Today (June 23rd) marks what would have been original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe's 81st birthday. Sutcliffe left the group in the summer of 1961 to continue art college in Hamburg, Germany. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 10th, 1962 at the age of 21, with most sources attributing his death to a blow to the head which he received after a post show run-in with local Liverpool thugs — not John Lennon as has been often been incorrectly reported. In the months leading up to his death, Sutcliffe, whose brain was literally swelling against his skull, would fall into incredible fits of rage due to the pain, and was often rendered blind by the agonizing attacks.
Sutcliffe, an award-winning painter was John Lennon's best friend and classmate at the Liverpool College of Art. It was with the prize money he earned from the sale of his work that Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison — then still known as alternately as the Quarrymen and/or Johnny & The Moondogs — convinced Sutcliffe to purchase a sunburst Hofner President 500/5 model bass guitar. According to numerous sources, it was Sutcliffe who named the band, “The Beatals” — spelled with two “a's.” Paul McCartney recalled Stuart Sutcliffe joining the group in the spring of 1960: “Stuart was John's friend, mainly, from art college. Stuart was a very good painter. We were all slightly jealous of John's friendship — John being a little bit older, certainly than me, certainly than George — you wanted to sit next to him on a bus and stuff. Like, he's the older fella, y'know — it's just the way it was. So, when Stuart came in, he was taking a little of that position away from us. We, sort of, had to take a little bit of a backseat.”
Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Lennon, went to art school with Lennon and Sutcliffe and shortly before her 2015 death, told us that their personalities balanced each other out perfectly: “What John gave Stu was the ability to laugh at himself and have humor, because he was such a serious student. And what Stuart gave John was a kind of. . . he was inspirational. I mean, John had no faith in his abilities to do anything serious — or complete anything. And Stuart was constantly supporting him.”