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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 00:05 GMT 01:05 UK
Ono's life without Lennon
Yoko Ono
Yoko's music has rarely attracted critical approval

The artist and singer Yoko Ono has a high profile largely due to two things - her marriage to John Lennon and the part she played when the Beatles split.

But throughout her life she has also carved out a career as an avant-garde artist, musician and film-maker.

It was her art that initially attracted Lennon back in 1966, when he strolled in to one of her exhibitions in London.

He famously picked up one of the exhibits - a green apple labelled Apple - and took a bite out of it.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Lennon and Ono staged peace "bed-ins" in 1969
"Oh, I was terribly cross," she later told the Observer newspaper. "He'd been showing his sophisticated artist side, and then he suddenly did that and I thought 'oh dear'."

The two got together not long after, breaking up Lennon's marriage to his first wife Cynthia, and pursued an alternative lifestyle in New York.

Solitary

But Ono's unconventional approach could not be further removed from her "claustrophobic", upper-class upbringing in Tokyo, Japan, where she was born in 1933.

Ono is a descendant of a Ninth-Century emperor and also Zenjiro Yasuda, the founder of the Yasuda Bank and head of one of Japan's richest business cartels.


I deal with music of the mind

Yoko Ono

Her early childhood in Japan appeared to be quite a solitary one, and she did not meet her father Eisuke Ono until she was aged two, due to his job as a banker in San Francisco.

The family did live together during World War II, however, and were forced to flee to the countryside after a raid on Tokyo in 1945.

It was during this time that Ono experienced real hunger and deprivation, and the wealthy children were not popular with their countryside counterparts.

They returned to Tokyo later that year, and she attended one of the city's most elite schools, along with the two sons of Emperor Hirohito.

Sir Paul McCartney
McCartney and Ono do not always see eye to eye
By 1953, Ono moved with her family to New York, where Ono went to Sarah Lawrence College - the same college attended by Linda McCartney, the late wife of Sir Paul.

Rebel

But the teenager, who was living with her parents, began to rebel against their lifestyle and her classical music classes.

When she found that fellow Japanese musician Toshi Ichiyangi shared her aspirations, she married him in 1956, despite her parents' protests.

Ono continued with her art, including a stage performance of A Grapefruit in the World of Park, which included a toilet-flush as part of the musical effect.

Yoko Ono
Ono recently attended a ceremony for Liverpool's John Lennon airport
Her parents pressured her to return from Manhattan to Tokyo, which she did, but was said to have become depressed there and attemped an overdose.

During this era her relationship with Ichiyangi was faltering, but they returned to the States, where Ono met US jazz musician and film producer Anthony Cox.

She soon fell for the musician and divorced Ichiyangi.

Ono and Cox had their only daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox in 1963, before separating the following year.

Bottoms

Her artistic pursuits continued unabated.

One memorable event was a performance of Cut Piece, in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1965, in which she invited audience members to cut pieces of her clothing off.

John Lennon museum
Tokyo has a John Lennon museum
Another concept was Bottoms, a film simply revealing 365 "intelligent-looking" bare behinds.

Her art received mixed reviews in the US, but it went down well in the UK, not least with Lennon.

Their mutual respect and fascination for each other sparked a relationship which went public in 1968, instantly capturing the media's attention.

Lennon and Ono continued to hit headlines with their famous "bed-in", held in an Amsterdam hotel room during their honeymoon in 1969, as well as their campaigns for world peace.

But the Beatles' split in 1970 prompted fans to deride Ono as having pushed her husband into going solo.

Affair

She survived this, but her tempestuous relationship with Lennon broke up in 1973.

The former Beatle went on to have an affair with his assistant, May Pang before reuniting with his wife the following year.

Their only son, Sean, was born in 1975 and the couple remained together until Lennon's death in 1980, when he was shot outside their New York apartment.

The news shocked the world, and Ono had to do her grieving in public under the glare of the world's media.

Stability

Since then, she has rebuilt her life and released three music albums, performed two concert tours and written two off-Broadway musicals, most recently one called Hiroshima.

She remains cagey about her love life, but appears to have had at least one long-term relationship.

Throughout all of this, her devotion to her art has never faltered, perhaps because it offers some sort of stability.

She appeared to confirm this when she said of her career: "My work is my security blanket against so much that has happened to me."

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Music
18 Jun 02 | Showbiz
30 Nov 01 | Music
14 May 01 | Music
06 Dec 00 | Entertainment
20 Oct 00 | Entertainment
03 Oct 00 | Americas
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