He once called John Lennon “my hero in the rock world.” But by the time Albert Goldman, 61, launched his highly critical biography of the rock superstar in August, that assessment had been brutally downgraded. In The Lives of John Lennon, Goldman writes that by the end of his life “a oncebrilliant, rebellious, virile young rocker” had degenerated into a reclusive monster who beat his wife, recoiled from his children and stumbled through life in an anorexic, drug-induced stupor. Goldman’s fierce attack, which he defends as a true portrait drawn from “exhaustive research” and based on “rock-hard facts,” enraged Lennon’s admirers. And last week, Goldman was hiding in a Rome hotel room with an armed guard outside his door, claiming that he feared for his life and refusing most requests for interviews.
Formerly an English professor at Columbia University, Goldman is no stranger to controversy. He established his journalistic credentials in the late 1960s as a commentator on popular culture and music for Life, Esquire and The New Leader. In 1974, he moved into biography with Ladies and Gentlemen— LENNY BRUCE!!, a chilling portrait of the counterculture satirist who died of a drug overdose in 1966. His massive 1981 biography, Elvis, chronicled the singer’s descent into drug abuse and decadence—and outraged many Presley fans. Commenting on the extreme reaction that Elvis provoked, Goldman said in 1982: “It’s as if I violated a taboo. If you say that Elvis was depraved and depressed, you’re defiling the sacred image.” Goldman went on to sell paperback rights to Elvis for $1.2 million and earn another $600,000 in other subsidiary deals.
The book's success led to another contract for a celebrity biography: John Lennon. The Lives of John Lennon is his most ambitious effort to date. According to Goldman, the volume took 6V2 years to research and write
and is based on more than 1,200 interviews with the singer’s friends, relatives and associates. Goldman insists that he wrote about Lennon because he admired him, and that he was “very dismayed” by the material he unearthed.
But his critics dismiss that apology, saying that the biographer deliberately set out to debunk Lennon's near-mythical status. The influential rock magazine, Rolling Stone, in a recent cover story, branded the book “sleazy.” Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, called it “all lies.” And former Beatle Paul McCartney complained that it was “disgusting that someone like Goldman can make up any bunch of lies he sees fit and can be allowed to publish them without fear of repudiation.” But Goldman shrugs off the barrage of criticism. “My books are bad for business,” said Goldman. “They’re bad for Paul’s business, bad for Yoko’s business, bad for the jive myth of rock business. These people have to hate me.”
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