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What Really Happened During John Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend’

In the film ‘The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,’ Lennon’s lover May Pang sheds new light on their 1970s affair

spinner image john lennon and may pang sitting inside the backseat of a vehicle
John Lennon (left) and May Pang.
May Pang Archives

May Pang, now 72, was a teenage college dropout when she bluffed her way into a job at the Beatles’ Apple Records, then as personal assistant to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In 1973, Ono banished Lennon from their home and instructed Pang, at 23, to have an affair with him. After the Lennons reunited and made their 1980 Double Fantasy album just before he died, he referred to his 18 months living with Pang in L.A. as his “lost weekend,” a reference to the 1945 film about alcoholics.

“It was god-awful,” he said in his last interview, with Playboy. “I drank too much. … I was out of control, and nobody was looking after me and I needed somebody to love me and there was nobody there to support me, and I just fell apart.”

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This was not strictly true, Pang testifies in the documentary The Lost Weekend: A Love Story. Here are some insights into this often overlooked chapter in the late Beatle’s life.

Pang was an effective assistant, not just eye candy

She was a pro. Pang coordinated a 1971 Ono art exhibition, and for Ono’s 1970 film Fly, she managed to find hundreds of live flies in December in New York (by going to Chinese restaurants). She handled wardrobe for Lennon and Ono’s music video “Imagine.”  

“I made them look good,” she says in the film. She worked on Lennon’s Mind Games album and sometimes sang backup with him. She and Lennon were reluctant to become lovers as Ono decreed, but after Ono ordered him out, Pang says, “John Lennon charmed the pants off me.” 

All three of them were processing childhood trauma

Pang’s parents had an arranged, unhappy marriage, and her father had scant interest in her. Lennon was abandoned by both parents and raised by his bossy, doting aunt Mimi, and soon after his mother came back into his life in his teens, she died. Ono’s father lived apart from her family while her upscale, social-butterfly mother ignored her. Asked about her artistic bond with Lennon, Ono said, “It was rooted in the childhood fear of being alone.”

Ono had some reasons to want Lennon out of the house

In a joint 1980 interview with Lennon, Ono explained her reasons for the separation: “The pressure from the public, being the one who broke up the Beatles and who made it impossible for them to get back together. My artwork suffered, too. I thought I wanted to be free from being Mrs. Lennon, so I thought it would be a good idea for him to go to L.A. and leave me alone for a while. I had put up with it for many years.” Pang says she thinks Ono wanted to have an affair after Lennon had one (at least).

Lennon wrote songs about both Ono and Pang

While living with Pang, he wrote laments about Ono: “What You Got,” with the lyric “You don’t know what you got until you lose it,” and “Going Down on Love,” which echoed his 1965 cri de coeur “Help”: “When the real thing goes wrong/And you can’t get it on/And your love, she has gone/And you got to carry on …Somebody please, please help me/You know I’m drowning in the sea of hatred.”

He wrote “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” about Pang: “She gets me through this god-awful loneliness/A natural high butterfly Oh I,/I need, need, need her.” Pang says Lennon got a kick out of the fact that they shared a bed in Peter Lawford’s home, where JFK and Marilyn Monroe had trysted.

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It is true that Lennon drank way too much sometimes in L.A.

Lennon was notoriously thrown out of the important Troubadour nightclub for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers, and Alice Cooper, who hung out with Lennon, tells AARP, “It was definitely a lost weekend. A bunch of guys who got drunk every night: John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Bernie Taupin, Micky Dolenz [of the Monkees]. The people who owned the bar started calling us the Hollywood Vampires because they only saw us at night.”

An eyewitness to a 1974 recording session in L.A. with Lennon, Paul McCartney, Nilsson and others tells AARP that they were too drunk to play “Chain Gang” in tune or in time or to remember the words, and Stevie Wonder, who sat in, was appalled and angry. Pang was likely a moderating influence, since she didn’t drink or take drugs.

spinner image two men hold back john lennon as they exit a nightclub
John Lennon is held back from attacking a photographer by Harry Nilsson (left) after getting kicked out of the Troubadour in 1974.
Fotos International

But Pang says Lennon’s drinking was overhyped

The fact is, he got a lot done and gained plenty during his so-called lost weekend. He produced records for Nilsson and Ringo Starr, recorded with new friend David Bowie and old pal Mick Jagger, completed Mind Games and recorded the fine oldies album Rock ’n’ Roll and the brilliant Walls and Bridges, whose beautifully haunting “#9 Dream” features Pang whispering, “John.” Its Lennon-Elton John duet “Whatever Gets You Thru’ the Night” was his first number 1 solo hit single — he was the last Beatle to earn one. He worked 10 hours a day in the studio, a total professional. Like Pang.

More important, Pang reconnected him with his loved ones

She got Lennon back together with his son Julian, who hadn’t seen him in four years and hugs Pang warmly in the film, and with Julian’s mom, Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Twist Lennon, of whom Lennon sang, “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved.”

Lennon was a bit rough at times with Pang, too. Cynthia and she bonded for life, and Julian used Pang’s photo of him in this period as the cover of his 2022 album Jude. George Harrison told Pang, “I’m so happy you’re with John.”

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Lennon’s reunion with McCartney helped end the lost weekend

Pang was thrilled when McCartney came to L.A. to reconcile with his estranged best friend Lennon, and she took the last photo of them together. She says she almost got Lennon to join McCartney when he was recording his hit Venus and Mars album in New Orleans, and thinks they would’ve collaborated again. But unbeknownst to her, Ono had asked McCartney to be a go-between and tell Lennon she was willing to take him back.

Blissfully unaware, Pang moved in with Lennon to an apartment 20 blocks south of Ono’s apartment in New York. After a visit with Mick and Bianca Jagger at Andy Warhol’s place in Montauk, Pang says, Lennon and she meant to get their own place on Long Island, four hours east of New York. “We were going to buy a house!” she says in the film, tearing up. She thinks if they had, Lennon wouldn’t have returned to Ono.

spinner image john lennon and may pang walk down a new york city street, both wearing sunglasses and carrying papers
John Lennon and May Pang in New York City in October 1974.
Peter Simins/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images

When the lost weekend was over, Lennon and Pang were not over

Robert Rosen, whose book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is based on his reading of Lennon’s diary, told the web journal Absolute Elsewhere, “It was so clear he was dying to be with [Pang], and he couldn’t do it. He wrote about that a lot.” When Pang heard about this, she cried. She says in the film that her intimate relationship with Lennon continued after he moved back in with Ono, and in 1980, he still called to try to set up a rendezvous on Long Island.  

Pang’s life did not end when Lennon’s did

She married Tony Visconti, producer of U2, Paul McCartney and David Bowie, who wrote the song “Heroes” about Visconti’s kiss with a Bowie backup singer while he was still married to his previous wife, McCartney’s protegee Mary Hopkin. Pang and Visconti were married from 1989 to 2000 and had two children. She has a jewelry business, publishes books and has a current photography show documenting her Lennon days, The Lost Weekend: The Photography of May Pang.

She had one last close encounter with her old boss

While promoting The Lost Weekend documentary at a recent New York screening, Pang revealed that by chance, she ran into Ono at breakfast in a hotel in Iceland in 2006 and greeted her. “She was nice as I was leaving,” Pang said. “She was still waving and smiling.”

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