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Yoko Ono, a Decade After the 'Horrible Thing' : John Lennon's widow still lives under a shadow, but, she says, 'It's not a bad time'

May 06, 1990|GLENN PLASKIN

NEW YORK — She sits alone.

"The widows of the world," she whispers, "they understand this"--understand the mournful lament of "Ocean Child," Yoko, a spirit filled with poetry.

"Sleepless night/the moon is bright," she pens into her writing book. "Woke up this morning/Blues around my head/No need to ask the reason why. . . ."

No need.

Perched at the window of her fortress, the venerable Dakota, Manhattan's oldest apartment building, scene of the "horrible thing" nearly 10 years ago, Yoko Ono stares below at Strawberry Fields.

The teardrop-shaped garden, an echo of John Lennon's childhood days in Liverpool, nestles inside Central Park, winding paths and wildflowers maintained in perpetuity by the widow. "After John died," she says, "some days, it just wasn't that important for me to go on." But there still was Sean, the son she bore at 42, just 5 years old when John Lennon died on Dec. 8, 1980. "As a mother I told myself, 'I gotta survive.' "

And so she has. Sean, now 14 and tucked away in a Swiss school, already is testing his wings in a recording studio; Ono is jetting from London to Tokyo to Copenhagen, to Venice and Oslo and Milan and Moscow, overseeing retrospectives of 150 major works created in her avant-garde heyday; and she is supervising the elaborate celebration of John Lennon's 50th birthday year, a celebration that kicked off Saturday in Liverpool, to be followed by events in Tokyo, Moscow and the United States.

And so, Yoko Ono, the artist, the singer, the composer of 150 songs, the widow, is doing just fine.

"It's not a bad time in my life," she says, gently stroking her three Persian cats--Sascha, Misha and Charro.

Still, the world never lets her forget. She is still defiled by many as the wicked sorceress who wrecked the Beatles; by others as a crass opportunist who used Lennon's fame to promote her own recording career. Others see her as the savior of a man who was desperately in need of a mother and a stable home. She says they're wrong too.

No matter. Yoko Ono can take care of herself. A shrewdly capable executor of a sprawling empire estimated to be worth between $500 million and $1 billion, she oversees with care the licensing and marketing of records, copyrights, artworks and souvenirs, and she is supported by Sam Havadtoy, a 38-year-old interior designer, her constant companion since 1981.

In "Sky," the all-white living room so named by the Lennons when they founded their whimsical "Newtopian Embassy" in the Dakota, Ono sits bathed in white.

"My favorite color," she says, compact in an "Imagine" sweatshirt, her figure and face that of a young girl.

In an interview, Yoko Ono chain-smokes her way through musings on widowhood, Lennon's "lost weekend," sex, drugs, reincarnation and survival.

Question: You would have been married 21 years; you're consumed with John Lennon's 50th birthday year; and he's been gone 10 years. A bittersweet time.

Answer: A landmark time--a strange time for me. My gallery show in London last year fell on Earth Day--and I felt so moved because it was also our wedding anniversary.

Q: Proceeds from the Liverpool concert and upcoming albums all go to the Greening of the World Lennon Scholarship Fund.

A: Yes. The concert is not a widow's vanity trip. John cared about the environment.

Q: More personally, what did you love most about him?

A: His tenderness, his affectionate nature. He was also a person who tried to be honest with himself, and he really worked on it. When fans see his life, maybe they see that anything's possible.

Q: Even a poor, talented Liverpool boy becoming a hero, worshiped around the world and paying an awful price for his success?

A: How could it have been worth it? I mean, he died. He was killed. If he wasn't John Lennon, he wouldn't have been killed. It was a fan who killed him.

Q: Has that fan ever been an object of your hatred?

A: I don't think about him. I just don't.

Q: You're usually seen around town in your dark glasses . . . one begins to wonder if you're an eternally somber woman.

A: (Laughter) Well, I have that side. I started putting on the Porsche glasses after John's death and they made me feel very safe. But I'm not hiding anything.

Q: How do you respond to recent gossip that you've refused to work in tandem with John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, on her own proposed memorial concerts at the Berlin Wall and at the White House?

A: Cynthia Lennon is an innocent party. There's a Milwaukee promoter, a former waiter, named Perry Muckerheide, working with Sid Bernstein (who brought the Beatles to Carnegie Hall in 1964), and his mission in life is to reunite the Beatles. But the Beatles aren't interested. George has always said: "As long as John is not alive, the Beatles cannot reunite."

Q: But what of Cynthia Lennon?

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