Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, John Bonham, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Keith Moon, Kurt Cobain, and Sam Cooke are just many of the musical legends who died young and became instant cultural icons. We have a perverted fascination with those who create a special body of work, then pop their clogs before they get a chance to tarnish their reputation.
Stuart Sutcliffe, the original bassist with The Beatles, joined this tragic and iconic club in April 1962.
Sutcliffe’s iconic status was assured almost instantly after his death from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 10, 1962. His legend is perpetuated not only by his membership of the most famous group in the history of popular music, but also by his own independent talent and good looks. His close friendship with one half of the 20th century’s most celebrated pair of composers, as well as his battles with the other half, have guaranteed that his name is forever inextricably linked to those of Lennon & McCartney and The Beatles. Indeed Sutcliffe receives credit for conceiving the group’s name. In addition, the details of his tragic love affair with a beautiful German fiancée who helped to shape the group's early image, and his premature death at the age of 22, make for a fascinating story that writes itself perfectly for a film script – and it has.
No fewer than three movies have documented Sutcliffe’s life, most famously the 1994 film Backbeat. However, as early as 1979, the film Birth of the Beatles placed more emphasis on Sutcliffe’s character than those of McCartney or Harrison. In addition to these movies, Sutcliffe has been the subject of some four documentaries and at least five books.
Despite this however, his contribution to The Beatles has often been conveniently played down. Sutcliffe was the musically-bereft James Dean wannabe who was relieved of £65, and selfishly press-ganged into Lennon’s group to provide a backbeat on an instrument he couldn’t play anyway, right? Well, perhaps on the 50th anniversary of his tragic death, this young man’s legacy deserves a second look.
Stuart Victor Ferguson Sutcliffe was born June 22, 1940 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to middle class parents. His father, like John Lennon’s, spent the greater part of the war away at sea. The small, effeminate and sensitive Sutcliffe left grammar school, and with a burgeoning talent for drawing and painting was enrolled at the Liverpool College of Art in 1956 at 16. Moving in Liverpool 8 art school circles, he was introduced to John Lennon sometime in 1957/'58 by fellow student Bill Harry, who later founded the paper- Merseybeat.