Family & Companions
"Before we were a big deal--before we were 'The Beatles'--we were a cool little band." --Ringo Starr quoted in NEWSWEEK, October 23, 1995
He won an additional five Grammy Awards and an Oscar shared with The Beatles.
Forever enshrined in pop culture history as the drummer for The Beatles, Ringo Starr was the group's unofficial heart and soul. Though his contributions to the band rarely received the same degree of praise as Paul McCartney and John Lennon's songwriting and George Harrison's guitar skills, Starr's consistently solid beat and natural charisma were hailed by modern musicians and critics alike for helping to elevate the status of the drummer to an equal partner in a band. Starr continued to promote the Beatles' brand of peaceful harmony and joy into his solo career and as the leader of frequent tours with his celebrity-filled All Starr Band. He was, in fact, such a natural on camera in the band's films "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) and "Help" (1965) that he pursued an ongoing acting career post-Beatles alongside his musical endeavors.
Starr was born Richard Henry Parkin Starkey Jr. in Liverpool, England, on July 1, 1940. His father left the family when Starr was three, leaving him to be raised by his mother Elsie. Starr's childhood was marked by frequent and serious illnesses - he developed appendicitis at the age of six, which was followed by a ruptured appendix and a ten-week coma from which he was expected never to recover. Starr survived this trauma, only to suffer a fall from his hospital bed, which required another six months of recovery time. A few years later, he developed pleurisy, which required two additional years of hospital time. Further complications appeared in the form of food allergies, and by this point, he was so far behind in schooling that it seemed pointless to even attempt a return. Despite a naturally quick wit and sharp mind, Starr was insecure of his intellect throughout his life, often taking a back seat to his more intellectual bandmates.
Starr began working at a series of odd jobs, including railway messenger, barman and engineering firm apprentice, but found his true calling in music. The skiffle craze had hit Liverpool, and the 17-year-old Starr formed The Eddie Clayton Band with a fellow apprentice. Starr's first drum kit was brought by rail from London to Liverpool by his stepfather Harry Greaves, whom his mother married in 1953, and for whom Starr cared a great deal, considering him his real father.
After playing for a number of different groups, Starr settled in with Al Caldwell's Raving Texans, who re-christened themselves Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and quickly captured the attention of Liverpool's rock-loving teens. Their popularity led to a 13-week engagement in Wales, which created a dilemma for Starr: he was still apprenticing at the engineering firm, and also engaged to a local girl who was dead set against him leaving her to play rock music. Like so many musicians before and after him, Starr's favor fell with the songs; he quit his job, broke off the engagement, and played to adoring fans in Wales for the majority of the summer of 1960.
Starr also changed his name during this period. His bandmates had all adopted flashy new monikers, and he built his around his penchant for wearing multiple rings; it also fit well within the group's Western-themed origins, as "Ringo" was the surname of a famous outlaw. His "Starr" handle came from his desire that his drum solos be referred to as the "Starr Time" portion of the Hurricanes' show.
In late 1960, Starr was playing at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, Germany, when he met the acquaintance of another Liverpool act that called themselves the Beatles. He became friendly with the five-piece - which at the time, included Stu Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums - especially with its youngest member, George Harrison, and frequently sat in with them when Best was unavailable.
By 1961, Starr saw that the Hurricanes were simply not going to progress beyond the Hamburg scene or the summer holiday contract in Wales, so he briefly considered taking a factory job in Houston, TX. However, fate and problems with his visa prevented this from coming to pass. He returned briefly to Hamburg in 1962 to lend his drumming to Tony Sheridan (who had just recorded with the Beatles) before coming back to England for another summer engagement with the Hurricanes. Fortune soon smiled on him when the Beatles, who had just landed a recording contract with Parlophone and dismissed Best at the urging of new producer George Martin, contacted him to join the group. On April 18th of that year, he began recording with his new outfit and life would never be the same again for the drummer.
His early tenure with the group was an awkward one. He felt excluded from McCartney, Lennon, and Harrison, who had forged a tight relationship under the duress of endless gigging in London and Germany. And when the group began recording their first single, "Love Me Do," Starr was unceremoniously replaced by session drummer Andy White and relegated to tambourine. Eventually, the rest of the group - and Martin, who later said that he never intended to insult Starr by replacing him on drums - warmed to Starr's easygoing personality, and the essential Beatles lineup began its momentous charge into pop stardom in 1963 in the UK and 1964 in the U.S.
As the skins man for the Beatles, Starr's influence on the modern rock drummer was downplayed by the relative ease with which he carried out his parts; but if he was never a flashy or attention-grabbing drummer, he was a remarkably solid and consistent one, and could be relied upon to back even the most complex Beatles tune to the letter. On certain songs, Starr's technique made it impossible for even the casual listener to not identify him as the player.
But perhaps his greatest contribution to the group - and to drumming as a whole - was his own happy-go-lucky personality, which made millions of teenage fans fall equally in love with him as with the other members - despite the fact that he was the least conventionally handsome member of the band. In fact, his rather large nose might not have worked on anyone else, but such was Starr's charm that women simply swooned. The only truly famous drummers prior to Starr were jazz musicians like Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa, but Starr's wit (he had a habit for amusing turns of phrase, and two of them - "a hard day's night" and "tomorrow never knows" - were later used as titles for Beatles songs) made him an equal member of the group rather than a backing musician. In fact, generations of future drummers celebrated him for that very fact. He also literally elevated the drummer's visibility in a rock quarter by placing his kit on risers so that fans would be able to see him no matter how far away from the group he might have been placed.
Because he possessed a deep and reedy voice, and one not particularly blessed with the range or power of McCartney and Lennon, Starr generally contributed only one or two vocals to each Beatles record. Both, however, wrote songs for his abilities, and many of these became well-loved tunes in the Beatles canon; his covers of Buck Owens' "Act Naturally" and Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" helped to merge the Beatles' music with the American country and rockabilly songs that had influenced them. Then there was "Yellow Submarine," "With a Little Help from My Friends" (from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), and his own "Octopus's Garden" (from Abbey Road all of which became instant fan favorites.
In 1965, Starr married his longtime girlfriend, Maureen Cox. The pair began seeing each other when the Beatles played the Cavern Club in Liverpool during their pre-Parlophone days, and maintained their relationship in secret for most of the early days of "Beatlemania." When it was discovered that Maureen was pregnant in 1965, the couple quickly married, and their son, Zak Starkey, was born that same year. Brother Jason and sister Lee followed in 1967 and 1970, respectively.
Starr's sunny attitude could not weather the slow-building tensions within the Beatles following the release of Sgt. Pepper in 1967. Lennon's recovery from drug addiction and increasing dependence on new love Yoko Ono, combined with Harrison's growing skill as a songwriter (and frustration over his inability to place songs on their albums), led to major difficulties during the recording of the follow-up album, The Beatles, in 1968. Upset that his own good nature could not quell the other band members' conflicts, Starr quit the group during the recording sessions and retired to friend Peter Sellers' yacht off the coast of Greece, where he wrote "Octopus's Garden" During this period, McCartney played drums on "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence" in Starr's absence. The other three Beatles pleaded for his return, but even after he came back to the fold two weeks later, the fractures between the band members refused to heal.
When the Beatles broke up in 1970 after the release of Let It Be (which earned Starr an Academy Award and Grammy for Best Original Song Score along with the other Beatles), Starr was already hard at work on a solo album, a collection of standards from the '40s titled Sentimental Journey that he had recorded in part to please his parents. It was a curious effort, considering his Beatles background, but his popularity at the time helped the album to rise to #7 on the charts. He quickly followed this with Beaucoup of Blues (1970), a country-tinged album that fared less favorably with listeners. He returned to the charts with two huge singles, "It Don't Come Easy" (1971, co-written by Harrison) and "Back Off Boogaloo" (1972), but for most of the early 1970s, he focused his interests on the movie business. Starr had expressed interest in becoming an actor as a young man, and received positive notices for his turns in the Beatles movies "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) and "Help!" (1965), in fact, he was the de facto star of the latter, which centered on an Indian cult's scheme to retrieve a ring from his finger. His solo efforts as a movie star, however, were a decidedly quirky lot, even though he was the only Beatle to be taken seriously in Hollywood circles.
1968's psychedelic sex comedy "Candy" found him playing a hunchbacked Mexican gardener, while its follow-up, "The Magic Christian" (1969), starred his friend Peter Sellers as an anti-authoritarian nobleman who adopts a young orphan (Starr), with whom he launches into a series of satiric practical jokes and stunts upon greedy and pompous members of society. The film, which starred several members of the Monty Python troupe - of whom Starr was a fan - as well as Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee and Yul Brynner, baffled most audiences, but became a cult favorite over time. He followed this up with an amusing dual role as Frank Zappa and Larry the Dwarf in Zappa's surreal "200 Motels" (1971) before taking a role as a villain in the little-seen but enjoyable spaghetti Western "Blindman" (1971).
During this period, Starr also reunited with Harrison for his epic All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World albums, and with Lennon for John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. He also performed with Harrison as part of the Concert for Bangladesh in 1970 - where he forgot the words to "It Don't Come Easy" - and covered the growing fan mania over the English glam band T. Rex in the documentary "Born to Boogie" (1973), which marked his debut as a director. He also made inroads into furniture design with the company Ringo or Robin Ltd., which lasted until 1976.
His movie career took an upward turn when he co-starred in Claude Whatham's "That'll Be the Day" (1973), a serious drama about the early days of rock 'n' roll in Britain, a subject with which Starr was intimately acquainted. This was immediately followed by "Son of Dracula" (1974), a surreal and largely improvised comedy with his friend and occasional collaborator Harry Nilsson as the title character, with Starr in heavy makeup as Merlin the Magician. A turn as the Pope in Ken Russell's bizarre and farcical "Lisztomania" (1975) with Roger Daltrey of The Who as a fictionalized version of composer Franz Liszt, put Starr's movie career to bed for several years.
Meanwhile, his solo music career experienced a huge upswing with the release of Ringo in 1973. All three of his Beatles bandmates contributed vocals, songs or instruments to the album (which fueled rumors of a Beatles reunion), and the album yielded two huge hits, "Photograph" and a cover of "You're Sixteen," both of which reached #1 in the States. 1974's follow-up, Goodnight Vienna, featured a title track penned by Lennon, and two Top 10 singles, "Only You" and Hoyt Axton's "The No No Song," which despite being an anti-drug message, received flack for its drug references.
Starr's own substance intake began to develop into a problem during this period; partying with such notorious imbibers as Lennon, Keith Moon and Nilsson during the making of the latter's Pussy Cats album soon blossomed into alcoholism. His marriage to Maureen dissolved in 1975. Starr began a relationship with singer-songwriter Lyndsey De Paul, and focused on living the high life, in every sense of the word.
Starr's music career also took a precipitous dip during the mid-70s. A venture into label ownership with Ring O'Records in 1975 failed to yield a hit, with Starr dissolving the company just three years later. He signed with Atlantic to release his next album, Ringo's Rotogravure, which barely broke the Top 40. His next album, the disco-tinged Ringo the 4th (1977), was almost universally panned, and Atlantic deposited him at the door of Portrait Records for his next release. 1978's Bad Boy fared slightly better with critics, but not with fans, who could not be convinced to purchase the LP even after Starr promoted it with the 1978 TV special "Ringo," which featured appearances by Harrison, Carrie Fisher, John Ritter, and Vincent Price. His appearance in the horrific Mae West feature comedy "Sextette" (1978) did not help matters much either.
Life worsened for Starr the following year. He collapsed in 1979 from severe abdominal pain and cheated death only after doctors removed several feet of his intestinal tract. Later that year, his home in Los Angeles was destroyed in a fire which claimed much of his Beatles memorabilia. After recovering from this twin bout of bad luck, Starr traveled to Mexico to take the lead in the comedy "Caveman" (1981), which received largely terrible reviews. The picture did, however, introduce him to American actress and model Barbara Bach, who was at the time best known for the 1976 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me." The pair became a couple, and was married the following year in Montserrat.
In 1980, Starr reached out to the former Beatles to help him with his next solo album, which was released in 1982 as Stop and Smell the Roses. McCartney contributed three songs to the record, as did Harrison, whose songs included the song "All Those Years Ago," which Starr rejected as being too high for his range. Lennon also gave him two songs (including "Nobody Told Me"), and the pair set a date to record the songs in New York City. Sadly, Lennon was assassinated in early December, leaving all three Beatles in a state of shock and endless despair. Starr found himself unable to record the Lennon material, so Harrison recruited him and McCartney to provide vocals on his own version of "All Those Years Ago," which effectively reunited all three surviving Beatles in a last, loving tribute to their friend. Still reeling from the grief of losing Lennon, the trio also performed together at Starr's wedding. Starr and Bach later flew to New York to lent support and comfort to Ono. Stop and Smell the Roses was eventually released in 1981 and yielded a Top 40 hit, "Wrack My Brain" (penned by Harrison). An 11-minute short film with Starr, Bach, McCartney, and Linda McCartney, was filmed in 1982 to promote the album (and was shown at Cannes), but did little to help the album's fate. The record's label, RCA, dropped him in 1982.
Starr and Bach returned to England, where he became owner of a cable station in Liverpool and hosted a weekly radio program called "Ringo's Yellow Submarine." He also began working with former Eagle Joe Walsh on a new album, Old Wave, which was released in Europe and South America only in 1983 (it would not see a US release until 1994). He also made a few inroads into acting again - he and Barbara took small parts in the campy U.S. miniseries "Princess Daisy" (1983) and appeared as himself in McCartney's flop musical "Give My Regards to Broad Street" (1984). But his greatest on-screen success came in the unlikely form of the "Thomas The Tank Engine" (ITV, 1984- ), the massively popular U.K. animated children's series based on a series of popular children's books. Although initially reluctant to participate, his presence lent the show a great deal of credence with parents in its early years, and in turn, gave his own career a shot in the arm. Starr provided the narration for "Thomas" in England from 1984 to 1991 (his narration was re-recorded for the American broadcasts) and later appeared as the diminutive "Mr. Conductor," the six-inch host of the U.S. spin-off series, "Shining Time Station" (PBS, 1989-1993) from 1989 to 1990.
Starr's success on children's television seemed to signal a revived interest in performing. He performed with Eric Clapton and George Harrison in the UK comedy "Water" (1985), which was produced by Harrison's HandMade Pictures company, and endured an uncomfortable-looking costume as the Mock Turtle in an all-star TV production of "Alice in Wonderland" (1985). Starr also returned to drumming in several significant projects, including the "Sun City" benefit album (on which he played alongside his son Zak), a turn backing rockabilly legend Carl Perkins (alongside Harrison, Clapton, Dave Edmunds and Roseanne Cash) in the 1985 HBO special "Carl Perkins and Friends: Blue Suede Shoes - A Rockabilly Session;" and a live appearance with Harrison at the annual Prince's Trust Concert in London. Harrison also tapped Starr to perform on his hugely popular comeback album, Cloud Nine (1987) for the song "When We Was Fab," which paid gentle tribute to their history as the Fab Four. Starr also became a grandfather in 1985 when Zak Starkey and his wife gave birth to a daughter, Tatia Jane.
In 1988, Starr joined Harrison and Yoko Ono onstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards for the induction of the Beatles. Perhaps sensing that his comeback was indeed on the horizon, and that in order to maintain the current wave of popularity, he would need to gain control of his alcohol addiction, Starr and Bach entered a treatment program in Tucson, AZ, in October of that year. He emerged from their ordeal with his charm and zeal for life and performing intact, launching into the business of being Ringo Starr with full force. He joined Harrison on the Tom Petty single (and video) "I Won't Back Down," and contributed a lovely version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" to Hal Willner's Stay Awake album, which featured a collection of Disney songs covered by contemporary artists.
Starr also wowed fans and critics alike by launching his first solo tour ever in 1989. The Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band concert would be slightly different than most live performances; Starr would share the spotlight on stage with a band of fellow rock veterans, who would perform their own greatest hits and then back Starr on his Beatles tracks and solo material. The first tour, which featured Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band, Beatles sideman and soul legend Billy Preston, J Walsh, E Street Band alum Nils Lofgren, and New Orleans pianist extraordinaire Dr. John, was an unqualified success - as was the 1989 live album that chronicled the shows. Its success sent Starr back on the road to capacity crowds every few years; even spurring him to attempt a new solo album. The result was Time Takes Time (1992), which earned him excellent reviews, though sales were spotty at best.
In 1994, Starr reunited with McCartney and Harrison for two "new" Beatles songs. "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" were John Lennon demos that Yoko Ono had contributed to the group; the trio remixed the song and added their own voices and instruments to the new version. Both songs appeared as part of the massive "Beatles Anthology" project, which eventually yielded a book, a five-part documentary that aired on ABC in America in 1995, and three CDs of unreleased and live Beatles material. For their efforts, the surviving Beatles were awarded with a Grammy for "Free As a Bird" and two Top 10 singles. The excitement over the project was somewhat diminished by the deaths of three important people in Starr's life in 1994 - his stepfather, good friend Harry Nilsson, and his ex-wife, Maureen.
Starr continued with his successful All-Starr tours throughout the nineties, releasing two more critically acclaimed solo albums - 1998's Vertical Man, which found Starr partnering with a celebrity-filled line-up of singers ranging from Brian Wilson to Ozzy Osbourne, and 1998's VH1 Storytellers, for which Starr performed many of his Beatles and solo hits for an appreciative live audience on the music video network. Neither charted very highly, but by this point, a new Starr solo CD was more of a gift to fans than an actual attempt at promoting his solo career. His beloved status was firmly cemented with fans both young and old, which supported him regardless of radio airplay or chart hits.
In 2001, Starr appeared on several news programs and talk shows to mourn the loss of George Harrison, who had died of cancer in November of that year. He and Harrison had been extremely tight - as they had had only each other to lean on in the shadow of the great Lennon/McCartney friendship and musical collaboration. Starr went on to join many of his friends in paying tribute to Harrison at the 2002 "Concert for George" at London's Royal Albert Hall. Starr performed "Photograph" and the Carl Perkins cover "Honey Don't," and backed McCartney and Eric Clapton on several of Harrison's greatest hits.
Starr returned to recording in 2003 with a new label (Koch) and a new album, Ringo Rama, which like his previous recent efforts, was a star-studded affair. In 2005, he received word that the Liverpool City Council intended to demolish his childhood home; a last minute reprieve guaranteed that the structure would be dismantled and then rebuilt later in an alternate location. That same year, Starr announced that he was partnering with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee on an animated series that would feature Starr as a superhero.
In 2006, a reporter at The London Times mounted a serious campaign to have Starr knighted. In typical good humor and fashion, Starr said that he was not interested in the honor (having openly voiced his disdain for the Royal Family), but would definitely accept being named a duke or prince ("If they come through with that, I'll seriously consider it"). That same year, Starr joined McCartney; Ono; Harrison's wife Olivia and son Dhani; and Lennon's son Julian and ex-wife Cynthia at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas to promote the opening of the Cirque du Soleil show "Love," which featured producer George Martin's remixed and re-imagined versions of Beatles songs (including Starr's "Octopus's Garden") as the soundtrack for the theatrical group's retelling of the Beatles history. Starr, McCartney, Ono and Harrison reunited a year later to promote the show's first anniversary.
As the eldest Beatle entered his 70s in 2010, his touring output slowed, although he continued releasing new albums including Y Not (2010) and Ringo 2012. In January 2014, the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' American breakthrough, Starr and McCartney reunited for a live performance at the Grammy Awards. In December 2014, Ringo Starr was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and given the organization's Award for Musical Excellence.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Spent much time in and out of hospital with appendicitis and pleurisy
Began playing drums, joined Ed Clayton Skiffle Group at age 19
Became drummer for Rory Storm's Hurricanes and was dubbed "Ringo" by the leader
Joined the Beatles as a last-minute replacement for drummer Pete Best
World-wide fame started
Film acting debut in "A Hard Day's Night"
Post-Beatles solo acting debut, "Candy"
Directorial debut, "Born to Boogie"
Appeared in TV special "Ringo"; also featured in Mae West film, "Sextette"
Co-starred in comedy film "Caveman"
Appeared in miniseries "Princess Daisy" (NBC)
Signed seven-figure deal to advertise Sun Country Classic wine coolers
Starr and wife enter alcohol re-hab
Played "Conductor" on PBS children's show "Shining Time Station"
Formed Pumpkinhead Records
"Before we were a big deal--before we were 'The Beatles'--we were a cool little band." --Ringo Starr quoted in NEWSWEEK, October 23, 1995
He won an additional five Grammy Awards and an Oscar shared with The Beatles.