“Her husband may have punched her ticket into the mainstream, but Mrs. Lennon was nobody’s rock & roll fool.”—David Fricke, Rolling Stone.
It’s a shame that Yoko Ono is most remembered for her marriage to John Lennon. Ono is so much more than a wife, a mother, a woman, or any other label we could place on her. Throughout her life, she’s preached world peace, gender equality, and acceptance for all. To this day, well into her 80s, Ono is a working artist and activist—she has let nothing, especially age, stop her. Ono is a role model for all people and has been recognized on numerous occasions for her many accomplishments, the least of which was marriage—I mean, she did it three times in her life, it’s not that special.
On the other hand, Ono’s marriage to Lennon did give her whole career a serious boost and we might not have the inspiring public figure we have today if it were not for Lennon’s own fame. In many ways we owe Lennon for the Ono we have today, but we probably also have Ono to thank for the Lennon we had before his death. The two artists were unstoppable and Ono continues to live that legacy. This list of little-known facts about the wife of John Lennon will definitely make it obvious that Yoko Ono deserves fame in her own right.
“I feel that I am starting a new life, a second life.”—Yoko Ono.
Yoko Ono Facts
42. Celebrity Status
Yoko Ono may be a famous figure, but part of her fame is owed to having had an ultra-famous husband—she was the second wife of John Lennon from The Beatles. The couple first met in 1966 and were married the next year.
41. Bilingual Upbringing
Ono has performed in both Japanese and English and spent most of her childhood years between Tokyo and New York City.
40. Ball and Chained to the Bed
It was no question that Lennon and Ono’s marriage was going to be a public affair. Clearly, this couple was meant to be because they decided to use the opportunity to spread a message of world peace. Their marriage was in 1969 when the Vietnamese War was raging, so they staged a “bed-in” (similar to a “sit-in”) in their honeymoon hotels in Amsterdam and in Montreal surrounded by messages of peace. They invited press in every day to document their honeymoon. Of course, the news outlets were hoping for some sexy action, but that’s not what they got. Instead, they witnessed a non-violent, experimental protest.
39. Famous Last Words
Ono gained a lot of attention when she released a musical album with Lennon called “Double Fantasy.” It was released in 1980 and would go on to top the charts. Unfortunately, it was also the final album released by Lennon before his death.
38. Strong and Free-Flowing
Yoko Ono means “Ocean Child” in Japanese.
Not just a musician, artist, and activist, Ono is also a mother of two! Her first child was a daughter with her second husband Anthony Cox named Kyoko Chan Cox. Her second child was a son with her third husband John Lennon named Sean Taro Ono Lennon.
36. Destined to Be
Ono was a budding musician starting at the very young age of four. She took piano lessons from then until she was about 12 or 13.
35. College Dropout
In Japan, Ono went to a very prestigious, exclusive school for children of Japanese nobility. After graduation, she was the first ever female accepted into the Gakushuin University philosophy program. Ono was a free spirit, though, and the school couldn’t keep her there long; she left after only two semesters.
34. Eloping Isn’t Easy
What better reason to run away than true love? Ono left her prestigious college to run away and marry a big name in experimental Japanese composing, Toshi Ichiyanagi. Their love wasn’t as true as it might’ve seemed at first, though, and they were divorced less than ten years later. This took a toll on Ono and she suffered from clinical depression while living with her parents before spending a brief time at a mental health institution in Japan.
33. Take Two
Surprise! The divorce from Ichiyanagi wasn’t actually finalized before Ono tried to marry her second husband Anthony Cox. The new marriage was annulled until everything from the old marriage was wrapped up. She finally married the American musician and producer in 1963 which was very helpful in getting her out of the mental institution where she had been staying.
32. Famous Friends
Two of the many important names that inspired Ono’s art were avant-garde composer John Cage and Dada artist Marcel Duchamp.
31. A Snip, Snip Here, A Snip, Snip There
Ono dipped her feet into many different artistic disciplines including, famously, performance art. Her most well-known performance art piece was called “Cut Piece,” in which she sits on stage with a pair of scissors and invites audience members to come up and cut a piece of her clothing. Some audience members were shy and took tiny snips at the fabric, but others would approach and slice a bra strap right off her shoulder. Ono accepted any interaction silently to comment on identity issues and violence against women.
30. Performance Juice
Ono’s conceptual art career nicely complimented her performance art career. One of her conceptual art pieces was a book called Grapefruit that documented instructions for different performance pieces, for instance: “Hide and Seek Piece: Hide until everybody goes home.” Sometimes Ono would enact the instructions presented in her little book as performance art pieces in exhibitions.
29. Let’s Make a Movie
Add “experimental filmmaker” to Ono’s long list of artistic career paths. A jack of all artistic trades, Ono made 16 short films in less than ten years and is probably best known for one called Bottoms. In Bottoms, people’s bums can be seen walking on a treadmill for five-and-a-half minutes. The end. We told you it was experimental.
28. Escape Into Entertainment
According to Ono, the one thing you need as an artist is courage, but she believes that is a little-known fact in the public sphere because we seem to only be interested in entertainment that doesn’t force us to think or act.
27. An Artist and a Muse
Not only did Ono make music, but she’s also had plenty of music made about her. The Barenaked Ladies wrote a song about a love affair that they compare to the one between Lennon and Ono. The song is named after her, too: “Be My Yoko Ono.” Ono herself has listened to the song but said it definitely didn’t beat their classic “If I Had a Million Dollars,” which she preferred.
26. The End of an Era
Ono’s full and inspiring life has also brought her some pain and trauma, the worst of which might be standing only a few feet away from John Lennon as one of his unstable, obsessive fans shot him in front of their home in 1980.
25. Pretty Boys
On the topic of men in the media, Ono notes that the pretty men who show their feminine sides are the most popular male. Ono believes that The Beatles pioneered this way of being with their look.
Ono has had some recognition for her artistic actions, including two well deserved Grammy Awards for her work as an artist and producer and as a video producer.
23. You Go, Yoko Ono!
Ono is well-known as a peace activist and her activism lives and breathes through her art. The MoMA presented her work in an exhibition called “Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1970” to display her art and discuss her activism during the Feminist Movement. The Observer Ethical Awards also recognized her for her activism by granting her their Lifetime Achievement Award. For Ono, art is not merely entertainment—it’s a way of expressing yourself and standing up for what you believe in.
22. Rock On
The show must go on! Ono continued her life with Lennon and her musical career by creating an off-Broadway musical called New York Rock. The show features many of her own songs from previous years and loosely tells the story of her and Lennon’s romance.
21. You May Say She’s a Dreamer
In honor of her late husband, Ono erected the Imagine Peace Tower in 2007. Add to her list of artistic pursuits large-scale art installation! This outdoor structure emits light between the days of Lennon’s birthday and death date every year and can be found in Reykjavik, Iceland.
20. Peace, Love, and Grant Money
Also in honor of Lennon’s life, the LennonOno Grant for Peace is given to two recipients biennially who show a commitment to peace and human rights.
19. What the Frack?!
Today, Ono remains an active activist and public figure. An example of her present-day goals is her group Artists Against Fracking that she works on with her son Sean. In 2012, appalled by the prospect of fracking making its way to New York and releasing toxic chemicals into their water and air, Sean and Ono teamed up with as many other artists as possible to get the word out. The group tries to make known the negative impact of fracking and takes peaceful action to stop it.
18. Artsy, Fluxy
Fluxus was an experimental art collective active in New York City in the ‘60s and ‘70s founded by George Maciunas. Maciunas assisted Ono in getting her art recognized by giving her a solo gallery show early in her career. Ono was associated with Fluxus and collaborated on many projects with them.
17. Lights, Camera, Acting!
Like all famous artists inevitably do, Ono has a few acting credits. She appeared on screen in a few short films made with Lennon, but also acted with her voice for the Wes Anderson stop-motion film Isle of Dogs.
16. Credit Where Credit is Due
Imagine all the credit, for working side-by-side… Because of a sound byte of John Lennon saying his hyper-famous song “Imagine” should be partially credited to Ono, the National Music Publishers’ Association has started adding Ono as a songwriter on the piece.
15. Book Worm
Everyone knows the best writers are also avid readers. Ono says her favorite novel then and now remains Gone With the Wind.
14. Night Owl
Inspiration comes at the most random times. For Ono, it often comes in the silence of the middle of the night. This comes with its pitfalls, though, because apparently she’s never been able to sleep continuously for more than four hours. She’s talked to doctors about this scenario and they say it’s nothing to be worried about. So, seize the inspiration when it arises!
Clearly, a clean face and a clean mind lead to clear success for Yoko Ono. Ono reports that she only started wearing makeup after she hit the age of 50 and had never smoked until she met Lennon and he gave her a smoke at the age of 34.
12. A Freezing Fountain of Youth
The secret to staying young as told by Ono? It’s not expensive creams or living your dreams. Nope, she says she still feels like she’s in her 40s because she takes an ice-cold bath every day.
11. Under Wraps
In 1965, Ono created a performance piece called “Sky Piece to Jesus Christ.” The piece was a reference to John Cage’s cult-like following and featured an orchestra playing music while being wrapped in gauze bandages until they can no longer move and play their instruments.
10. Sing It, Sister
After The Beatles, Lennon and Ono started their own band called The Plastic Ono Band. The band was a moniker under which they could present solo and collaborative projects. The band also featured a number of different artists aside from just Lennon and Ono.
9. The Big Bucks
Due to her fame as a peace activist and performance artist, Ono’s net worth is a whopping $600,000,000.
8. Only as Old as You Feel
Ono is still alive and kicking in the music world. She is beating down ageism as she continues to record hit dance tunes. In fact, in 2011 at age 78 she became the oldest person to have a dance song reach number one. Her dance music has even been reinterpreted and remixed by other artists.
7. Who, Me?
One of Ono’s more confusing and conceptual artworks was featured by the MoMA in 1971. Upon arriving at the “exhibition,” audiences were made aware that there was no artwork. Rather, the audience members themselves were the art and were captured on video.
6. Greatest Hits
In 1992 a retrospective of all of Ono’s music (which she had already been making for 11 years prior to her relationship with Lennon) was published, called Onobox. It was a six-CD set and received widespread critical acclaim.
5. She Showed Them
Ono was not always well respected as an artist. Very early in her music career, when she was still attending Sarah Lawrence College, her music teacher deemed her compositions too radical for the school. Later, critics critiqued her music as just being noise, specifically screaming and moaning, and for this reason, her work was largely ignored.
4. Mama’s Boy
While Ono and her son Sean work together to this day, Ono and her stepson Julian, John Lennon’s son with his first wife Cynthia, were not as close. Apparently, Julian was not included in Lennon’s will and was also left out of quality father-son time while Sean got plenty. Ono speculates that Julian won’t get too close to her because he is loyal to his mom and other family members.
3. Doing Time for all Time
Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, has been close to getting parole a number of times since Lennon’s death. Ono has fought the man’s parole on nine occasions for fear for her own life. What’s more, Chapman intentionally took a life and a great talent from the world. Justice must be served.
2. Losing a Mother in Finding the Father
Some of Ono’s heartbreak in life came when her second husband Tony Cox ran away with their daughter Kyoko during a battle for custody. The two joined “The Walk,” a radical religious group. They managed to get out of the group later when Cox realized that it was not the best life choice.
1. War Is Over
Some of Ono’s commitment to world peace throughout her life and career might be due to her childhood during WWII in Japan. Ono and her immediate family survived a US army attack that killed 83,000 people one night in 1945 because they hid underground in a bunker for the duration.