A comment made by John Lennon about The Beatles being more popular than Christ sparked a controversy which led to death threats, protests and eventually became the reason for the death of Lennon. In 1966, during an interview, Lennon was talking about the decline in the number of people going to the church and ended up giving a controversial statement.
The interview was first published in a London based magazine named London Evening Standard, in March 1966 and nobody found anything offensive in it at that time. The interview was taken by a young and talented journalist, Maureen Cleave, who was like a friend to the Beatles. Despite all the money and fame, Lennon didn’t seem to be very happy with his life. At that time, he was said to be under the influence of some books based on the concept of religion which he had read during the break from his professional commitments, which along with the comfort of the interviewer being a close friend, might have been instrumental in triggering these words from Lennon’s mouth.
Not Too Big A Deal
In England, people didn’t notice of this interview, thinking Lennon to be a young pop star obsessed with himself and his work. Also, the comment made by Lennon wasn’t hugely revolutionary for the people of England, as many satirists were already making fun of the helplessness of churches in the country. Even the staff of the magazine didn’t give too much importance to the ‘Jesus’ comment and didn’t even highlight the comment, let alone making it a headline.
It was when the interview got published in the American magazine, ‘Datebook,’ it turned into a big controversy. Interestingly, The Beatles themselves asked Arthur Unger, the editor of the magazine and a friend of the band, to publish the article, tipping it to be in line with the style of the magazine. As the edition of the magazine carrying the interview hit the newsstands, the uproar against the Beatles slowly started coming up.
The Time the Controversy Caught Up
Tommy Charles, the DJ of a radio station in Alabama, was the first one to point out the offensiveness of Lennon’s comment and banned the band’s songs on his network. It wouldn’t have turned into this big a controversy if Al Benn, the manager of United Press in the Birmingham office, hadn’t listened to Tommy Charles on the radio while going to work. Benn took this controversy among the people by filing a story about boycotting the band.
The situation went out of control from here on, and people started burning the albums of the band on roads as a mark of their protests. Many began to threaten people not to attend the concerts of the band. The band’s American tour was around the corner, and the band members started getting a lot of death threats. John Lennon himself came in front of the media to apologize for his comments to cool off the sentiments of the people. Though the tour went well without any significant mishap taking place, the members of the band were never the same after that controversy. In 1980, this comment of John Lennon became the reason for his assassination.