Although he has often been mocked for being the most overlooked of the Beatles, there are few people who would deny that Ringo Starr had the most memorable-sounding name in that band. And while a lot has been said about the extent of his role in the Beatles, nobody can deny that Starr left an important impact upon pop culture during his lifetime. But where did Ringo come from? What did he do after the Beatles split up? Here are 44 stormy facts about everyone’s favorite drummer, Ringo Starr.
1. Isn’t That a Paradox?
Depending on how you look at it, Ringo Starr was both the oldest and the youngest of the Beatles. He was the last one to join the group, as he was replacing their original drummer Pete Best. But, he was also born before John, Paul, and George.
2. A Starr is Born
Richard Starkey was born July 7, 1940, in the Liverpool district of Dingle. He was the only child of Richard Starkey Sr. and Elsie Gleave, who both worked as confectioners.
3. We All Start Somewhere!
Starr’s love for music emerged at the age of 13, while he was staying in the hospital recovering from tuberculosis. During his extended stay, Starr joined fellow patients to form a hospital band. Starr’s first “drum” was a cotton bobbin that he used as a mallet to hit the cabinets in his hospital room.
4. Simple Enough!
You might be wondering just what inspired Starr’s famous stage name. He first developed that name in the late 1950s while he was a struggling musician. At the time, he wasn’t part of the Beatles, but instead, he played drums for a band called the Raging Texans. Starr chose his new surname because he felt it made people think of American country music.
His first name, Ringo, was inspired by all the rings that he wore on his fingers. Those fingers (and “the RING!”) would later play a starring role in the movie Help!
5. When the Paths First Crossed
Speaking of the Raging Texans, they ended up changing their name to the Hurricanes by the time Starr was recruited. They became highly successful for a Liverpool band, touring abroad in France and Germany. It was during this 1960 German tour, in the city of Hamburg, where Ringo Starr first met a scrappy young band comprised of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison.
The rest is history—but we’ll go over it anyway.
6. The Stink of the Streets
During his childhood, Starr’s home neighborhood of Dingle was infamous for its low-income residents and rampant crime. Starr’s home was dilapidated and cramped, later described as “a Dickensian chronicle of misfortune.” As for Starr himself, he later explained that in order to survive his neighborhood, he learned that you “kept your head down, your eyes open, and you didn’t get in anybody’s way.”
7. Good Old Harry!
One of the men who made the biggest difference in Starr’s life was his stepfather, Harry Graves. After marrying Starr’s mother in 1954, he served as a stable father figure in Starr’s life. Graves even bought Starr his first drum kit in 1957. Starr later claimed that he’d never had a single bad experience with Graves, claiming that he “learned gentleness” from his “great” stepdad.
8. The Fact of the Matter
For all the jokes that people make about Starr’s lack of importance in the Beatles, he was actually far more successful than his future bandmates when he first met them! As a member of the Hurricanes, Starr billed higher than the Beatles and was paid significantly more than John, Paul, and George, even though they’d been in Hamburg for a longer period of time.
In fact, the Hurricanes turned down the chance to go to Hamburg several times because they were in such demand that it didn’t seem worthwhile!
9. The Apple Didn’t Fall Far
Dancy has always been one of Starr’s passions. Both his parents frequently danced in ballrooms, and Starr inherited this love from them. During his early days with the Beatles, Starr quickly established a reputation as a party animal, going out to dance late into the night. Starr later reflected that he “lived in nightclubs for three years. It used to be a non-stop party.”
10. I Ain’t No Square!
Another record which Ringo Starr holds among his famous bandmates is that he was the first Beatle to try cannabis. In August 1964, the Beatles were introduced to American folk star Bob Dylan. When Dylan offered cannabis cigarettes for them to try, most of the band was too hesitant to take him up on the offer. Starr, however, agreed to light one up.
11. I’m in! No Wait, I’m Out!
One of Starr’s first jobs as a young man was serving drinks on a day boat. The boat made regular voyages from Liverpool to North Wales. However, it was this seafaring which caused Starr to quit his waiter job soon after. At the time, the Royal Navy still conscripted men into the service, and Starr was worried that his experience on a boat would cause them to conscript him.
12. Mama’s Boy
Ringo Starr spent most of his life being raised by his mother, as his parents were divorced by the time that he was a toddler. Starr’s mother was overprotective and completely devoted to her only child, even though she was forced to work several different jobs to make ends meet.
13. What a Deadbeat
By contrast, Starr’s relationship with his biological father was basically nonexistent. Even before the separation, Starr’s father preferred going out to the bar to spending time with his son. As a result, Starr later reflected that he had almost no memories of his father.
14. Not a Good Start…
Despite John Lennon’s inviting him to join the Beatles, Ringo Starr struggled to impress their producer, George Martin. During his first recording session with the Beatles, Starr was “trying to play the percussion and the drums at the same time.” When that didn’t succeed, Martin demoted Starr. During their second recording session, drummer Andy White was brought in for the song “Love Me Do,” while poor Starr was stuck playing the tambourine!
15. A Slow Uphill Battle
Due to Starr’s frequent childhood visits to the hospital, he fell very far behind in his education. This was a serious blow to his self-esteem, especially when he did go to school and tried to catch up to his classmates. It wasn’t until secondary school that Starr found subjects that he was good at, like art, drama, and mechanics.
16. Make Sure to Get a Doctor’s Note!
Starr’s propensity for falling ill didn’t stop when he became an adult. In 1964, just before the Beatles were set to make a global music tour, Starr was hit with tonsillitis, pharyngitis, and a high fever—all at once. While he stayed in the hospital and spent several days recuperating, he was temporarily replaced on the tour by drummer Jimmie Nicol.
At the time, Starr later admitted, he was terrified that Nicol was going to replace him permanently. Luckily, Starr made a full recovery and rejoined his bandmates in Melbourne.
17. A Whole Different Kind of Mania
Although Pete Best has long been overlooked in favor of Ringo replacing him, the initial response among Beatles’ fans was outraged indignation on Best’s part. Fans of Best even harassed the Beatles with chants that went “Pete forever! Ringo never!” Things even escalated to violence. George Harrison once received a black eye from an irate Best loyalist.
18. My Turn at the Mic!
Aside from being the Beatles’ drummer, Ringo Starr also occasionally lent his vocals to their songs. The most famous example of this was the song “Yellow Submarine,” wherein Starr actually sang the lead vocals rather than Paul or John. It was also the only time a Starr-led song reached #1 at the British music charts.
19. You Can Take Ringo Out of the Hood…
It took a long time for Ringo Starr to put his days of poverty behind him, and he was still struggling with that transition even at the height of his Beatles fame. Even when he was one of the biggest stars in the world—no pun intended—Starr insisted on being paid in cash every week rather than a check.
20. Right or Wrong?
Ringo Starr was born left-handed. However, he grew up in a time when left-handedness was discouraged and even suppressed. This happened to him thanks to the efforts of his grandmother. As a result, he was pushed to learn how to write with his right hand. The lessons left a bizarre effect on him, however, as he allegedly plays left-handed on a right-handed drum kit!
21. A Barrel of Laughs!
We mentioned in our list of facts about George Harrison that he was a big fan of the British comedy troupe Monty Python, and even financed one of their films. Like Harrison, Starr was also a fan of Monty Python. While he didn’t produce their work, he did make an acting appearance in their BBC comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
22. First to Break Away
Believe it or not, it was Ringo Starr who was the first Beatle to sing on another artist’s show without the other Beatles in tow. In Starr’s case, he sang a duet with Cilla Black on her BBC program Cilla in 1968.
23. Reaching for the Silver Lining
During his youth, Ringo Starr lived in such a state of poverty that he tried to get a job with British Rail simply because they provided their workers with a uniform. Starr’s efforts proved in vain, as he failed the physical examination required for a railway worker. However, he was at least granted unemployment benefits for his troubles.
24. A Remarkable Meet-Cute
In 1965, Starr performed as part of the Beatles in Shea Stadium. Among the vast crowds of people cheering them on, one of them was a young woman named Barbara Bach, who went on to have an acting career which included playing a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me. 16 years after that concert in Shea Stadium, Bach became Starr’s second wife.
Since then, they have stayed together through thick and thin—more on that later.
25. Prove Me Wrong!
While it’s hard to verify, Ringo Starr recently claimed that he was the first man to ever take a selfie. He did so back in the 1960s when he took a picture of himself in the mirror. Whether he really was the first man or not is debatable, of course, but we won’t argue with a former Beatle about it!
26. Living Smart for Once
Following his rough childhood and his tempestuous early adulthood, Starr has made great leaps in finding inner peace. Not only does he practice meditation on a daily basis, he also adopted an active and vegetarian lifestyle. If you’re wondering why he looks so good for his age, we’ve got a few good ideas!
27. Bunch of Wankers…
Following the breakup of the Beatles, Starr’s music career floundered during the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike his former bandmates’ diverse and successful ventures into solo work during that time, Starr became the first Beatle to be rejected by a record company. To add insult to injury, the record company in question was EMI Records, the same one which had produced the Beatles when they were together.
We’re not surprised that Starr became bitter!
28. Branching Out
Although Starr continues to make music to this day, his patchy success since the Beatles has meant that he attempted several different kinds of careers in between releasing albums. Among his more interesting occupations include working for Tower Records in London, and running a 60s-style boutique. We can’t help but find the latter to be the most fitting post-Beatles job that Starr could ever have.
29. What Would They Do Without Me?
Although much has been said about Starr’s lack of involvement in the Beatles’ songwriting, Starr was essential to the creative process. Behind the scenes, Starr’s quips and jokes helped inspire some of the Beatles’ most unforgettable titles and lyrics. It was Starr who once commented “It’s been a hard day’s night,” which not only became a song, but also a whole movie!
30. Narrowly Averted Crisis
Long before he joined the Beatles, Starr came very close to death during his youth. At the age of six, Starr fell into a coma due to the effects of peritonitis. He didn’t come out of the coma for days and didn’t fully recover from his illness for an entire year! As we’ve already covered, it wasn’t the last time he dealt with a major illness, but it was definitely the most serious.
31. I’m Ready for My Close-Up!
As a member of the Beatles, Starr began acting in films that were focused entirely around the Beatles, including A Hard Day’s Night. Critics at the time praised his acting skills as being highlights of said film, even comparing his physical acting to Charlie Chaplin. Following the Beatles’ breakup, Starr continued acting in films. The quality of those films is highly debatable, but his acting career certainly outlasted those of his bandmates!
32. Hello Again, Old Friend
In 2019, Starr broke his usual close-mouthed approach to the press and opened up about the death of his former bandmate, John Lennon. That year, he’d been gifted with an old demo track recorded by Lennon just before he died. At the beginning of the track, Lennon speaks to an associate about how Starr would love the track.
As Starr put it: “I well up every time I think [about it]—he’s talking about me. He says, ‘Hey, Ringo, this’d be great for you.’ And I can’t help myself. I’m emotional now thinking of him 40 years ago talking about me [and] thinking of me.”
33. For the Kids
One of the most enduring aspects of Ringo Starr’s legacy was his involvement in the popular children’s franchise Thomas the Tank Engine. Starr narrated two seasons of the television series Thomas & Friends from 1984 until 1986 and then appeared onscreen as Mr. Conductor in the 1989 season of Shining Time Station.
Starr returned to the iconic franchise in 2009 to provide the voice for Thomas in The Official BBC Children in Need Medley.
34. False Alarm!
In recent years, Starr made headlines when he allegedly admitted that a long-lasting bit of Beatles gossip was true. Specifically, the rumor claims that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966 and was replaced with a lookalike, who has been impersonating him all these years. In 2015, the Mirror claimed that Starr confessed the truth during an interview with the Hollywood Inquirer.
However, the Hollywood Inquirer doesn’t actually exist, and the dialogue was entirely fabricated.
35. Better Than Jail Time!
Living such a turbulent lifestyle as he did during the 1970s and 1980s, Starr had several brushes with the law. During the late 1980s, Starr was fined by the police for possession of drugs. Even weirder, he was also written up for the theft of a car radio.
36. Makes for an Awkward Thanksgiving…
Speaking of his being a father, Starr struggled greatly with that paternal role, especially given his own upbringing. Although his sons Zak and Jason followed Starr’s footsteps and became accomplished drummers, they haven’t been shy to admit that “being Ringo’s son is the biggest drag in my life. It’s a total pain.”
37. Let’s All Be Mates!
Despite any feelings of isolation that he had while he was in the Beatles, Ringo Starr’s affable nature and cheerful personality meant that he was often the mediator between the group’s more fiery types. In 1970, Starr was the one who was sent to see Paul McCartney in Scotland to try and persuade him not to leave the Beatles.
While it didn’t work, it speaks volumes that they chose him to ask Paul in the first place. Later, Starr was the one helping out on all of his former bandmates’ solo efforts.
38. I’ll Take That Victory!
Despite many setbacks in his post-Beatles music career, it hasn’t all been bad news for Starr. Although Paul McCartney can claim the most successful career of his fellow bandmates, Starr holds the record for having the most solo Top Ten hits in the US—admittedly, you have to exclude any of McCartney’s Top Ten hits when he was with the band Wings.
39. Loyal to the End
Interestingly, while John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono has famously been labeled as the primary reason for the Beatles’ breakup, Starr remained on friendly terms with both of them. When Lennon was going through his divorce from Cynthia Lennon, Starr graciously allowed Lennon and Ono to stay in his London apartment.
Years later, when Lennon was murdered, Starr flew to New York City to be with Ono as she grieved. Ono never forgot Starr’s kindness and remained on friendly terms with him from then on.
40. Desperate Measures
Ringo Starr received the scare of his life in 1965 when someone telephoned him and issued a death threat just before he was set to perform a show in Montreal. Starr was so fearful of an assassination attempt that he repositioned the cymbals on his drum set, so they sat vertically rather than horizontal. He was hoping that the cymbals might block a bullet and save his life!
41. Unhappily Ever After
During the early 1960s, before the Beatles had reached the heights of superstardom, one of their biggest fans was a young hairstylist named Maureen Cox. Cox was sweet on Starr, and the two of them were married in 1965. However, Starr was ill-prepared for fame and wealth, and he quickly became addicted to alcohol and drugs.
Meanwhile, Cox wasn’t just harassed by lovesick Beatle fans, she was also subjected to domestic abuse by Starr. Starr later ruefully admitted that he’d been very cruel to Cox, describing himself bluntly as “a drunk, a wife-beater, and an absent father.”
42. Who’s Cutting Onions in Here?
Even after all the horrible things that he put his wife Maureen through, Ringo Starr managed to make amends with her, but only long after both had married other people. In the early 1990s, Maureen contracted leukemia, and despite a bone marrow transplant from her son, the disease took her life in 1995. Reportedly, both her second husband and Starr were present at the end, holding her hands until her final moment of life.
43. Digging a Hole
During his creative slump in the 1980s, Ringo Starr lived a hard life of chemical dependence and luxurious spending. After his first marriage fell apart, Starr was accompanied on these misadventures by his second wife, Barbara, who indulged in drugs and alcohol alongside her husband. This shared lifestyle led to a downward spiral of blackouts and violence.
44. Rock Bottom
Starr later recalled that he finally came to his senses after one of these blackouts: “I came to one Friday afternoon and was told by the staff that I had trashed the house so badly they thought there had been burglars, and I’d trashed Barbara so badly they thought she was dead.” Following that traumatic experience, Starr and Barbara finally sobered up during the late 1980s, and have been together ever since.