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Fifth Beatle: Stuart Sutcliffe – Gone But Not Forgotten

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Two guys sitting in a bar having a great time and very much intoxicated, they amusingly mimic a girl singing on stage. They are very humored by this form of entertainment while completely suspended from sensibility. Next thing they know one of them is pinned to the ground and gets the beating of his life! His best friend, John Lennon, tries to defend him the best as he could and even gets his wrist broken in the process. Bludgeoned and almost covered in blood, Stuart Sutcliffe gets kicked in the head extremely hard, which many believed is what triggered the brain hemorrhage that lead to his death in 1962. The Beatles will never be the same again.

Born on the 23rd of June, 1940, Stuart Ferguson Victor Sutcliffe was a quiet, good looking, but very shy lad. He had personal charisma and looks comparable to James Dean. He would often reserve away from the female gender, but still would not have any trouble having them as companions. His passion for art was not just a hobby but more of a way of life. Every stroke of paint that he put onto a canvass was an expression of a different aspect of himself. By the age of 19, he was already considered as one of the most promising and talented students at the Liverpool College of Arts. While Sutcliffe was a gifted artist, he also had an interest with music; this was mainly influenced by his friendship with John Lennon. Stu would hang around with John’s group during gigs and rehearsals while doing his work. This almost brought a concern to his fellow artists that he might abandon his first love, painting. But nevertheless, he was still just as interested in art as he always had been.

As Stu and John’s college years progressed, they developed a remarkable friendship that would be envied almost by everyone around at that time (who wouldn’t!) they would rely on each other for anything anytime. Stu would influence John to express his creative side while John on the other hand, would tell Stu to relax a bit more and teach him how to connect with others. Both of them cherished this and became the best of friends. As Stuart further expounded his skills for art he decided to enter some of his paintings for the John Moore exhibition which was regarded as one of the best around for its type. John(Lennon) was so excited for Stu that he even brought his Aunt Mimi to the exhibit to flaunt his best friend’s work. This also caught the attention of the host (John Moore) and even bought one of Stu’s paintings for an unheard sum of 65 pounds! Having received this large sum of money, Stu didn’t exactly knew what to do with it. Sure he had a few debts here and there or maybe he should buy more painting materials to further support his craft, but instead John convinced him to buy a bass guitar (Hofner President) and join his group, Johnny & the Moondogs. Although Stu didn’t really know how to play and had to turn down John a couple of times, he finally decided to give it a go and this would turn out to be one of the most important decisions that he would make in his life. Never mind that he couldn’t play he would eventually pick it up by self-teaching and “with a little help from his friends.”

Years later George (Harrison) would recall in one interview: “Stu had no idea how to play, we all showed him what we could but he really picked it up by coming around with us and playing onstage.” Although it became clear to everyone including John, that Stuart would never be as excellent a musician as he was a brilliant artist. The group would turn his amp off whenever he couldn’t follow a song or was having a difficult time finishing it. Stu on the other hand, would rather turn his back to the crowd during live gigs for them not to notice his flaw.

However because of this, he was able to embody that distinctive sense of style and mystery to the band’s appearance. Shortly after a few gigs in their local area, the boys got an invitation to play in a club somewhere in Hamburg. But before flying-off, they had to undergo a series of modifications of their band’s name; from Johnny & the Moondogs, to the Silver Beetles, until finally Stu came up with just “The Beetles.” Stuart was thinking of a name that would resemble Buddy Holly & the Cricketts since John and Paul (McCartney) were into them at that time.

Later the second “e” was dropped and instead was replaced by an “a” since John had specified that “we’re a beat group.”

Meanwhile back in Hamburg, a couple were having a lover’s quarrel when the guy, Klaus Voorman (who later went on to design the cover of Revolver) decided to walk out and just wander the streets of Hamburg for some fresh air until he found himself walking into a club and heard a performance by a group of musicians from Liverpool. He was also so enthralled by this and ran back to his (then) lover, Astrid Kircherr, to tell her about them. They began to talk to these boys after the performance and right away there was an immediate connection between Stuart and Astrid. Even though there was a huge communication gap, the two fell in love instantly with each other.

Stuart would try his best to understand Astrid’s German and vice-versa but this didn’t stop them from expressing their feelings for one another. As Stuart’s fondness with Astrid grew more, he would eventually move in to the Kircherr residence and spend more time with her while constructing more of his amazing artwork. Being a photographer and an artist, Astrid would become a major influence to Stuart’s prominence and style. She would cut Stu’s hair and become the first Beatle to sport the “moptop” which John initially found laughable but eventually adopted – like the others. She also designed the band’s famous collarless suits, her sense and style influenced and contributed to the band’s early look.

But during the course of their relationship, Stu began having violent headaches that would cause him to pass out frequently. After Stuart’s headaches began advancing to even more dangerous levels, he started spending more time resting in the attic of the Kircherr home where he did his paintings. But his love for Astrid would never falter, in less than two months, they were engaged and he decided to leave the band for a new way of life and to pursue the enhancement of his artistic skills.

He would be replaced by Paul from second lead to become the new bassist and this would be the start of what would become known as the “Fab Four.” On April 10, 1962, Stuart was having another one of his severe headaches and he was rushed to the hospital. On the way, he passed away and was pronounced dead by 4:30 p.m. “He died in my arms on that journey. I cannot say it was unexpected but the suddenness…the loss to me was tragic,” Astrid recalls that day.

Two days later, the Beatles would return to Hamburg to begin their Star Club residency. All four, especially John, was so eager to see their good friend, not knowing the depressing news that they were about to receive. Astrid had the difficult task of telling John that his best friend had already passed away. John didn’t show his real feelings, since he wasn’t the type but deep inside everything came as a shock. Stuart was buried at Huyton Parish Church Coventry in Stanley Road, Huyton, Liverpool. To this day, Astrid still lights a candle in memory of him.

Nevertheless, Stuart’s importance to the group came from his artistic rather than his musical talent. Injected by the group’s rebellious spirit of Rock n’ Roll, it was regarded that their sound was “the Punk” of its day. So before the screaming girls, before the British invasion and way before Ringo, there was Stuart Sutcliffe, the fifth Beatle and a talent that should never be forgotten. (Pau T)

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  • Guppusmaximus

    I have to say what an excellent article….
    The talent hasn’t been forgotten. I went to the R’n’R Hall of Fame when they were having a huge tribute to Lennon and one of the rooms was dedicated to Stuart because he was a huge factor in one of the most successful bands on the planet.

  • http://www.nellieoapple.net nellie o apple

    I felt sadness in my heart.

  • http://www.nellieoapple.net nellie o apple

    So he was the 5th Beatle!

  • Dan

    A worthless article. Didn’t it occur to you to actually review the book, instead of just rehashing what most fans already know anyway?

  • José

    I agree with Dan. This article is irrelevant cause I don´t know if the book is worth reading.

  • carolynshute

    Last Night I watched a programe called “Stuart Sutcliffe: The Last Beatle”.I found it very moving and extremely sad. What a waste of an extremely gifted and talented young man. I thought that “Agie” and stuarts’ sister were very brave in recounting there memories of there loss. My heart felt for them a to John Lennon who obviously had the strongest of bonds with him! I know now I’ll never forget his story.

  • http://treadmarkz.wordpress.com Tread

    He is the fourth Beatle, Pete Best is the 5th and Ringo, oddly enough is the 6th Beatle.

  • Sarah Baehler

    I agree, this is just an article which rehashes the story of Stuart but doesn’t say anything about the book itself. But I found the article very good. I’ve read the book and I’ve found it so moving, a great tribute to Stuart who died too soon! I can say its worth reading it!! honestly, I was captured by Pauline’s closeness to Stuart. The book burrows a lot interesting comments by Pauline about what exactly might have caused Stuart’s sudden death etc. I’ve seen the movie too, and I’ll never forget Stuart either!

  • David B

    Loved the article,born in 1961 I ddn’t know any of this part of Beate history. Thanks really enjoyed the read

  • http://www.beatlemaniac.co.uk colin unwin

    I felt so much pain for Stuart… that I took it on to look after his grave at hyton cemetry .blue bell lane liverpool.

    god bless him..

  • colin unwin

    Please read my web, I have visited stuarts grave for 14 years…

  • colin unwin

    I also visit the ballroom where the Beatles were attacked by a gang of teddybots..

  • colin unwin

    I always visit his familee home ( which is a small hotel on the edge of Sefton park)

    I have a cup of tea and look at his memrobilia on the walls of the hotel..Then I drive up the road to Stuarts old flat..where he was dropped off , on that bad night, He was covered in blood….

  • sheila

    As an ex girlfriend of Stuart’s during 1959 before he was influenced by John Lennon.I recall a lovely, shy, honest, sensitive person
    who loved Elvis, The Platters, Johnny Mathis. We would sit for hours talking and listening to his records in his flat in Percy Street. He wrote me lovely poetry and love letters and was a very genuine nice guy
    Lovely memories.