Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan
Race or Ethnicity: Asian
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Artist, Musician
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Impenetrable musician, wife of John Lennon
Yoko Ono is the daughter of a Japanese pianist who gave up his career to marry into money -- Ono's mother was the granddaughter of the founder of Yasuda Bank. Young Yoko was educated at Gakushuin School, considered among that nation's most prestigious private schools. She learned piano and studied opera from a very early age, and her classmates included the children of the Emperor.
In 1945, her mother either suspected or was warned that America would bomb Tokyo, and took the family to safety far from the city before the bombs began falling. 1952, Ono returned to America to attend Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied music and showed a keen interest in avant-garde, minimalist, or simply bizarre music. She began staging performances of her own experimentalist music, including a composition that included the sounds of a toilet flushing.
Ono married composer and pianist Toshi Ichiyanagi, then attempted suicide, and was institutionalized in Japan. At the mental hospital she met jazz musician Anthony Cox, and when she discovered she was carrying his child she divorced Ichiyanagi and married Cox, but he had mood swings wilder than Ono's and she promptly had the marriage annulled. Cox apologized, and Ono was pregnant, so they remarried before their daughter was born. By the mid-1960s their new family was living in New York, where Ono dabbled in music, performance art, short films, and performance art like "Cut Piece," wherein audience members were given scissors and invited to cut away her clothing.
Among her short film concoctions, Ono made No. 4 (also known as Bottoms), a short film of 365 volunteers' naked buttocks; Up Your Legs Forever with the camera ogling people's unclothed legs; Fly following a fly as it crawled over a naked woman's body; and Freedom, wherein a woman attempted to remove her bra without success.
Ono's artwork was the focus of an exhibit at London's prestigious Indica Gallery in 1966, and John Lennon wandered in. He said later he was hoping there might be quality drugs or an orgy later in the evening, but he was impressed with an Ono work that required him to climb a ladder to read the word "Yes" printed in tiny letters on the gallery ceiling. Though both Ono and Lennon were already married, they soon fell in love. In 1968 they released a collaborative collection of cacophonous screeches, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, which featured both of them naked on the album cover. When their respective divorces were finalized, they married in 1969.
For a time Lennon and Ono were the world's most famous couple, perpetually followed by reporters and photographers, and always willing to give the media a show. They staged weird public events, including a press conference where they were both shrouded in bags, intended as a statement against judging others by their appearance. There was the famous "bed-in for peace" at their honeymoon suite at the Amsterdam Hilton. Ono's newly-formed Plastic Ono Band had a pop hit in 1969 with the single "Give Peace A Chance" (with Lennon singing), but most of Ono's music was like fingernails on a chalkboard to mainstream audiences. She soon became the most despised woman in music -- widely (albeit unfairly) blamed for the break-up of the Beatles.
After her divorce from Cox, Ono had been granted custody of their daughter Kyoko, but Cox thought Lennon was a bad influence and kidnapped the girl when she was eight. He raised her in an apocalyptic Christian cult called The Walk, blocking all contact with her mother, changing the girl's name, and telling her exaggerated stories of her mother's wicked, hateful ways. The government, meanwhile, was trying to have Lennon booted out of the country, and eventually these pressures led to the couple's separation. Fifteen months later they reconciled, and thereafter they referred to their separation as "the lost weekend."
Over the next several years they had a son, Lennon became a "househusband", and Ono managed the family's finances. They released Double Fantasy in 1980, and later that year Lennon was assassinated in front of their home.
After his death, Ono essentially disappeared from public view, re-emerging in the late 1980s with bronze art installations and conceptual photography. She released several albums of her own music, including the well-received Rising in 1995, which featured her son Sean Lennon. Now in her 70s, Ono continues making music, and had two dance chart hits in the early 2000s, "Walking on Ice" in 2003 and the gay wedding anthem "Every Man Has A Man Who Loves Him" in 2004. Furthermore, some of her early work has belatedly been taken seriously by listeners, including her 1971 punk album Fly and her 1973 feminist album Approximately Infinite Universe.
Ono has also had several retrospective gallery shows of her art, and beginning in 2002 she has awarded $50,000 LennonOno Grants to honor activists who work toward peace. Winners have included nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu and journalist Seymour Hersh.
Ono hired detectives and spent years looking for her kidnapped daughter Kyoko, but finally gave up the hunt in 1981, on her daughter's 18th birthday. If she was alive, Ono reasoned, Kyoko was a woman now and she would know how to find her famous mother. In 1997, Kyoko, by then 34 years old and married, had her first child, and feeling very maternal she decided to risk calling her "evil mother" on the phone. After several long telephone conversations, Ono and Kyoko were reunited in 1998, and the two women have since become friends.
Father: Eisuke Ono (pianist, bank executive)
Mother: Isoko Isuda (banking heir)
Brother: Keisuke (b. Dec-1936)
Sister: Setsuko (b. 8-Dec-1941)
Husband: Toshi Ichiyanagi (musician, m. 1956, sep. 1961, div. 1962)
Husband: Anthony Cox (m. 28-Nov-1962, annulled 1-Mar-1963, m. 6-Jun-1963, div. 2-Feb-1969, d. 1975, one daughter)
Daughter: Kyoko Chan Cox (called Rosemary by her father's cult, b. 8-Aug-1963, kidnapped 1971)
Husband: John Lennon (Beatle, m. 20-Mar-1969, sep. 1973, reconciled 1974, together until his assassination)
Son: Sean Lennon (musician, b. 9-Oct-1975)
High School: Gakushuin School, Shinjuku-ku, Japan
University: Sarah Lawrence College
Plastic Ono Band
Innocence Project Artists' Committee
Suicide Attempt early 1960s
Funeral: Andy Warhol (1987)
Entertainment Weekly's 2003 "It" List Legend
Risk Factors: Smoking
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2-Sep-2011) · Herself
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) (2010) · Herself
The U.S. vs John Lennon (31-Aug-2006) · Herself
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (12-Oct-1996) · Herself
Imagine: John Lennon (7-Oct-1988) · Herself
Dynamite Chicken (20-Jan-1971) · Herself
Let It Be (13-May-1970) · Herself
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