ultimate Classic Rock); he picked fights with men, physically assaulted women, and cheated on his wives. His own son, Julian Lennon, expressed his disgust with the person he remembered his father to have been, via Rolling Stone

Nothing can excuse John Lennon's horrific behavior, but with the information we now have about his history, we can see just how much his own childhood influenced his later behavior, and his early years were far from stable or normal. 

John Lennon's Father Wasn't a Part of His Life

John Lennon's father, Alfred Lennon, married his mother, Julia Stanley, when they were quite young. The two had met as teenagers and were both casual musicians. The Independent noted that Julia's family was less than enthusiastic about the pair's relationship — they felt Alf Lennon was low class. Alf and Julia were married in 1938 — practically on a whim — in secret and without any family present. Julia's family was mortified by the union, but begrudgingly accepted it. However, Julia and Alf weren't together for long. World War II soon broke out, leading Alf to take off and become a merchant seaman. But before he left, he and Julia managed to conceive their only son, John Winston Lennon.

John didn't see much of his father during his childhood — Alf didn't return to Liverpool until 1944, after which he soon separated from John's mother. John was around 5 years old at the time and wouldn't see his father again until he became an adult and was making it big with The Beatles. In a 1966 interview featured in Anthology (via Ultimate Classic Rock), John Lennon explained that his father was never a part of his life growing up.

"I never knew my father. I saw him twice in my life till I was 22 when he turned up after I'd had a few hit records. I saw him and spoke to him, and decided I still didn't want to know him," he said.

John Lennon Was Taken From His Mother -- Who Later Died Young

Lennon's mother, Julia, was regarded as the wildcard of the Stanley family. As much as she enjoyed defying her family and marrying Alf, according to The Guardian, Julia truly wasn't ready to be a wife and mother. While Alf was away, Julia was restless; she continued to go to parties and meet men. Again, her family disapproved, but they were furious when Julia became pregnant by a passing Welsh soldier. Under extreme pressure from her embarrassed family, Julia gave her baby daughter up for adoption.

The last straw came when Julia decided to move in with a man named Bobby Dykins, as noted by The Independent. Julia's family was horrified that their daughter would take up with another man while still legally married. Even though Julia and Alf were separated, they never actually divorced. Julia's sister, Mimi Smith, was furious with her sister and reported her to social services. Mimi declared that Julia was unfit to care for her little boy and that she should be John's legal guardian. Under extreme pressure, Julia reluctantly gave John to Mimi. Despite this arrangement, Julia would remain a fixture in her son's life — and John himself adored his mother. Julia often visited her son and encouraged his interest in music — she even taught him to play the banjo. But tragedy came when Julia Lennon was struck and killed by a passing car at the age of 44. John was 16 when his mother died and was absolutely gutted by the loss.

John Lennon Wasn't The Nicest Kid

John Lennon grew up with some stability while living with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George Smith, but he was not quite right emotionally. Between the upheaval in his early years, plus his mother's untimely death, Lennon was emotionally hardened, even downright nasty, as a youth. As noted by The Guardian, Lennon was known for shoplifting and bullying students and teachers alike. According to one of his former art school classmates, Thelma Pickles, Lennon took particular amusement in cruelly mocking the disabled.

"Anyone limping or crippled or hunchbacked, or deformed in any way, John laughed and ran up to them to make horrible faces," she said.

Besides his mother, Lennon would suffer the loss of other important people in his life while he was still young, including his uncle and father figure, George; his childhood best friend, who died of a brain hemorrhage; and his mentor and manager, Brian Epstein, who died of a barbiturate overdose. These traumatic losses seemed to add to Lennon's emotional hardness, which did not improve with age. Lennon's oldest son, Julian, has remained outspoken about how callous and absent his father behaved towards him and his first wife, Cynthia Powell. In a statement issued to Rolling Stone in 2000, Julian Lennon expressed how hurt he had been by his father.

"I had a great deal of anger towards Dad because of his negligence and his attitude to peace and love. That peace and love never came home to me," he said.