The Last Embrace

“As much as I’m not a journalist, I use journalism. And when you photograph a relationship, it’s quite wonderful to let something unfold in front of you. I love to take family pictures for that reason because there’s a dynamic. The hardest thing to do, actually, is a single person image because then it’s just me relating to that person. So with John and Yoko I sometimes think that photograph was 10 years in the making. I’d met John Lennon when I photographed him in my twenties and had just begun working for Rolling Stone. Then, there we were in NYC in 1980. He’d just finished the album Double Fantasy, and I’d seen the cover, which was both of them kissing. I was so moved by that kiss. There was so much in that simple picture of a kiss. It wasn’t unusual to imagine them with their clothes off, because they did that all the time. But what happened was at the last minute was that Yoko didn’t want to take her clothes off. We went ahead with the shoot [and] ended up with this very striking picture. Of course, beyond all control, he was murdered that afternoon.”

Annie Leibovitz



On December 8, 1980, Annie Leibovitz was assigned to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono. She was Rolling Stone’s chief photographer at the time. Initially, Annie attempted to photograph just John alone but he insisted that Yoko be on the cover, too. Annie, inspired by the album cover of Double Fantasy, tried to recreate something like it. For the lovers’ portrait, she imagined that the two would pose together nude.

Yoko was reluctant to take her clothes off. She claimed that she could take her top off but not her pants. Disappointed, Annie asked her to just leave everything on. John, disrobed, curled up beside and wrapped himself around a fully clothed Yoko. Annie used an instant camera to capture the moment. Instantly, the three knew right away that it was a profound image. John and Yoko exclaimed to Annie, “You’ve captured our relationship exactly.”

Five hours later, he was shot outside of the Dakota Building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The photograph was the cover of Rolling Stone‘s tribute to Lennon, and in 2005 it was chosen by the American Society of Magazine Editors as the top cover of the previous 40 years.

Steven Meisel: Rock The House

Carolyn Murphy: Courtney Love. Jake Schroeder: Kurt Cobain. Dylan Schroeder Murphy: Frances Bean Cobain


Fanni Bostrom: John Lennon. Audrey Marnay: Ringo Starr. Tasha Tilberg: Paul McCartney and Trish Goff: George Harrison


Ben Northover: John Lennon. Devon Aoki: Yoko Ono


Omahyra: Prince


Karolina Kurkova: Marilyn Manson


Cyrille Victor: Jimi Hendrix. Matt Duffie: Jim Morrison. Karen Elson: Janis Joplin


Crew of models: The Rolling Stones


Hannelore Knuts: David Bowie. Diana Meszaros: Angela Bowie


Sophie Dahl: Debbie Harry

Songs for Julia

John Lennon with his mother Julian Stanley


Julia” was written by John Lennon (credited to Lennon–McCartney) and features Lennon on vocals and acoustic guitar. It was written during the Beatles’ 1968 visit to Rishikesh in northern India, where they were studying under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was here where Lennon learned the song’s finger-picking guitar style (known as ‘Travis-picking’) from the Scottish musician Donovan. No other Beatle sings or plays on the song.

“Julia” was written for John’s mother, Julia Stanley (1914–1958), who was knocked down and killed by a car driven by a drunk off-duty police officer when John was 17 years old. Julia had encouraged her son’s interest in music and bought him his first guitar. But after splitting with John’s father, she started a new family with another man and left John to be raised by her sister, Mimi; though she lived just a few miles from John, Julia did not spend much time with him for a number of years.

Their relationship began to improve as he neared adolescence, though, and in the words of his half-sister, Julia Baird: “As he grew older, John would stay with us more often. He and Daddy got along well enough, and in the evenings when our daddy, a headwaiter, was at work, John and Mummy would sit together and listen to records. She was an Elvis Presley fan from the word go, and she and John would jive around the room to Heartbreak Hotel and other great Elvis songs. John inherited his love of music from her, and she encouraged him to start with piano and banjo, making him play a tune again and again until he got it right.”

“I lost her twice,” Lennon said. “Once as a five-year-old when I was moved in with my auntie. And once again when she actually physically died.”

The song was also written for his future wife Yoko Ono, whose first name, which literally means “child of the sea” in Japanese, is echoed in the lyric “Oceanchild, calls me.”

Towards the end of his life, he often called Yoko “Mother.”



The line “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you” was a slight alteration from Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s “Sand and Foam” (1926) in which the original verse reads, “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you”. Lennon also adapted the lines “When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind” from Gibran’s “When life does not find a singer to sing her heart she produces a philosopher to speak her mind”.


First released on his 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band