The Beatles were originally formed in 1956 under the name The Quarrymen. While it included such members fans know today including Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, it also had Pete Best as its drummer and Stuart Sutcliffe as its bassist
Together, the original iteration of the band laid the foundations of their success. They travelled to Hamburg, Germany, together where they played residency slots for months at a time.
But after the band’s second residency slot came to an end in July 1961, Sutcliffe – who would have turned 82-years-old today, on June 23, 2022 – had some unexpected news for the group.
Sutcliffe told his lifelong friends that he was quitting the band. He felt as if his original passion, art, was calling to him. So he left the group and joined the local art college where he studied alongside his long-term girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr.
Lennon was not happy about this, though. The pair had known one another for years, and the star no doubt felt abandoned by his friend. Lennon reportedly got into a fistfight with Sutcliffe over the news.
A year later, Sutcliffe was suffering. He was constantly having painful headaches that he could not get rid of.
One episode involved him suffering an extreme headache that made him collapse during an art class. The local doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so he was sent on his way.
In April that year, the unimaginable happened.
Sutcliffe collapsed again, but this time he didn’t make it to medical help. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, aged just 21, on April 10, 1962.
The Beatles – who had returned to the UK – were told the tragic news shortly thereafter. And Lennon simply couldn’t take the news.
He “laughed hysterically” when he first heard that one of his best friends had died. Then he broke down into tears and was inconsolable for some time. He was so griefstricken that he couldn’t attend the funeral.
Lennon was so upset by the star’s death that he rarely even mentioned Sutcliffe for the rest of his life. The pain was too raw for him. No wonder, considering his mother had unexpectedly died in a hit-and-run car accident just four years earlier.
Lennon was once quoted in talking about Sutcliffe though. He said: “I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth. Stu would tell me if something was good and I’d believe him.”
Years later, other members of the band looked back on how influential the star was for their lives and their careers.
In 2020 McCartney posted on his Instagram account to commemorate what would have been Sutcliffe’s 80th birthday. He wrote: “Our original bass player Stuart would have been 80 today! So many great memories of our time together. Happy birthday Stu! Love Paul.”
Harrison joked about the quality of Sutcliffe’s musicianship, suggesting he was “rubbish”.
Harrison said: “He wasn’t really a very good musician. In fact, he wasn’t a musician at all until we talked him into buying a bass. He picked up a few things and he practiced a bit … It was a bit ropey, but it didn’t matter at that time because he looked so cool.”
Sutcliffe was cool. In fact, it was him who reportedly introduced The Beatles to their famous “mop top” hairstyles. Before that, they were looking all shook up with slicked-back hair and leather jackets, in an attempt to emulate the look of Elvis Presley.
Kirchherr looked back on the trendsetter years later.
“All my friends in art school used to run around with this sort of … what you call Beatles haircut,” Kirchherr recalled. “And Stuart liked it very, very much.” She revealed. “He was the first one who really got the nerve to get the Brylcreem [hairgel] out of his hair, and asking me to cut his hair for him.”
Shortly thereafter, the rest of the band followed suit and cut their hair in the same way.