John Lennon ‘Really Loved’ Stuart Sutcliffe but Saw Him as a ‘Mental Rival’

John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe were friends, but also in competition with one another. It may have been one-sided on Lennon’s end, though.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were close confidantes, but one of the most important people in the former’s life was Stuart Sutcliffe. Lennon and Sutcliffe met as students at art college and quickly grew close. Even years after Sutcliffe’s death, Lennon spoke about him often. Lennon loved Sutcliffe and valued his friendship, but he also viewed him as a rival.

John Lennon saw his close friend Stuart Sutcliffe as a rival

Lennon and Sutcliffe were outwardly different — Lennon was loud and constantly getting in trouble, whereas Sutcliffe was a dedicated student. Still, their personalities were similar, and they got along well. Lennon viewed Sutcliffe as a brother, but he could never bring himself to tell him.

“They had similar outlooks on life, and attitudes,” Sutcliffe’s girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr said in the book Lennon: The Definitive Biography by Ray Coleman. “John really loved Stuart, in the best sense, but Stuart was never made aware of that love and worried about it. John always had to be the hard man, teasing Stuart about his looks, his bass playing, his singing, anything. Stuart took it all, and, being highly intelligent and sensitive, never replied much. John would know how far he could go.”

Kirchherr believed that Lennon saw Sutcliffe as a rival. He was a talented artist who inspired Lennon to be better. He was gifted enough, though, that Lennon fell into competition with him. Unfortunately, this meant he couldn’t express his emotions.

“[S]omething deep inside John stopped him from putting his hand on Stuart’s shoulder and saying: ‘Hey, I love you.’ Which he did,” she said. “I think John regarded Stuart as a mental rival.”

John Lennon could be quite mean to Stuart Sutcliffe

Viewing Sutcliffe as a rival meant Lennon often lashed out at him. He could be vicious to anyone near him, but those who knew him said he was particularly harsh with Sutcliffe.

“He was a bit aggressive at first. If he found he could browbeat you then you were under his thumb,” his friend Bill Harry told The Guardian. “He used to treat Stuart [Sutcliffe] really badly at times, humiliate him in front of people. At college girls would be chatting in the corridor, and when John walked by they’d shut up and shiver. He had a bit of an acid tongue.”

Despite this, Lennon thought of Sutcliffe as a soul mate.

He was a good influence on the Beatle

Sutcliffe may have been a rival to Lennon, but he was also a good influence on him. Lennon was tough and aggressive, but Sutcliffe had a calming influence on him. Lennon realized he could let his guard down around Sutcliffe.

“Woolton was a genteel area but he didn’t want to be regarded as a genteel lad, so he played a hard role,” Lennon’s first wife Cynthia explained. “It was his friendship with Stuart and then with me that changed him and made him realize there was no need for that acting at all.”

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