May Pang on her ‘Lost Weekend’ with John Lennon that never really ended: ‘I don’t have closure’

John Lennon and May Pang. (Photo: Iconic Events)

John Lennon and May Pang. (Photo: Iconic Events)

When watching the new documentary The Lost Weekend: A Love Story — about the stranger-than-fiction romance between John Lennon and his former assistant, May Pang — through the modern lens of the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it’s almost impossible not to see it as a workplace HR nightmare. “There’s no two ways about it, yeah. But we’re looking at the time period, which is the ‘70s, which was not the same as we are now,” Pang chuckles wryly, speaking to Yahoo Entertainment via Zoom from her home in Harlem, where she grew up as the feisty daughter of Chinese immigrants. “People would be telling you that isn’t the right thing, and you would just walk out and say, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Pang, who’d been a Beatles fanatic as a child (although, ironically, Ringo Starr had been her favorite Fab), was only 19 — a decade younger than Lennon, and 17 years younger than Lennon’s soon-to-be-estranged wife, Yoko Ono — when she began working for the couple. And she was only 22 years old when Ono allegedly came to her with an indecent proposal. By Pang’s account in the film, “Yoko walked into my office and said, ‘John and I are not getting along, and I know he’s going to start seeing other people. And I want you to go out with him, as I think he needs someone nice like you.’” (Representatives for Ono did not respond to Yahoo’s request for comment.)

Pang insists in her documentary, and in her Yahoo Entertainment interview, that she initially balked at Ono’s suggestion, saying she was not “putting out those vibes” because she’d “rather work and have the security of a job.” She also never assumed her older, famous male boss would ever be interested in her. “‘Why would he even be attracted to me?’ — that was my first thought,” she admits. But after Lennon — who Pang says was also resistant Ono’s bizarre matchmaking scheme until he was “pushed” into it — warmed to the idea, he “decided to test the water” and made a pass at Pang in an elevator, grabbing and kissing her. And that’s when Pang warmed to the idea as well.

What ensued, in September 1973, was not so much a “lost weekend” (a disparaging term that Pang says Lennon later apologized for) or meaningless fling, but a consensual, serious, 18-month relationship between Pang and her first real love that became the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend — and of gossip, which Pang hopes to clear up in The Lost Weekend: A Love Story. The two cavorted around Los Angeles hanging not only at Sunset Boulevard’s Rainbow Bar & Grill with a notorious gang of drinking buddies called the Hollywood Vampires (which included Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz, and Pang’s childhood crush Starr), but with Paul and Linda McCartney. (Pang actually snapped the final known photo of Lennon and McCartney together, in March 1974, at the Santa Monica beach house she and Lennon were renting at the time — a house where John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe had allegedly trysted in the ‘60s.) Pang also accompanied Lennon to his recording sessions for the David Bowie collaboration “Fame” and with Phil Spector for the Rock ‘n’ Roll covers album, and Lennon penned the song “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” about his budding feelings for his young new girlfriend, during what was one of the most creatively prolific periods of ex-Beatle’s life.

May Pang and John Lennon, 1974. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

May Pang and John Lennon, 1974. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

By many accounts, including Lennon’s own, it was also the happiest time in his personal life. After the new couple moved back to New York — which Pang says they did on legal advice for immigration purposes, because Lennon was “terrified” of losing his green card — Pang even helped him “mend fences” with his first wife, Cynthia Lennon, and his older son, Julian, whom he had not seen for several years. (Pang has maintained a close friendship with Julian, who appears by her side in The Lost Weekend affectionately singing her praises; she also took the cover photo for Julian’s 2022 album Jude, on which, like Pang, he reclaims his own narrative.)

But then, just as bizarrely as this love story had begun, it was over, when John — who Pang says had just made plans with her to buy a house, and to meet up with the McCartneys on a New Orleans vacation — blindsided her and told her, “Listen, Yoko’s allowed me to come home.” But it was never really over for Pang: As Apple PR man Tony King states in her documentary, “She was a young girl, and her life was flipped around” by her whirlwind experience with Lennon. The now 72-year-old Pang, who weeps not only in The Lost Weekend: A Love Story but at two points in her Yahoo Entertainment interview, says she and Lennon remained friends — and lovers — until his murder in December 1980, when “the universe ended it for me.” She tells Yahoo through tears, “Our relationship never died. We were still going. … I don’t have closure. … It’s still emotional. It’s still raw. People don’t understand that. There were so much intricacies in this relationship.”

John Lennon and May Pang. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

John Lennon and May Pang. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

But Pang — who was married to Bowie producer Tony Visconti, with whom she has two children, from 1989 to 2000, and would still “like to see if there is another partner out there” for her — insists that she has no regrets. “I can’t sit there and mourn for the rest of my life,” she shrugs. “So, now I have to own up to [the past] and figure out where my next steps are.” And with The Lost Weekend: A Love Story, she is telling her side of that story through her never-seen footage and photos. In the Q&A below and extended video above, she further opens up to Yahoo Entertainment about “a weekend that lasted 18 months and a love story that took 50 years to tell.”

Yahoo Entertainment: I thought I knew a lot about this chapter in Beatles history already, but I learned a lot about your version of events from this documentary. It made me have lot of empathy for you. I know you have many fond memories of John, but at the end of the movie, you get very emotional you’re crying when you talk about how your relationship ended. It seemed hard for you to revisit this time in your life. What made you want to make this film now?

May Pang: You know, it’s 50 years now. It’s not something that happened yesterday. A lot of time has passed by, and maturity happens. … And when you see people out there writing your history, I say, “That’s not exactly the way it happened.” And they go, “Oh no, no, no. I read everything!” So, it’s time. I’m free now to be able to think about it.

You obviously have had time and distance to process your experience. From my standpoint, watching your film in 2023, I see if nothing else a power imbalance between you and John. I mean, you’re a Beatles fan, you’re much younger, and you’re his employee. It’s a weird situation.

There’s no two ways about it, yeah. But we’re looking at the time period, which is the ‘70s, which was not the same as we are now. … [Today] people would be telling you that isn’t the right thing, and you would just walk out and say, “Are you kidding me?” But I also want to correct that it wasn’t John, so much — it was actually Yoko who approached me. It was only later on when John realized and said, “Listen, we’re not getting along, and she’s pushing me into something. I wasn’t going in that direction, but if you’re going keep pushing me… all right, fine.” He decided to test the waters. So, he came over to me, and yes, he kissed me. But who doesn’t [go for it] in that sense? “Why would he even be attracted to me?” — that was my first thought. “Why really is this man even attracted?” I’d never even thought for one second [that he’d want me]. Not one second. I had been [working for] him for three years. The last thing I’m thinking about is he’s attracted to me. I’m not putting out those vibes; I’d just rather work and have the security of a job.

When [Yoko] came into my office, literally, after she walked out and said, “I think you should go out with him,” and I’m saying no to her, I was crying. I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee yet, and I’m sitting there thinking, “What just happened?” I kept telling her no, and this went on for a little bit. … I only find out later that Yoko had gone to [John] and said, “Hey, I fixed it for you! … I fixed it so you can actually go out with May.” And he’s also in disbelief at the same time.

Do you have any insights into why Yoko “picked” you? There were other women in John’s orbit, obviously many candidates she could have considered for this weird role. I wonder if was it because you were younger and seemingly more malleable. Did she not see you as a threat at that time? Obviously later, she did.

Oh, she did! It’s what you said. That’s probably that. I was not a willing participant. … It’s only later that you start seeing that there was a motive behind all this, on her side, of what was going on. But the fact that John even thought about me — you know, you can’t push John, no matter what anybody says, to go off with this person. … So, I guess he did like me. And I had no idea.

May Pang and John Lennon in Palm Springs, March 1974. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

May Pang and John Lennon in Palm Springs, March 1974. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

So, maybe Yoko didn’t see you as a real, long-term threat, but at some point she did seem to regret this arrangement. At what point do you think she started to second-guess this whole plan she’d put into place?

I think it was months down the line. A lot of people don’t realize this, but she did ask for a divorce in ’74, in February. [John] had to come back to New York for immigration purposes, and I heard they were going to meet in the lawyer’s office to go over things. She wanted to tell him at the lawyer’s office with other people that she wanted a divorce, because she was afraid he was going to go off the deep end. And when he went and came back a few hours later after the meeting… [he told me], “Well, I’m going to be a free man in six months. She asked for a divorce, and I said, ‘Fine.’” And I don’t think that that’s the answer she was really looking for! … And that was the thing. And then he gave me a coat. He goes, “It’s winter right now, and Yoko [had] all these coats that are just sitting there. I told her you needed a coat and we couldn’t afford it and I wanted one of them.” And she said [yes] — on the condition that he would tell me that it was from her.

Talk about mind games!

Yeah. And that was it. This went on for a few months. And then I said, “What happened to the divorce?” And he said, “Oh yeah, Yoko called and said the stars weren’t right.”

Did you ever have a sense, at least in the beginning when this arrangement was proposed, that it would always temporary situation and John would eventually make his way back to Yoko?

Yeah, I know everybody thinks that. But when he was the one that came after me, not Yoko saying, “You gotta do this.” He wanted to have a fresh start. That’s why we went to L.A. She had no idea we were going to L.A. That was a misconception that was put out there: She did not tell us to go. She didn’t even know where we were; we called her later to tell her that’s where we were. And I took it day by day. … It was just, let’s see where this would go, let’s see how long this would last. I wasn’t thinking that he was going to go back, and I don’t think he even thought that, either.

It seems like when he did go back, it was sudden, almost like he ghosted you. It seems like Yoko felt she could snap her fingers and John would come back at any time and then she “allowed” him to “come home” and he did, immediately. My heart broke for you watching you talk about your breakup in the film.

Thank you. I will tell you that he did not expect it. That was not something that was building up. Even in the beginning she tried for months, getting people to sort of run interference and say, “Hey, you know, if John wants to come back…” [There’s a scene in the film] when Paul [McCartney] came out to L.A. and said, “If you want to go back to Yoko, you have to bring her flowers and all that stuff.” And John said, “Oh, I’m fine. This is our relationship now: May and I are together.” And it was interesting, because [John] had no idea that Yoko had asked Paul to deliver that message. … I know that [Yoko] tried to get [John’s] Aunt Mimi… she didn’t want to go in the middle of all of that. So, there were a lot of different games going on. And I think with John, he was not planning on going back. In fact, when he did go back, we had been planning already to go to New Orleans to meet up with Paul and Linda. He wanted to even write with [Paul]; I know we were talking about that a few days earlier. We were about to buy a house.

May Pang with Elton John and John Lennon. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

May Pang with Elton John and John Lennon. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

I’ve actually interviewed Davey Johnstone, from Elton John’s band, and we talked about the famous night where at least as rock ‘n’ roll history claims the ball got rolling for John and Yoko’s reconciliation, when Yoko attended an Elton concert in New York. The story is they rekindled things when John performed there with Elton and she sent flowers backstage to him.

Well, I was there, and how she found out that [John] was going to perform was I actually called and told her! You know, you don’t hide those things. People don’t realize she called [us] every day, like up to 15 times a day… for a year and a half. We saw her for her birthday that year. It wasn’t like there was no communication. … So, it is a myth that the whole ball started rolling then. If that was the case, why would we be thinking about taking Julian down to Florida for a holiday in December [of 1974]? John and I went to see George [Harrison] on his Dark Horse tour. Paul and Linda were over. We were thinking of buying a house in January of ‘75. It doesn’t make any sense.

May Pang with Julian and John Lennon at Christmastime, 1974. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

May Pang with Julian and John Lennon at Christmastime, 1974. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

Yes, this is why I’m saying that it seems like John went back very readily as soon as he got the out-of-nowhere green light from Yoko. John himself had talked in interviews how happy he was during that time. He was also very musically productive during this time, working with Bowie, Elton, Jagger, Spector. Julian talks in your film about how content his father seemed during that time a time when, with your help, he reconciled with John. So, this doesn’t make any sense to me, either.

Well, [John] was not aware of it either. I said, “Whose idea was this [to get back with Yoko]?” And he goes, “No one’s.” I’ll take a grain of salt on that one. You know, it doesn’t just come up out of nowhere, to then say, “I’m leaving.” And especially over the next five years, the man liked to make phone calls to me, talk to me, see if I’m OK. He liked to keep [in contact]; he wanted to see me. So, there were a whole lot of things that were going on. People don’t realize that for the last five years of his life, John and I were in contact with each other. We never lost that contact. It became even more complicated as time went on.

You do say in the film that things didn’t really end romantically or sexually for you two in 1975, either…

No, it didn’t. It’s not a black-and-white situation. There’s a huge gray area. … When you fall in love, it’s not like, “Oh, I fell out of love.” I mean, the man would just call me out of nowhere, or he would talk to mutual friends and say, “Have you seen [May]?” I used to get messages all the time.

I wonder if Yoko ever realized how deep the connection between you and John went…

I don’t think she ever thought that it was going to be a real relationship. Jerry Rubin, one of the Chicago 7… he just sort of volunteered to me once: “You know, she was very surprised that your relationship really lasted more than two weeks. She thought it was only going to be a two-week thing.”

I always thought John referring to your affair as a “Lost Weekend” was kind of insulting and dismissive, to be honest. That label makes it seem like it was a lark, a fling or even a mistake or something he didn’t remember.

He came back and he apologized for that. One of the reasons he said was it easier for him [to call it that], because people were also talking about him being drunk [during that year and a half]. He did a lot of metaphors and references to movies because he loved the movies… and The Lost Weekend was a [Billy Wilder] movie [from 1945] with Ray Milland, who woke up drunk all the time. But it wasn’t a lost weekend. It’s a love story. And that’s where I’m changing that narrative. … I feel better about [that label] now than before.

May Pang and John Lennon attend the 2nd Annual AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards honoring James Cagney at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

May Pang and John Lennon attend the 2nd Annual AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards honoring James Cagney at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Photo courtesy of May Pang)

Your relationship with John continued, in one way or another, after 1975 until, tragically and shockingly, he was shot in 1980. Have you ever wondered if this relationship could have been fully rekindled at some point, if he hadn’t died? That you might have eventually officially gotten back together? The door seemed still cracked open for that…

It was open a little bit. Yes, it was open. In fact, our last conversation was that year. He had called me during Memorial Day weekend. You don’t forget these things. All he said was hello, and I knew it was his voice. I said, “Hi, John.”… He said, “Do you have a moment to talk?” I said sure, and we talked for almost two hours. … He said, “I just wanted to talk. I’m been thinking about you. I’ve been trying to figure out how we can catch up with one another, face-to-face.” So, it was there. Obviously, he lost track of time. He had almost no idea of time anymore; every day was the same day to him, Groundhog Day. And so I think if it would happen, it was going to happen — until, obviously, the universe ended it for me. It ended it for a lot of people, but it ended it for us in that way, because our relationship never died. We were still going.

Did you reach out to Yoko after John was killed, to see how she was doing or offer condolences?

Oh, absolutely. I tried to reach out to Yoko, and of course that was going to hit a blank wall. I left a message.

You did stay in touch with Cynthia, John’s first wife, who was Julian’s mom.

Yes, we really became very close friends. She knew I would always watch over to be sure Julian would be OK no matter what, because I was always in the middle. I could see both sides. … There were a lot of fences mended [with Julian and Cynthia during the Lost Weekend era]. I wanted to be sure that they mended, because they had never had closure to their own relationship. … You, before [Julian’s] first visit, [John] would say, “Oh, I wish Cynthia wasn’t coming over.” I said, “Sorry, you haven’t seen your son in several years. She has all the right and until you mend that fence, it’s not going to change.” And they mended the fence and got the closure they needed, and everything worked out. So then, when [Cynthia] would call, John didn’t have that angst about the “ex-wife.”

Julian and John Lennon, 1974. (Photo: May Pang)

Julian and John Lennon, 1974. (Photo: May Pang)

In your film, we see the bond you have with Julian, all these decades later. It’s very sweet to see that.

Yeah, and I’m glad that I could be around to help him out or give him some extra memory that he might have forgotten from back then. I’m always known in the circle like, “If you’re looking for info, talk to May. She remembers everything!” It’s because I was the most super-straight person, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. I didn’t drink smoke or take drugs. My favorite drug of choice was Coca-Cola. If you see bottles in pictures, if you see Coca-Cola on the table, that’s all mine!

As you mentioned, John’s “Lost Weekend” was characterized as such because was partying a lot during that time. And you do mention in your film that there were at least a couple of incidents when he was physically abusive with you. Was that fueled by him being in an inebriated state?

Yeah. The abuse that I received was not like he punched me out; that’s all more exaggerated than it is. I mean, yes, he shoved me. He pulled my hair. But yes, he was inebriated.

How long did it take you to get over all this? Like I said, you were young and impressionable, and it was an intense, unusual relationship that didn’t have closure. Obviously you moved on with your life, but imagine it was hard to move on.

It wasn’t easy. And it’s still… you’re right. You don’t have closure. I don’t have closure. [tears up a bit] But I have to do something. I can’t sit there and mourn for the rest of my life on that. You gotta do something. You have him in a special part of your life, in your heart, and then you say, “OK, just guide me to the next level.”

Despite all the good times you and John shared, did you ever regret getting into this situation?

I don’t think you can’t have regrets. You can only learn. I was meant to obviously go into this space somehow, and if you have regrets, then you haven’t learned anything. So, now I have to own up to that and figure out where my next steps are. … I mean, I would like to see if there is another partner out there. But that’s not easy. That part’s not easy. [dabs eyes]

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry or anything like that.

No, no. It’s OK. It’s still emotional. It’s still raw. People don’t understand that. There were so much intricacies in this relationship. We were under the eye of everyone out there. So, when [fans] come up to you and say, “I know everything about you!” — no, you don’t. You don’t know the things that I sit with. You’re not in my bedroom. … Also, [John] was human. And that’s what I want people to see. He was not a superman. He was human, and he had a lot of frailties. He had a lot of problems, like you and me. He was insecure, which a lot of people would find interesting. He was insecure in certain things that he did in life, and he tried to make them better as he grew older. He was hoping for that, anyway, but you know… that’s life.

May Pang today. (Photo: Iconic Events)

May Pang today. (Photo: Iconic Events)

So many fans have been really hateful to Yoko. The Beatles fandom can be very intense. What is their general assessment of you? Have they been kind to you? Because your film actually opens with an archival TV interview with someone sort of accusing you of exploiting this era of your life.

I think that was Geraldo. [laughs] … I’ve had a lot of support, actually. … I would say it’s not a 100%, but I would say like 90% of the people that I’ve met have been absolutely sweet about it. They haven’t given me [the hate] Yoko has gotten. … I do have that 10% of people coming at me, but they believe whatever they want to believe. You can only tell your story. … I can’t control everybody’s feelings; I’m learning that more and more. I can only control what I can control.

What was the main thing you wanted to set the record straight about, by doing this film?

That John and I really cared for each other. That we were still in touch with one another, even to the very end. That there was so much love there.

I know you and Yoko did not stay in touch, though you had a random encounter in Iceland in 2006. But you know, she’s getting up there in years. Is there any closure you still want to have with her? You two did start off with some kind of friendship…

I don’t know. I think the closure has been from the past already. … I know she’s been very ill, and if I said anything that she would not even know it. So, it’s wherever we last left it. And I think that’s where it will stay.

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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