John Lennon married Yoko Ono on March 20, 1969. For most couples, getting married in Gibraltar and honeymooning in Amsterdam would be a fine plan, but the then-Beatle and his artist/musician bride had bigger plans. From March 25 to March 31, Lennon and Ono conducted the first “bed-in” as a non-violent protest to war and an innovative way to spread their message of peace.
Anti-war activism hit a peak period in the late 1960s, with American involvement in the Vietnam War acting as a particular flashpoint for protests. The always outspoken Lennon had delved into more social issues after his pilgrimage to India and working on the so-called “White Album” in 1968. Ono also had strong anti-war beliefs and the pair began to lean into promoting their ideals in various ways.
The couple took advantage of the already prodigious interest in their wedding and extended invites to the press to meet them at their suite at the Amsterdam Hilton from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day from March 25 to March 31. Lennon and Ono simply sat in bed, wearing pajamas, with their backs to the window, signs hanging from the glass that read “Bed Peace” and “Hair Peace.” They used the forum to articulate their anti-war message and further other social causes.
A second bed-in occurred in Montreal in May. The original plan had been to hold it in New York City, but Lennon was temporarily unable to enter the U.S. due to his 1968 marijuana conviction. Eventually, they settled on seven days at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. A number of celebrity guests attended portions of this bed-in as well, including: TV star Tommy Smothers (of The Smothers Brothers); comedian and activist Dick Gregory; activist, writer, and LSD advocate Timothy Leary; L’il Abner creator Al Capp; DJ Murray the K; Beat poet Allen Ginsberg; musician Paul Williams, and more. Many of those guests joined Lennon and Ono in the recording of “Give Peace a Chance” from the room on June 1. The song, credited as a song-writing collaboration between Lennon and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, would later be released as a single by Lennon and Ono’s group The Plastic Ono Band in July of 1969; the song would eventually hit #14 on the Hot 100 in America and #2 in the U.K.
Music video for “Give Peace a Chance.” (Uploaded to YouTube by johnlennon)
After the two bed-ins, Lennon and Ono went on to other demonstrations and projects to promote peace, and the song took on a life of its own, becoming an anthem for protestors in the months and years that followed. While Lennon was by no means the first nor last musician to speak out against the war, his extreme fame and the notoriety of the protests made him one of the faces of the movement. Lennon’s outspoken activism made him a target of the Nixon White House; as a result, Lennon had trouble securing permanent residency status in the U.S. until 1976. While the bed-ins inspired other artists and activists to mimic that particular set-up, their wider influence came from putting more of a focus on the peace movement in general. To this day, celebrities continue to participate in a variety of non-violent protests both in person and online, with personalities like Alyssa Milano (a major #MeToo movement advocate) and U2’s Bono being notable examples.