John Lennon Admitted He Was Terrified of Getting Killed and Being Seen as a ‘Saint or Martyr’

John Lennon became seen as a sort of martyr after his death. In his life, he explained that he never wanted this.

After John Lennon died, people around the world mourned and treated him like a martyr. He made mistakes during his life, but his sudden, shocking death wiped the slate clean. He became a figure of saint-like proportions. Lennon had no way of knowing this would happen, but he once said the idea of it terrified him. He explained that he took this into consideration with his political activity.

John Lennon worried about being seen as a martyr after his death

After The Beatles broke up, Lennon became outspoken about politics. He hosted bed-ins for peace with Yoko Ono and wrote anti-war songs. He also returned his MBE to protest the British government’s involvement in various conflicts. Lennon explained that he hadn’t wanted to accept the MBE in the first place. It began to gnaw at him.

“Anyway, I sold out, so it was always worrying me, and then the last few years I’d been thinking, ‘I must get rid of that, must get rid of that,’” he said, per The Beatles Anthology. “I was thinking how to do it, and I thought if I did it privately the press — would know anyway, and it would come out; so instead of hiding it, just make an event of the whole situation. So I did it with the MBE. I was waiting for some event to tie it up with, but I realise that this is the event, this is the next peace event going on now.”

While he was politically active, he worried that forms of protest might bring him the wrong sort of attention. He didn’t want someone to harm him because he supported a cause. He also didn’t want people to turn him into a saint in his death.

“Neither of us [Yoko and I] want to make the mistake that Gandhi and Martin Luther King did, which is get killed one way or the other,” he said. “Because people only like dead saints, and I refuse to be a saint or a martyr. So I’m just protesting as a British citizen with his wife against British involvement in Biafra, and voicing the protest in the loudest way I can.”

Paul McCartney complained that people made John Lennon a martyr

Despite Lennon’s concerns, this did happen to a certain extent. After his murder in 1980, many people deified him. They praised his support of peace and inflated the role he played in The Beatles. This bothered Paul McCartney.

“When John got shot, aside from the pure horror of it, the lingering thing was, OK, well now John’s a martyr. A JFK,” McCartney told Esquire. “So what happened was, I started to get frustrated because people started to say, ‘Well, he was The Beatles.’ And me, George and Ringo would go, ‘Er, hang on. It’s only a year ago we were all equal-ish.’ Yeah, John was the witty one, sure. John did a lot of great work, yeah. And post-Beatles he did more great work, but he also did a lot of not-great work. Now the fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean, and beyond. So whilst I didn’t mind that – I agreed with it – I understood that now there was going to be revisionism. It was going to be: John was the one.”

The Beatle received a warning about his death years before it happened

Part of the reason Lennon prematurely worried about his death might have had to do with a warning he received from a psychic. His first wife, Cynthia, explained that in 1966, he received a letter saying he would be shot in America.

“We were both upset by that: The Beatles were about to do their last tour of the States and, of course, we thought the warning referred to that trip,” she wrote. “He had just made his infamous remark about The Beatles being more popular than Christ and the world was in an uproar about it — cranky letters and warnings arrived by every post. But that one had stuck in his mind.”

She said they were both relieved when he returned home safely from his tour. Still, he continued to mention the warning over the years

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