The Truth About Ringo Starr's Health Issues As A Child

In a way, the Beatles' story can be considered a rags-to-riches tale — the Fab Four mainly came from working-class backgrounds in Liverpool and didn't exactly live the most comfortable of lives before the onset of Beatlemania. They weren't poor for the most part, but it wasn't like they were chauffeured to school in luxury cars or enjoying the trappings of material wealth well before they became rock 'n' roll icons.

Ringo Starr, however, grew up in a poorer side of Liverpool than his future bandmates, and one notable element of his background is the fact that he was a rather sickly child who, due to myriad health concerns, didn't have much of an education in the classroom. It's amazing to think that despite all that, the drummer looks much younger than his 81 years (as of this writing), but back in the late '40s and early '50s, it wasn't at all guaranteed that Starr would live a long, productive life, much less reach his eighth decade. Here's the truth behind Ringo Starr's health issues as a child, as well as the many ways in which these issues affected his life in the decades that followed.

He was hospitalized for peritonitis at 6 and TB at 13

Before he became known as Ringo Starr, young Richard Starkey grew up in poverty in Liverpool, where he was primarily raised by a single mother who worked various odd jobs to make ends meet. (His father, Richard Starkey Sr., abandoned the family when the would-be Beatles drummer was only 3.) It was at the age of 6 when Ringo first dealt with a major health crisis, as he contracted peritonitis after his appendix burst — according to the Daily Express, he slipped into a coma for several days after falling ill. As he recalled to NPR, Starr was already recovering quite nicely after spending six months in the hospital when he "got excited" and fell out of his bed. This unfortunate accident ripped the stitches off his stomach, and as a result, he was forced to stay another six months before getting released.

Per Biography, Starr's extended hospitalization left him well behind other kids his age at school, but just as he was getting caught up with his classmates, he was hospitalized yet again at the age of 13, that time for tuberculosis. In his interview with NPR, Starr blamed the dangerous industrial conditions in his neighborhood, which affected many other individuals at a time when there wasn't a readily available cure for the disease. Fortunately, things had just changed at the time he was hospitalized. "And again, God, you know, shined his lights on me in 1953 or '54 when they discovered Streptomycin," Starr revealed. "And that's what saved me. So they shipped me off to a greenhouse in the country."

Starr learned how to play the drums during his second hospitalization

During the time he spent at a sanitarium while recovering from tuberculosis, Ringo Starr didn't have much to do at first, according to NPR. He recalled how he and his fellow patients would knit dishcloths to keep themselves busy, but since we can all agree that's barely more exciting than watching paint dry, there was something else that piqued Starr's interest, and that was music.

"Some teacher would come in with musical instruments, being drums, tambourines, maracas, triangles — all percussive stuff," Starr told NPR. "And she put up this big screen ... a big white paper with red notes for the drums, yellow notes for the tambourines and green notes for the triangles. And so she would point to these different colored symbols, and we would either hit or whatever instrument we had." Starr went on to explain that during his first session, he was asked to play the drums, and since he loved it so much, he refused to play any other instrument when the teacher came back a few weeks later.

While playing a musical instrument could serve as a form of physical therapy, Starr clarified that the sanitarium's patients "couldn't get out of bed too often," and that it was a "big deal" when, six months into his stay, he was finally allowed to sit on a chair. It was all about keeping him and the other patients entertained in their otherwise bleak confines.

He still deals with a 'multitude' of allergies

All in all, Ringo Starr spent a combined three years in some sort of medical facility during his childhood, but since he was so far behind academically by the time he had fully recovered from his bout with tuberculosis, he decided it wasn't worth returning to school. It was through one of the menial jobs he worked as a teenager that he discovered skiffle music and got to play in his first band as a drummer (via Biography), and it's safe to say the rest, as they say, is history. But while Ringo was able to recover quite nicely from his childhood health problems, there is one other issue that has remained with him all throughout his life — his many allergies.

According to Rolling Stone, Starr grew up with a "multitude" of allergies, and that's the reason why he's never eaten onions, curry, or even a slice of pizza — ironic, if you consider that he famously appeared in a Pizza Hut ad some time back (via YouTube). And while it's unclear whether his allergies also have something to do with it, Starr is much like his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney in the sense that he's also a vegetarian — he made the decision in 1965 after watching a bullfight in Spain.