John Lennon’s tragic and abrupt death in 1980 left the world stunned. With his enormous musical legacy and vast earnings, the question became, who was going to get the money?
The answer is somewhat complicated, as there has been a lengthy legal battle between John Lennon’s son from his first marriage, Julian Lennon, and John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. The court case went on for sixteen years and while the exact details haven’t been revealed to the public, Julian eventually accepted around $26.3M to drop the lawsuit.
It has been a subject of debate for many years about why Julian was not included in Lennon’s will.
John Lennon met Cynthia Powell at university and married her in 1962 when he learned that she was pregnant. She gave birth to Julian a year later April 8th, 1963. John was an absent father to Julian and did not see his new-born son until three days after his birth, as he was on tour at the time, then immediately returned to touring after that.
John’s marriage to Cynthia and Julian’s birth was reportedly kept a secret from the public as the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, believed they would hurt the band’s commercial success. John was found by Cynthia with Yoko Ono in their home and she left to go stay with friends.
She was later informed that John wanted a divorce, the case was settled out of court and a trust fund was set up for Julian, which he would inherit when he turned 21.
John and Cynthia divorced in November 1968 and Julian only saw his father sporadically afterward, sometimes even going years without seeing him at all. In fact, Paul McCartney allegedly wrote the hit song “Hey Jude” to comfort Julian after his parent’s divorce (it was originally called “Hey Jules”) and overall was a father figure to him in ways his biological father was not.
John Lennon famously met Yoko Ono at an art gallery in London in 1966 after being introduced by the gallery owner. From there they began seeing each other and after John divorced Cynthia, he and Yoko got married in March 1969 and had a son, Sean Lennon, in 1975 after several miscarriages.
Unlike Julian, who had a distant relationship with his father, John spent much of Sean’s infancy with him as a househusband while Yoko pursued her artistic career, which was the condition she gave John when she discovered she was pregnant.
After John’s death on the 8th of December 1980, Yoko Ono was left in charge of John’s estate and had power of attorney. Yoko and Sean were left nearly everything of John’s $264M million fortune while Julian only had the trust fund set up after John and Cynthia’s divorce.
He was famously unhappy with this and believed that Yoko had influenced John into favoring Sean over him. He ended up spending some of the money he got from the court case buying some of John’s possessions back.
Julian has stated in an interview concerning his father;
“I have to say that, from my point of view, I felt he was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son,”
However, now Julian seems to have come to terms with his strained relationship with his father and appears to have buried the hatchet with Yoko. He maintains he thought she was ‘manipulative’, but has said he is willing to get along with her for the sake of his half-brother, Sean, whom he seems to have a good relationship with despite Sean undoubtedly being the favorite child.
It was Julian who bought Sean his first guitar and taught him how to play it and Yoko approached Julian for advice on how to break the news of John’s death to Sean. Both brothers have ended up pursuing musical careers, thanks to a love of music instilled in them from a very young age.
Julian has also written a children’s book and set up a charity inspired by a story John told him as a boy, the White Feather Foundation.
Although we may never know the real reasons John Lennon left his will as he did, it seems that both Julian and Sean have been able to move past his legacy and forge their own lives.