The Curious Life & Times of Curt Claudio
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On a spring afternoon in 1971 a homeless American arrived at the gates of John Lennon’s Ascot home. He was looking for answers.
This curious man was Curt Claudio and he and Lennon talked for a while until John invited him inside for something to eat.
Within 10 years both their lives would be cut tragically short.
This is the real story of Curt Claudio, the man, the myths and the Messiah.
by Gavin Munro
“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky...
From The Book of Revelations 8:10
Ever since I watched the Imagine documentary in 1988 I’ve been fascinated by the ‘Claudio’ character in it. I was a 15 year old boy, watching the film over and over again and the meeting scene soon became my favourite. I didn’t know much about psychedelics, so my naivety filtered any idea that this guy was just a ‘tripping hippie’. I saw someone who was lost and searching for answers, someone that needed reassurance. In Lennon I saw a compassionate, if not frustrated, man but I found it remarkable that he would engage in a deep conversation with a guy that just turned up at his door.
Through the years this curiosity didn’t wane. I bought a house, travelled around the world, got married and from time to time I’d rewatch a Lennon video and think to myself ‘What happened to Claudio’?
When the internet arrived in the mid-2000s there slowly grew a number of conspiracy thesis about the wellbeing and whereabouts of our protagonist and then in recent years the deluge of podcasts about Lennon seemed to mention Curt’s name at every turn. But there was no definitive story out there of any value. It began moving into the realm of Beatle mythology. This year I decided to research and write the real story.
Over the last few months I have worked relentlessly on this, from the humble beginnings of trying to contact all of Curt’s friends and family, through to accident reports, high school yearbooks and Holy Roller churches. This is the first time I’ve done something like this and there have been times when I could easily have given up. Times when I was getting no response from people I’d contacted multiple times, times when The Lennon Estate almost struck me off YouTube and refused me permission to use any of the original footage.
Through all these trials and tribulations one thing has kept me laser focused on getting his story out there. Him. My mantra has been ‘let the truth be his legacy’. I’ve also been greatly encouraged and supported by the Claudio family, Curt’s friends & girlfriends, Lennon’s Tittenhurst staff and some of the greatest Beatles commentators around today to which I feel blessed and grateful for.
It’s not been easy for people to recount certain memories and I’ve tried to respect that through the writing process. I owe it to these people to tell Curt’s story in the most informative, entertaining and factual but I ultimately owe it to Curt Claudio to tell his truth.
This story will examine the curious life and times of Curt Claudio and how his life paralleled Lennon’s in many ways. It will also look at the world that Curt was born into in northern California, the extraordinary events of the late-sixties through to the mellowing of the early eighties. From Curt’s privileged beginnings and promising high school start, to him being hailed as the messiah, visiting his idol and the untimely nature of his accident.
As you read this story I hope you will see a world through the eyes of a seeker, a kind man and a destructive soul.
2021 will be the 40th anniversary of Curt’s accident and the 50th anniversary of the time he met John Lennon. Enough time has passed for many of closest friends and family to still be alive and be able to talk with great candour about the man.
Hopefully when you’ve read this story you’ll learn a lot of new things not only about the life and times of John Lennon and Curt Claudio but also about the human spirit and the troublesome nature of a gifted mind.
This story contains never before heard stories, videos, photos and recollections of everyone involved. It’s the definitive story of Curt Claudio, the one he deserves and the one he earned.
Table of Contents
Click on a section to auto-scroll
1 - Curt's Childhood
Before you cross the street, take my hand
Curt Claudio was born a long way from Ascot, in Alameda County, California. His grandparents were Italian immigrants that moved to America around 1910 where they eventually settled in San Francisco and became naturalised citizens. His father was born in 1914 in Victoria, British Colombia.
Curt’s parents, Cesare & Martha were both musical. Like his father before him Cesare was a classically trained musician and achieved great success in playing the cello, winning a scholarship to study at the St Cecilia Academy in Rome just before the second world war.
All that changed in 1938. The growing unrest in Europe forced Cesare to leave Italy and abandon his studies so he returned home and earned a seat in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
He was soon drafted into the army and served in North Africa, once discharged he returned to playing cello in the orchestra in San Francisco. In 1946 Cesare enrolled into University of California at Berkley where he would meet fellow student Martha Curtis.
HOW WAS MARTHA MUSICAL, STUDIED THEORY AT BERKLEY & TAUGHT?
Cesare and Martha Claudio practicing at UC Berkley
Photos Courtesy of the Claudio Family Archive
Photo of Curt Claudio
Courtesy of the Claudio Family Archive
Martha and Cesare married in 1946, in the first few years of marriage the couple had 2 children Ernest and Cesare.
Cesare Curtis Claudio was born on the 28th August 1948, just three years after the end of the second world war.
'Cesare' was a difficult name for a child, no matter how it was pronounced, so he always went by Curt.
Curt was brought up in Fremont California through the 1950s and 1960s.
He was the younger brother of Ernie and the older brother of Dayton, Victor and sister Antonia (Toni).
Dayton recalls some early childhood memories.
"He was real fun loving and mischievous and always had a glint in his eye and a smile on his face."
Curt and his school friends at Fremont Elementary 1955 XXX CHECK YEARXXX
Photo courtesy of Bill Ledgewood
"He was interested in model airplanes, they were called free flights, before remote control came along. We’d go into the fields of Fremont, right where Tesla now have their factories.
You put gas into the engine which would power the plane for a few minutes, and try and throw it as high as you could so when the engine cut out and it’d glide down.
Curt would try and get it to fly for as long as he could. One time he threw it and the plane caught a thermal and we ran through the field after it and all of a sudden it flew right out of sight and we lost it, but Curt was delighted! It was a successful flight because it’d flown away.'’
In 1956 Cesare and Martha divorced. Cesare moved out of the house in Gina Street now home to Martha, Ernie, Curt, Dayton and Toni. Curt had a difficult relationship with his father. As with a lot of father and son dynamics the relationship become a battle of egos.(elaborate or not?)
In 1962 Curt started at Washington High School in Fremont, just a few blocks away from his home.
His brother Dayton describes his high school years
"He was pretty much a straight A student, he didn’t have to try too hard, popular with the girls. Before he left the house to go to school he’d be smiling all the time, great sense of humour and just enjoyed having fun. He was a huge Beatles fan and had to have their latest records. He was also in a garage band around this time, he played the trumpet!”
His girlfriend said that Curt was extremely fond of Martha and his brothers
“The one constant in Curt's life was his love for his family. He was so proud of everyone of them, especially his mom.”
In his final year of high school he switched to the newly opened Kennedy High to finish his studies. He excelled and was one of the top 12 students there.
Photos courtesy of Washington & Kennedy High School Yearbooks
Photos courtesy of Washington & Kennedy High School Yearbooks
His excellence at high school earned him a scholarship to study Pre-Law at Davis University, California.
According to a college friend he hated it and his mind started to wander.
Dayton explains this is when psychedelics started to appear to Curt.
"Drugs were everywhere, when I was in middle school there were kids there that were doing serious drugs.
Acid was the big thing, I know Curt got into that and the psychedelics back then were pretty heavy duty."
Dayton recalls visiting Curt
"It was a big thing for me to see my big brother when he moved to college. But it was around the time he was using drugs and everything changed."
Mother Martha, takes up the story
"Curt was a good student with a pleasant, outgoing personality. He was enrolled at U. C. Davis when Timothy Leary came out with his endorsement of LSD, and the invitation to 'Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out', which Curt did.
You could say that this was the end of his life as a functioning human being."
2- Here Comes the Son
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky
From The Book of Revelations 8:10
It was at university that Curt’s messianic complex began.
One day in 1968 he was playing his trumpet in a tree on the campus at UC Davis when he was noticed by some members of a local religious cult.
They thought he was the second coming, they remarked how much he looked like Jesus with his long hair and beard.
They took him under their wing and treated him like the Messiah.
This messianic complex never really left him.
Curt's older brother Ernie has a different account of this period:
'He dropped out of college and joined a Holy Roller* church. It was a good church, full of young people. Curt had a good relationship with out Heavenly Father.'
Note: released in Sept 1969 The Beatles final album Abbey Road, Lennon ’s song Come Together features the lyric:
‘He got joo joo eyeball
He one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee’
*A ‘Holy Roller’ is a member of an evangelical Christian group which expresses religious fervour by frenzied excitement or trances.
Photo reconstruction courtesy of Mojo Design
In the same year across the other side of the Atlantic a similar incident occurred in John Lennon’s life which wouldn’t be revealed until years after the singer’s death. John himself was to take acid and reveal himself as the Second Coming.
The Beatles had returned from a spiritual trip to India to visit the Maharishi and write songs for their forthcoming White Album. They were relaxing for a few weeks before going back into Abbey Road studios.
On May 19th, whilst his first wife Cynthia was on holiday in Greece, John and his childhood friend, Pete Shotton took particularly strong acid at the singer’s Kenwood mansion in Weybridge. During the trip John spoke not only of discovering an inner spiritual connection but also that he thought himself to be Jesus Christ.
According to Tony Bramwell, another friend of Lennon’s from childhood, in his book Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles, John called an emergency meeting with his band to tell them of this revelation.
He sat his fellow Beatles down in the boardroom at the Apple offices in London. As they looked on, wondering why he’d called the meeting he dropped the bombshell
‘I’ve got something important to tell you, I am Jesus Christ, I have come back again. This is my thing’
In typical Beatles fashion, the rest of the band downplayed the outlandish claim in a nonchalant way. Ringo, who was probably tired and hungry let out a sigh and said ‘Right. Meeting adjourned. Let’s go have some lunch.’
During lunch at a restaurant a besotted Lennon fan approached their table with gushing compliments to him. Apparently he interrupted ‘Actually, I’m Jesus Christ’. The fan looked on awkwardly and said ‘Well, I still liked your last record.’
The next day John would invite Yoko around to his house, they made love and created experimental music together, it was the start of a new chapter in Lennon’s life.
4 - The Beat Generation to Flower Power
From the Beats to the Streets (bonus featurette)
Dan Richter on how the 'beat poets' of the early sixties lit the fuse of the drug counterculture later in the decade...
5 - Timothy Leary
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream
Timothy Leary had transfixed both Curt Claudio and John Lennon.
Leary was an American psychologist, writer and advocate of acid back in the late sixties and was present at the recording of Give Peace A Chance. He seemed to legitimise and intellectualise LSD for the youth with his radical instructions of ‘Turn on, tune in and drop out’. His teachings included the idea that people should take LSD to remove their ego, only then would they experience true spiritual revelations. Did Leary visit/lecture at Davis University, around what year? Would Curt have been present?
Leary had troubled beginnings. His father left home when he was 14 and his mother over compensated for the absence of his father by spoiling him. He’d attended Westpoint, one of the top military academies in America but had to resign after falling out with the powers-that-be.
Aged 27 he went to study at University of California Berkeley in 1947 receiving a Phd in Clinical Psychology in 1950. He was at the university at the same time Curt’s parents were there studying music theory. Curt’s mother remembers XXXXXXXXXX
In 1955 he married his first wife Marianne and they had an open relationship. They had two children and she was feeling the strain of motherhood together with the complexities of a polyamorous relationship. One evening the couple had an argument, Marianne was heartbroken after finding out Leary was in love with one of his multiple partners. The next morning he woke up to a suicide note. He found Marianne dead in the garage of their home. According to friends this had a profound effect on his life.
In 1963 he resigned as a psychology teacher at Harvard where he was performing experiments with LSD on fellow teachers and students.
Each time, in these moments in his life he danced with authority and then turned his back on it. He was about to turn his back on the ultimate authority in his life, the US government.
After he left the safety of the teaching institution he dropped the scientific studies into the effects of LSD in favour of dropping LSD and waxing lyrical to an only too interested youth movement that welcomed him with open arms.
Leary advocated the ‘intelligent use of drugs,’ and rallied against the ‘thoughtless use of them’. He was a powerful speaker with provocative and controversial rhetoric.
Leary’s trouble with the law began in 1965 while returning from a trip to Mexico with his girlfriend Rosemary and two children. He was caught in Texas in possession of a small amount of marijuana. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison and fined $30,000 (around $250,000 today). The authorities he’d taken on seemed now to be exacting their revenge. He appealed this sentence and it was overturned. In 1968 he was arrested again for possession of two ‘roaches’ of a spliff.
In 1970 he was convicted of this and sentenced to 10 years in prison with a further 10 years added for the 1965 crime that had been overturned. They got him. Within a year of his sentence he’d escaped, smuggled out of the low security prison by a militant left wing organisation called The Weathermen.
In 1971 he and girlfriend Rosemary fled to Switzerland. Once described by President Nixon as ‘the most dangerous man in America’ Leary had beat the system, for the time being.
Below: An interview from 1966 with Timothy Leary on the Merv Griffin Show. This would have been seen by many families and teenagers at the time.
7 - Curt's Love of The Beatles
Say The Word And You’ll Be Free
"Curt talked a lot about The Beatles, he was a huge fan, every time a new album came out he’d rush out to get it.’ Dayton says ‘He would fixate on songs and particular lyrics in the songs."
In 1970 John Lennon wrote the song God in which he cast aside all the belief he had in religion and culture to make way for his love for Yoko.
In some ways it was advice for his fans not to believe the mystery of The Beatles and move on. ‘I was the dream weaver but now I’m reborn, I was the walrus, but now I’m John’ was a couplet that seemed to say ‘I’m no longer your idol, I’m just a guy’.
As Curt got more heavily into acid he found more profound meanings in the songs. By the end of the sixties he seemed fixated on certain song lyrics by The Beatles. One was 'Carry That Weight' which appeared on the group's final Abbey Road album. The second song was Dig A Pony from the ill-fated Let It Be album.
He started to believe the authors of these lyrics were magical figures and they were trying to tell him something.
His friend, Sandra Cates says that Curt opened up to her in the 1970s about his connection with The Beatles
"I had to laugh when John is explaining to Curt that he wasn't talking to him personally in the lyrics."
Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn made a salient point in a recent interview:
' The Beatles didn't preach any message, and those who eventually read messages into their work were barking up the wrong tree. They were not message givers particularly they were just writing for themselves. What they did was empower people, they empowered to think for themselves to express themselves differently'
from documentary 'Meeting The Beatles In India'
In XXXX 1969 Curt decided to do what any good prophet would, and set out for the foothills of San Jose to spend forty days and forty nights in solitude.
To believers in Christ, the number 40 features regularly in the Bible. It seems like a symbolic number to represent hardship. In the Noah’s Ark story, it’s said that God destroyed the earth with water by making it rain for forty days and forty nights (Genesis 7:12). After Moses killed the Egyptian he fled to Midian where he spent 40 years in the desert (Acts 7:30). Moses was on Mount Sinai for ‘forty days and forty nights’(Exodus 24:18).
It’s thought that Curt’s intentions were to relive the story from this section of the Bible to prove to himself he was a Messiah:
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’
The parable was about resisting temptation and indeed fasting in order to have some spiritual awakening.
Dayton recalls a visible difference in Curt’s appearance one time he returned to Fremont ‘
"When he came back he must’ve weighed 100lbs. He’d been hiking in the mountains probably doing drugs and in search of something. When he came back he said he’d had visions..... and he was emaciated."
An alternative explanation to a divine intervention would be Curt’s physical and mental condition after so many days. Most hallucinations are the result of a chemical imbalance in the body. Drugs, alcohol and lack of sleep are common causes.
Ernie describes seeing his younger brother’s physical appearance
‘I too noticed a change in Curt, when he dropped to 100 pounds. (what did Curt normally weigh?) Curt told me that he wanted to do the same thing Jesus Christ did, when Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, Matthew 4:2. Curt said on the tenth night, he saw two green eyes in the darkness.
He decided to follow the two green eyes, leaving behind his sleeping bag. Curt came out of the wilderness three days later. Shortly after Curt’s return to civilization, he called me, to inform me that he was on his way to our Dad’s house, in Milpitas. I will never forget the drive up to my Dad’s house that day. As I was driving approaching the house, I watched Curt get out of his pickup truck and walk across the street. I remember saying to myself, “Wow, Curt’s head is really big.” Curt’s body had shrunk so much from weight loss, that it caused his head to look larger than normal.’
Martha explains "During his acid trips he said he had seen God, so I guess it was natural for him to consider himself Jesus Christ incarnate.”
The Claudios were getting worried about Curt's drug taking but felt powerless to stop it.
photo reconstructions courtesy of Mojo Designs
MIND altertering effects of a CULTURe altering drug
10 - The Vietnam War
I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier Mama
Much has been said about Curt being a Vietnam veteran and returning with PTSD and being admitted to a mental hospital, this is not to be true. Both friends and family have refuted this claim.
His mother confirmed this ‘Curt had a high daft number so was never called up. He did not serve in the Armed Forces.’
Brothers Ernie and Dayton also deny he was ever in the military. ‘Curt was never in the military, he had a knee injury so his draft code was F.
There’s some 2 reasonable explanations as to why this story became popular. The first is Curt’s mental state when he was discovered by Lennon’s staff at Tittenhurst Park in June 1971. Dan Richter said that he and Lennon were convinced Curt was a Vietnam veteran and thought his appearance on film would further their anti-war cause by showing the devastating effects war had on young soldiers. It doesn’t appear anyone in the Lennon camp checked for Curtis’ military record but it wouldn’t be too outlandish to presume that in 1971.
The war between the US and Vietnam lasted 20 years (1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975). It had started when Curt was 7 years old and didn’t finish until he was 27.
Many young American soldiers that came back showed signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or ‘Shell-shock’ as it was known at the time. Curt’s brother Ernie confirms he was never conscripted
‘‘Curt was never in the military. He was a straight “A” student in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of California in Davis, California’… Then he started using drugs and dropped out of school.’
The other reason that this rumour may have been fueled when the internet arrived is because of an obituary for a ‘Cesare Claudio’ which states ‘he played until he was drafted into the Army’.
Cesare Claudio was Claudio's father. When Europe fell under the wrath of the Nazis Cesare was called up to serve in North Africa. This reason has been mistakingly propagated on the internet to back up the ‘veteran story’ of Curt. 209
The Mental Hospital thesis could also have come from the awareness of these types of institutions in the culture of the day. Although the film One Few Over The Cuckoos Nest was not released until 1975, the novel was released in 1962 and first adapted into a stage play in 1963. In the 1971 there was an off-Broadway production of the play and this could have well been in the minds of the Lennon camp at the time.
The truth seems to be much different. Many of Curt’s school mates would be drafted to Vietnam and come back with horror stories of their experience. Dayton told me ‘Friends of Curt would come back from Vietnam and they were changed people and they would say “get into college, stay in college, don’t go to Vietnam.” It was an incredibly unpopular war’.
At Tittenhurst Park in May 1971 John began recording a new song ‘I Don’t Wanna be a soldier’ about the growing disapproval to the war in Vietnam.
Curt’s sister studied at UC Berkley, where a lot of anti-war protests were happening. ‘She’d be walking around the campus through clouds of tear gas’ says Dayton ‘Everything was volatile back then’. Claudio’s older brother Ernie did military service but after some wise words from his football coach joined the Navy reserves in the Navy on supply delivery to avoid the first conflict.’
After Curt’s father retired his family moved to Chico, north of San Francisco and bought some bare ground in Glenn County, where, with the help of his sons, he cleared and leveled the land, installed in irrigation system, and planted it in olives. Curt’s brother also confirms this ‘He spent most of his life working on farms.’’
Photo of Curt Claudio
Courtesy of the Claudio Family Archive
8 - Curt's Wilderness Years
After dropping out of college in 1968 Curt adopted a vagabond type of lifestyle, he travelled around the state doing odd jobs and went from college student into ‘serious hippy’.
His mother lived on Coelho Street in Fremont and father Cesare lived a block away, Curt would use this home as his mailing address and would visit from time to time but he was couch surfing around friends with his new found bohemian lifestyle. Dayton was staying with his father at this point.
Curt still had the impression that he was the resurrection, sometimes it would manifest itself in harmless ways, others were more destructive.
At the family home he’d joke around, anytime anyone exclaimed ‘Jesus Christ!’ he’d answer ‘Yes?’
His younger brother Dayton explains Curt’s impulsive personality
‘Curt was an all or nothing kind of guy, if there was something worth doing it was worth throwing everything into it. "He was hedonistic in a sense but would always have a big smile and that look in his eye that was like “I got this!”
recorded message sent to Tittenhurst Park from Curt
13 - Curt's Trip to Britain
All I want is the truth, just gimme some truth
Curt had arrived at Gatwick airport on the 18th May after a 15 hour flight from his native California.
If this guy was a homeless American how did afford to fly all the way from California? Thanks to a British businessman called Freddie Laker prices for transatlantic flights had recently been slashed to almost a quarter of the price.
In 1971 the cost of a return transatlantic air ticket would be around £400 ($550), around £2,000 ($2,516)in todays money (or approximately a months average salary).
The ticket would be probably a month's work for Curt, and in his eyes it was a pilgrimage so he’d have been focussed on saving for that.
John Lennon knew Claudio's intentions a long time before he turned up.
‘I had this guy called Claudio who had been sending telegrams for 9 months to England saying ‘I’m coming, I’m coming and I’ll only have to look in your eyes and I’ll know.'
Lennon’s staff had prior notice of this man’s mission, as Dan Richter, Lennon’s personal assistant remembers :
"Weeks before we received a telegram to John Lennon, I would review the mail every morning before presenting them to John and Yoko. This telegram said something like ‘Hi, I need to look in your eyes, I’ll see you soon, Claudio. We could tell from the postmark that it came from the San Francisco area. These telegrams kept arriving from Claudio. People would tell me ‘Don’t worry, he’ll never come all that way’ but from the second or third telegram I remember thinking ‘We’re going to find out who Claudio is."
Richter was under the impression that Claudio was a veteran of the Vietnam War with PTSD who was in a VA hospital and was about to be released ‘That was the story’ recalls Richter ‘and lo and behold about a week later, there was Claudio..’
Diana Robertson, John & Yoko’s secretary remembers Curt had a special aura:
‘Claudio would just appear out of a hedge sometimes. He looked rough but incredibly beautiful. There was something about him that was amazing. I think he was harmless really, but to begin with people didn’t want to have anything to do with him and didn’t want him around.
‘"So I went up to him and said 'You can’t really stay here'. The thing about John [Lennon] was that he really cared about people, and he really didn’t want anything bad to happen to Claudio. When the police took him into London John was concerned for his safety, ‘He said please don’t hurt him'. "
Photo reconstructions by Mojo Designs
Lennon’s home was in Ascot, only 30 or so miles from London. Richter continues the story ’The police told us that once they’d took him to London they’d dropped him off at a train station and I thought “Oh he’s going to be back”. He eventually made his way back to the gate and we didn’t know what to do with him. At the same time as this was happening we were making Imagine.’
Imagine was the 2nd solo album of Lennon’s and the recording process at Tittenhurst Park was being filmed for a possible future project.
It was looking like the police would’ve arrested Claudio for a second time. Dan had an idea to appease both sides, Claudio was desperate to meet Lennon and the Lennon’s, believing he was a shell-shocked war veteran wanted to meet a victim of the Vietnam conflict.
Dan explains "I said to John and Yoko, he says he wants to look in your eyes…why don’t we let him look in your eyes?" There were obvious concerns about the safety of of the most famous couples in the world which Dan addressed "I told John and Yoko we’ve got a lot of people here and I’ll stand between you case he has a knife or a gun, we won’t let him hurt you".
John and Yoko thought about the proposal for a while and said "Yes, and we could film it".
Dan defends the decision to film the encounter "It wasn’t exploitative on their part because they were filming their life. So we got a film crew there and we had some people walk him up from the gate and you can see what happened in the film".
John, Yoko and Dan can be seen on the driveway, Lennon and Yoko in the doorway of Tittenhurst Park and Dan standing between them and Claudio.
John and Claudio talked for 10 minutes about the meanings behind John’s songs. Claudio was inquisitive about the messages the songs were sending out and how he intended them to be received.
Yoko talks to Curt in the kitchen of Tittenhurst Park
Photo by Kieron Murphy
Photo by © Kieron Murphy.
Dan Richter saw the meeting as a display of Lennon’s compassion:
"John had great empathy, which is, if you think about it, can be very painful."
"The thing I remember about Curt is that he wasn’t a ‘follower’, there was no way he’d be joining a cult.
He was confident, independent and no matter what he was doing like joining a garage band or taking drugs he always had the intelligence about him that made me feel he was in control.
When I saw the video of the meeting with Lennon years later I thought he was in a different place, I didn’t recognise him. It just wasn’t him"
"I liked the fact that Lennon gave Curt something to eat and I can understand his apprehension about meeting some random stranger, especially knowing what happened to Lennon later.
I thought it was big-hearted of John to let a stranger in and talk to him. I’d seen him in weird states, but that Curt in the video was the most far out I’d ever seen him.
It looks like he’s coming down from something and/or not eating and he’d been traveling, but I’d never seen him look so forlorn."
Yoko said that John knew Curt was a good soul:
‘He was no dummy, he was a spiritual person. Claudio was communicating to John on a high level. It’s no bad thing, it’s a good thing actually.
We knew he was a spirit and that’s why we invited him in to have lunch with us. The food did it though. It calmed him down. I don’t think we heard from him again.’
Curt's older brother Ernie said that the meeting left Curt with a bitter taste in his mouth...
"When Curt returned home, in California, he was upset with John. He felt like John had deceived him.
Curt was convinced the Beatles were calling him to England, through their music.
Curt was using drugs, and the drugs were causing him to think strangely.
But he did say John treated him well, and even let him play in his music room."
John would later say of the meeting:
'He looked in my eyes and he didn’t get any answer. He thought the whole thing was about him and I said ‘No, it’s about me, it mike strike a corresponding chord in your experience because we all have similar experiences but it’s basically about me and if it’s not about me it’s about Yoko. I said ‘You’d better get on and live your own life, you’re wasting your time trying to live mine.’
Curt left Tittenhurst Park around 6pm, the same day he arrived. Around 7pm Lennon's started to arrive for the evening recording session. Former Beatle George turned up at around 7:30pm, driving the half an hour drive from his estate at Friar Park to John’s mansion. George would be providing slide guitar to the track How Do You Sleep that night.
As Curt departed one Beatles’s residence he had his sights fixed on another….535 miles north.
*Incidentally a year after they first met they were within miles of each other when John and Yoko took a road trip to California and visited San Francisco in August 1972.
The Meeting Dialogue (full)
John: It’s just a record. It might mean more to me or you than somebody else. It’s still just songs. It’s poetry
Curt: You didn’t put it all together, you just….
John: I just write it like anybody writes anything. Either from my own experience or out of my own head.
Think when you were 14. Just imagine it. And imagine if one of your friends had come and said the Beatles, or Elvis, or anybody was writing songs only about them. What would you have thought of it?
Claudio: To be honest. I wasn’t thinking that it was me, egotistically…
John: Well that’s alright but don’t confuse the songs with your own life.
They may have relevance to your own life, but a lot of things do.
So we met, you know, I'm just a guy man, who writes songs.
We can only say hello and what else is there?
Curt: Yeah, I figured that if we'd met I'd know, just by reading you
JL: But know what?
Curt: you know that if what I was thinking was true
JL: Well, what...is it true?
Curt: Well, I guess not.
JL: Right, I’m just a guy man.
Curt: But that it all fits
JL: Anything fits. You know, if you're tripping off on some trip, anything fits you know. You can get tripped off by the stars in the newspaper. When they say you’re gonna have a good day or a bad day. It could be your auntie’s boyfriend writing the stuff. But if you get into it, anything fits.
Curt: Yeah, I just had to meet you
JL: Well here we are, we met. And I’m just a fella and I’m workin. And you met me and we say ‘hello’ and that’s it. There’s no secrets really. You just have to try and remember what it was like when you were younger. Before you got tripped off.
Curt: You know, like when you were saying Boy you’re gonna carry that weight for a long time, was that just…
JL: That’s…. Paul sang that, yeah
Curt: Paul sang that?
JL: Well that belongs to us all. He’s singing about all of us. We’ve all got to carry that weight until we die, haven’t we?
Curt: I guess that’s true. Yeah, I guess I was building it all.
JL: Yeah but you have got to believe that or you’re going to spend your whole life looking for dreams. The only way to do it is to try and remember when you were younger. What would you have thought of it then-all this mystic jazz? You would have told him where to stick it.
Curt: Remember that one ‘you can radiate anything you are, you can penetrate anywhere that you go, syndicate everything…
JL: Yeah, that was just having fun with words. Yeah she wrote that. Radiate. Syndicate. I was just having fun with words. It was a…. literally a nonsense song.
I mean, Dylan does that, anybody does it they just take words and you add….stick them together and it's like throwing the Ai Ching or something you just see what happens.
Take a bunch of words. You throw them out and see if they have any meaning. Some of them do. Some of them don't. But it’s not universally significant or anything.
Curt: Yeah and 'Old Hari Krishna has nothing on you'? For instance...
JL: Yeah, well he don't. No, I mean you're it.
See that last album was me coming out of my dream and....
Curt: Seems like it could've have been different.
JL: What could've?
Curt: Well, before that last album, the way it build up
JL: That was... to me it was just a hallucination, a dream you know
Curt: And it is now hey, cos it’s over...
JL: Right. I mean, it can last your whole life on that dream…... and then it's all over.
Curt: You really…...You weren't thinking of anyone in particular when you were singing all that?
JL: how could I have been thinking of you?
Curt: Well, I don't know, maybe I don't care me... but it's all somebody...
JL: I’m thinking about me or at best, Yoko, if it's a love song, you know, and I think maybe think about an audience in general if I’m singing ‘Old Hari Krishna got nothing on you’
I'm sort of talking to any old friends have been listening to what we were saying and saying, look, well, I think it's a it's a lot of bullshit now, you know, let's forget it, you know, and that as far as I'm concerned, you know, and but that's it.
I'm basically saying about me and I'm saying, you know, I had a good shit today and this is what I thought this morning.
And, you know, and or I love you, Yoko or whatever. I'm singing about me in my life, you know, and if it's relevant for other people's lives, that's all right...
JL: Well let’s give him something to eat, come on
Every night I just wanna go out, get out of my head...'
from Every Night by Paul McCartney
1970 had been a rough year for Paul McCartney. He had low self worth after The Beatles split he didn’t know what he was going to do next. The business pressures had also become too much.
So the McCartneys decided to move out of London to High Park Farm in Scotland.
Paul had bought the farm with it’s 53 acres in 1966 for £35,000 to protect his income from the taxman, (The Beatles were at that point paying 95% tax).
Paul was depressed and drinking quite heavily but the tables were turning a year later.
In May 1971 Paul was excited again, the ‘funk’ of The Beatles had started to clear and he was getting back on track.
Paul and Linda would be relaxing after the release of their last album Ram that April and planning their next musical adventure as Wings.
What must they have thought when they found Curt on the grounds?
It wouldn't have been that unusual for Paul to get a visit from an eccentric.
In Barry Miles Book Many Years From Now, Paul tells the story of one such time:
On February 9th, 1967, one such visitor made it past his door – and ironically into the session for the song – by using the novel approach of insisting he was the son of God.
“A guy arrived at my front gate and I said, ‘Yes? Hello,’ because I always used to answer it to everyone. If they were boring I would say, ‘Sorry, no,’ and they generally went away,” he told Miles. “This guy said, ‘I’m Jesus Christ.’ I said, ‘Oop,’ slightly shocked. I said, ‘Well, you’d better come in then.’ I thought, ‘Well, it probably isn’t. But if he is, I’m not going to be the one to turn him away.’
So I gave him a cup of tea and we just chatted and I asked, ‘Why do you think you are Jesus?’ There were a lot of casualties about then. We used to get a lot of people who were maybe insecure or going through emotional breakdowns or whatever.”
(QUOTE FROM MCCARTNEY ABOUT CURT?)
All photos courtesy of © 2019 Linda Enterprises Limited
It wasn't unusual for McCartney to entertain his more eccentric visitors
All photos courtesy of © 2019 Linda Enterprises Limited
Sandra Cates recalls Curt's memories of the encounter...
"He told me he did see Paul and Linda as well . He said he hung out with the sheep on his property until Paul came out and invited him inside.
I remember him telling me that Linda was very wary of him."
It would certainly make sense that Linda would be ‘wary of him’. Paul and Linda had daughters at the farm, 9 year old Heather & Mary who was coming up to 2 years old.
Linda was also 5 months pregnant with Stella so it’s easy to believe she would not be welcoming of unsolicited strangers.
Dayton Claudio also recalls Curt telling him he visited them.
‘QUOTE FROM DAYTON’
14 - The Dick Cavett Show
Many people are convinced that Curt appeared with Lennon a second time, asking him a question on The Dick Cavett Show, is this true? John & Yoko went onto the Dick Cavett Show on September 8th 1971 to premier the film for the song Imagine and promote Yoko’s album Fly and showcase various other projects they were working on.
The footage shows a long haired young man standing in the audience and asking Lennon what he meant by the line “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone any how’ in the song Revolution by The Beatles. Lennon answered that it was a quick line that he’d thought of in the studio and it was meant to represent 'not following iconography.'
The audience member does look a little like Curt and he was asking a question about Lennon’s lyrics as Curt did, but that’s where the similarities end. The man on the Cavett show has a difference accent (seems more harsh east coast compared to Curt’s softer west coast Californian accent) and when comparing the images together, their facial features differ significantly.
Curt's younger brother, Dayton finally lays this myth to rest
"I saw the clip recently and It's clearly not him, the Cavett Show was filmed in New York anyway and Curt would've been on the west coast at that time."
15 - The Final Years in Fremont
The early 1970s saw Curt work on farmlands around California and Nevada to make ends meet. Curt’s father had bought some land in a town called Chico. The local government was giving out subsidies to people who were willing to buy up grassland and irrigate the soil to grow XXXXX (check crop name).
Curt and his brothers were helping Cesare with this and making some spare change for their troubles.
Dayton quote on Curt working the land/nightshift/drinking
In 1978 (CHECK DATE) Curt and his brother Ernie started working at the Ford Motors Plant in Milpitas. Milpitas is a small town in the San Francisco Bay area, with a small population of 80,000 people, many of whom applied their skills at the automobile plant. It was Ford's primary factory in that region from 1955 to 1983. Numerous vehicles were produced at the plant including the Mustang, Falcon & Torino. It was one of the first plants in America to which the term "automation" was applied because most of the assembly line was interlinked and did not depend on human control.
After 1980 the plant started to lay people off due to increased competition from Japanese imports. In 1981 Curt was offered a severance package of $12,000 ($60,000 in today’s money) and some retraining. His girlfriend recalls an amount of $7,500.
Martha says he looked at other options but they didn’t work out:
"Curt tried a welding class but understandably couldn't take the heat and discomfort of the heavy head gear they have to wear. "
Curt’s brother Ernie says Curt pondered about what to spend the money on
"I’m either going to buy a Harley or an ultra-light airplane."
He chose to buy a self-assembled light aircraft kit.’
His girlfriend at the time had reservations about the motorbike option:
‘When Curt talked about getting a Harley or an ultralight plane, I was totally against a Harley. I thought for sure he'd get in a horrible accident. He already had a BMW motorcycle. I didn't think an ultralight plane was a good idea, either. However, he had to build it from a kit and I thought that would take a long time. So I felt a little better about the plane. I should have realised it wouldn't take him long to build.’
Curt was practical, the years of farm work and his time at the Ford plant had lavished him with practical skills ‘He told me he once bought a VW bus with all the parts inside the bus, and he rebuilt the whole thing and sold it. I always thought he could do anything. He didn’t have a temper. He was one of the smartest and most caring people I've ever known.
When Curt was laid off from Ford he recieved severence pay. Reports vary as to the amount (XXXCONFIRM AMOUNT) from $7.000 to $12,000.
He chose to spend $4,000 on the Tomcat Ultralight. To put this into context, here are the prices of things you could buy in 1980
Average Cost of new house $78,200
Median Price Of and Existing Home $66,400
Average Income per year $21,050
Average Monthly Rent $315
Cost of a gallon of Gas $1.25
Tandy TRS 80 PC1 $149
Sinclair ZX80 $149
19 inch Color TV $399
Under Counter Dishwasher $249
Turkey Lb 55 cents
Star Wars Figure Set $29
Mens Leather Jacket $129
Log Cabin on 5 acres 3 bedroom 1 bath $19,900
17 - The Tomcat Ultralight
the speedbuild of the Tomcat microlight
with Timothy Leary lecture
Curt already had a place to stay, a BMW motorbike and a cab-over-camper truck, so what else did he need? An ultralight!
Curt loved his Tomcat HM81. He'd bought it in the May of 1981, possibly after reading an article in this flight magazine
The story of the Haynes ultralight is a curious one. The Waspair HM 81 Tomcat was a British ultralight (or microlight) aircraft of unusual design. The design is disputed and Chip Erwin, Larry Whiting and Robin Haynes are all named as designers.
What is clear now is that the Tomcat was initially designed by Robin Haynes, an unqualified aircraft maker and later modified by Chip Erwin.
The aircraft was supplied as a kit for amateur construction. It had a single-seat, open cockpit, tricycle landing gear and a single engine. It didn’t have a shoulder harness. Its controls are quoted by microlight reviewers as ‘very unconventional and all are canard mounted.’
Photo credit: Terence Haynes
Robin Haynes setting up the 'A' styled hang glider at Box Hill August 1972
The British company that designed it was called Waspair and it was run by 3 brothers, John, Robin and Terence Haynes. Although a delivery driver with no qualifications or experience Robin was chosen as the designer.
The company operated in the UK from 1974-1979 when they declared bankruptcy, allegedly down to legal claims and low credit ratings. This wasn't the end of the runway for Waspair though.
Terence Haynes said
'I’d come across some American magazines that had pictures of the latest California craze – ‘Sky surfing’ on delta kites skimming a few feet over sun-kissed sand dunes with adoring bikini-clad girls looking on.
More interesting to John [Haynes] was that it seemed there was no inspection or permissions needed – ideal!'
Waspair moved operations to America and sold the ultralights direct from 1979-1982 and after that through a distributor named Mid-West Microlites.
According to reviewers it was 238 kilos and had a top speed of 63mph and if the speed dropped below 26mph it would stall. A summary by a microlight expert said
‘In service the control system has proved inadequate and the aircraft was difficult to control in flight, particularly in air that is not smooth and there were a number of loss-of-control accidents.The Virtual Ultralight Museum describes the aircraft as "ungainly and unstable”.
There’s a curious disclaimer in Robin’s press release. In the introduction the editor of the magazine inserts the following:
Chip Erwin, owner of MidWest Microlites said he hasn't spoken to Robin Haynes for 40 years, which would have been around the time of Curt’s accident.
When asked about the safety of the Tomcat, Chip told us:
'Ungainly maybe, unstable not really. Unsafe? About as many ultralights were in that era. Every brand had accidents and the majority of them were pilot error.'
We know that Curt spoke to Robin in 1981, asking technical advice, probably on the assembly of the Tomcat. They seem to have known each other quite well. Curt's girlfriend Linda remembers Curt having lengthy phone conversations with Robin and even meeting up with him in Sacramento for Curt’s first flight in the ultralight. In the newspaper article of Curt's accident Robin is quoted as saying that he will review the wreck and provide an accident report on it. We have yet to find this report.
From The Argus newspaper December 24th 1981
Curt paid around $4,000 for his new Tomcat that he bought directly from Robin Haynes in April of 1981.
From the photos available we can see that the Tomcat was the earliest version lacking many safety/control features that would later be added. The canard of Curt’s Tomcat lacked an instrument panel which would have shown the pilot the altitude, air speed and other critical data. It’s also unlikely the Tomcat had any kind of safety harness.
There’s some dispute as to whether the Tomcat even had a joystick. Studying both the video footage and photos of Curt with the microlight it’s apparent the stick control is missing.
Video Courtesy of Linda Davis
Here is some original footage of one of Curt's first flights in San Jose in May 1981.
When Robin Haynes started to sell the Tomcat legitimately through Chip Erwin’s MidWest MicroLites company, Chip insisted on modifying the ultralight. He added an instrument panel and electric start. Below is a modified example of the Tomcat:
Above: Chip Erwin’s demonstration model of Tomcat added an instrument panel which displayed critical information to the pilot to ensure safety.
Dayton had strong reservations about Curt’s ultralight
“He showed me pictures of the microlight and it looked unsafe and he asked me if I wanted to get into it, and I said 'Well not this thing!'
It looked really unsafe, and it was unsafe. But it was a great thing for him, cos he could fly it whenever he wanted and it was freedom, it was as though he was becoming that model airplane that flew away in that field in Fremont all those years before."
Today Robin Haynes, lives in Durham, North Carolina and runs the company Haynes Aero who's website sells many things from CBD oils, YouTube Subscribers and hair restoration products.
He is also looking for investment for his Skyblazer flying car.
Please note: We’ve approached Robin Haynes and many of his associates in research for this project. None have yet replied.
18 - Lennon's Murder
At 10:50pm on Monday, December the 8th 1980 John Lennon was shot
from behind at the entrance to his apartment building.
He received three gunshot wounds to the upper chest and one to the left arm. The shots to the chest completely destroyed his aorta.
He was 40 years old.
Over the years many commentators have pointed out the similarities of Curt and Chapman's lives, both experimented with pyschedelics, both flirted with religion and both seem to have had an inflated perception of their mission in life. Here the similarities end.
Chapman was a stalker/fan who became disillusioned and antagonised by Lennon. He saw John as a phoney, profiteering from his adoring followers. He set off from his home in Hawaii to kill Lennon. He was Lennon's judge, jury and executioner.
Curt was a seeker. It's true he over analysed Lennon's lyrics but he struck up a dialogue with Lennon before they met. In his recorded message he sent Tittenhurst Park he said 'You say you want to help' which shows there had been some back and forth with communication.
He adored The Beatles and was looking for answers that were more on the spiritual side. He was initially disappointed when he left Tittenhurst Park but this, in no way affected his admiration of Lennon as a man or a songwriter.
The curiosity from fans that watch the meeting scene in Imagine shows that many Lennonites relate to Curt and wished that they'd met their hero. We'd all like to ask Lennon what his songs were about and Curt had the self-confidence to start a dialogue that would lead to him meeting his idol. No true Lennon fans look at Mark Chapman that way.
19 - Curt's Final Days
Curt’s girlfriend said he was ‘devastated' by Lennon's murder. She recalls Curt’s reaction to the death of his idol
‘The day John Lennon was shot, Curt was devastated. He played the album, Double Fantasy, continuously for days and days. He loved the song Watching The Wheels’ and would sing and play it endlessly”
By the time Lennon was shot Curt had settled down. In March he’d met Linda Davis, a bank clerk who had known of Curt since they were at Washington high school together. They reconnected 15 years later when they were both 32.
Photo courtesy of Linda Davis
Curt spent his time between Linda’s house and a farm building 6 miles away.
Pines Farm was on Walnut Ave, Fremont. The farm owner was a man named Clarence Pine, a likeable old farmer that took a shine to Curt and enjoyed his company. The farmer let him mow a landing strip for his Tomcat ultralight into one of the fields. He lived there rent free in a small farm building.
Above; Interior and exterior of the shed at Martha Claudio's house in Chapmantown, Chico
Photo credit: Linda Davis
In May 1980 Curt and Linda went to Sacramento to fly the ultralight and take in a music festival with Curt’s younger brother Victor.
She remembers when he first mentioned John Lennon.
‘Curt still had a leather wallet with Lennon’s Ascot home phone number on it.
He told me that he represented himself as a reporter to Rolling Stone magazine and I think that's how he got John's phone number and address.’
He told her about the trip to England a decade earlier.
‘He was really taken with Yoko, he told me how much prettier she was in the flesh’
Most of their nights were spent eating pizza and playing video games at their local No Name Pizza restaurant.
He managed to get a little straighter in his later years and appeared to turn his back on drugs.
‘Curt did not do drugs when I knew him, at least not when he was with me. He did drink red wine.’ His girlfriend says.
"I would not classify him as an addict’ says his younger brother, "he could stop and start as he liked, he could keep down a job. He would do a good job and was responsible."
Dayton had strong reservations about Curt’s new purchase
“He showed me pictures of the microlight and he asked me if I wanted to get into it, and I said 'Well not this thing!'
It looked really unsafe, and it was unsafe. But it was a great thing for him, cos he could fly it whenever he wanted and it was freedom, it was as though he was becoming that model airplane that flew away in that field in Fremont all those years before."
Curt was adamant that he was to get an ultralight or a Harley Davidson. Between the bike and the aircraft his girlfriend thought the plane was a little lower risk.
"I didn't think an ultralight plane was a good idea, either. However, he had to build it from a kit and I thought that would take a long time. So I felt a little better about the plane. I should have realised it wouldn't take him long to build.’
Curt was practical, the years of farm work and his time at the Ford plant had lavished him with practical skills
‘He told me he once bought a VW bus with all the parts inside the bus, and he rebuilt the whole thing and sold it. I always thought he could do anything. He didn’t have a temper. He was one of the smartest and most caring people I've ever known.
Almost a year to the day after Lennon's death Curt Claudio would take his final flight in the ultralight.
He was living and working on a small farm in Walnut Ave, Fremont in 1971. The farm owner was a man named Clarence Pine, a likeable old farmer that took a shine to Curt and enjoyed his company. The farmer let him mow a landing strip for his Tomcat ultra lite into one of the fields.
On Tuesday 22nd December Curt woke up in a great mood. The night before he’d been Christmas shopping with Linda, he’d boasted to her that he had a surplus of money. They were in a department store in San Jose and he’d said to her ‘‘Buy anything you want, this is on me!’. She’d dropped him off at Walnut Ave that night and drove to her house around 3 miles away.
The weather the next morning was perfect. Sunny and calm, optimum conditions for flying. Curt woke up early and made his way to his friend, Richard Keller’s house. AT 24 Richard was 11 years younger than Curt and had known Curt since he’d moved to the farmhouse closeby in 1976.
“Curt was very soft spoken, intelligent, and well groomed, for a guy that worked outside.’
Keller would often see Curt and the old-time farmers sitting around and chatting. The landowners where Curt lived seemed to see him as an adopted son and he looked up to them as father figures.
Keller admired Curt ‘He could handle any equipment. He was a master of situations’
That skill would be tested to the maximum today.
He arrived at Keller’s place around 10am really excited about the day that lay ahead. ‘This was going to be his day’ Keller says. ‘He woke me up and stood at the window. It was unbelievably still.’ He told Richard he was going to fly all day long. Keller said it wasn’t unusual for Claudio to spend a sunny day enjoying himself ‘He was a partier, he’d been a field boss for ranches here [Fremont] and Chico. On days off like this it was real common for us to look for things to do.’
The local newspaper, The Argus report on Keller telling them what happened next ’He was up in the sky before noon and buzzed the place for a while kind of low.’ His first flight ended around 1:45pm, Keller continued ‘He came down, we talked for a while and he was just ecstatic because it was so perfect out….it was a beautiful day for flying. There were a lot of airplanes out , and he was saying that he was better off than those other guys because a fixed wing plane lands like a rock, and he had all those fields around him.’
Recently Richard has said he believes The Argus misreported him. He was in shock when he was interviewed by the newspaper and now has different memories of the situation:
The plane crashed near the landing strip. He only took off one time. It fell in the trees by the carport parking [at Fremont Oaks Apartment Complex]. Curt wasn’t showing off. He looked like he was having problems with the engine. He was turning around and trying to adjust something.
A bystander Jeff Dails said ‘We had watched him on the hill, he took off again. He was hauling’(moving fast)
A local mechanic, Frank Betcher was working nearby and noticed the Tomcat pilot was having trouble
‘He skimmed the tops of the trees at about 25 feet and started down. He started losing altitude real fast after that….the engine spluttered, and he was working with it….but he wasn’t real frantic. About three minutes later I heard the sirens, I knew he had gone down.’
The apartment complex where the Tomcat crashed is called Fremont Oaks. Two children who lived there were playing at the crash site minutes before the accident. 10 year old Steven SoaXXXX and Alap Shah, 8, had been playing at the scene of the crash moments earlier before the craft cut off the branches of the tree they were playing under.
‘It clipped the roof’ Steven said ‘The pilot looked knocked out. He had his head on his right shoulder. I was under the tree.’ Steven yelled at Alap to run, which he believes saved his life.
Above: The geography of the neighbourhood in 1979 (mono) with todays geography (2021)
Above: The geography of the neighbourhood today with key events and witness statements from The Argus newspaper article
Martha thinks the accident wasn’t a fait accompli “ It would have been survivable except that something--either part of the plane of part of the tree--struck him just below the sternum where the heart is extremely vulnerable."
He’d been flying for a couple of hours. He was taken to Washington Hospital nearby and pronounced dead of arrival at 2:45pm.
The police arrived at the crash scene and took the remains of the craft away to photograph and store. Officer Scot Stilwell said the police department would handle the investigation.
‘The propeller exploded on impact which would indicate that the engine was at least turning over’
Blood tests on Curt showed he had a blood/alcohol level of .17, substantially higher than the .10 legal intoxication level.
XXX COPY OF BLOOD TEST/AUTOPSY REPORT?
The effects of having a blood alcohol level of .17 are:
For someone of Curt’s build to have this blood/alcohol level he would have to have drank 7 glasses of wine (just over a bottle), beer or liquor.
Brother Ernie continues the story: “Curt was putting on an airshow for his friends, he’d fly around, land and have a few drinks. Go back up and do some more tricks. At one point the plane was travelling too slow and it stalled. The plane came crashing towards the ground, bounced off a carport roof and landed in a tree just 6 feet off the ground. “
Death was caused by a sharp implement piercing his body just below the sternum (rib cage) and poking up into his heart. The cause of death was 'aortic dissection' (a very similar cause of death as Lennon's), this is a common high impact injury.
Linda remembers how she heard the news and the shocking memory it triggered.
Richard 'Curly' Jacobus had come to tell her the bad news. Jacobus was one of Curt's 'straighter' friends and a deeply religious person.
'I remember Curly pulling up just after I arrived home from the bank. It was getting dark and it was odd because he would never usually come over. He came up to my door and said "I gotta come in".
Curly told me the news and I almost collapsed, my eyes began to fill with tears and I moved over to the kitchen sink because I thought I was going to be sick. When I came round a little I asked Richard "Wait, how old was Jesus when he died?" he replied "33 why?"
This is where the recollection came flooding back. 'I said to Curly, Curt always told me that he would die at the same age as Jesus!'
This is a reconstruction of a news report that was aired the day of Curt's accident. the script is taken on articles from The Argus front page article on the crash.
Dayton Claudio describes how he heard about the crash and the immediate aftermath...
Family Note: video contains sensitive account of Curt's accident from Dayton
20 - Epilogue
Both Lennon and Claudio’s life were cut tragically short but we have to be careful that their final scenes don’t define their lives.
Both men shared much more than a 1 hour meeting together. They were both searchers, looking for something that may or may not have been there to find. Whether the goals were obtainable or not isn’t really the point.
As with so many things in life it’s less about the destination and more about the journey. Those experiences in life that you go through to get to somewhere else are the most satisfying.
Curt seemed to have been a man of his time and circumstance. Following down the path that Lennon had helped clear years before into the abstract world of altered perceptions and a more harmonious world.
Many of Curt’s generation would choose this path as an alternative to the status quo forced upon them by the previous generation. The normality of death, destruction, consumerism, hate, inequity and division were to be challenged or ignored.
Timothy Leary’s teachings were attractive to a disenfranchised youth. Together with this was the music/style/lyrics that The Beatles offered them as a way of understanding the world, an understanding that didn’t need them to ‘purchase their way to pleasure' in a consumerist dystopia, or ‘murder their way to meaning' in a fabricated conflict deep in the jungles of south east Asia.
The simple truth is that Curt chose neither of these routes to his personal Zen, something that should be admired, but also something that should be cautiously performed.
The same with Lennon, he moved to New York to escape the madness of the crowds in England. When asked about his safety in New York he told the BBC “When I left England I still couldn’t go on the street, we couldn’t walk round the block! I can go out this door now and go in a restaurant. Do you know how great that is?”
Two days later he was shot dead.
In the song Watching The Wheels, he floats the observation that ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. It’s a call to action to focus on the things that bring you joy and disregard the everyday ‘noise’ that clutters the mind space.
The danger of 'mundane distraction' should be warned about to the next generation and consciously or subconsciously Lennon was passing down this nugget to anyone who’d listen.
Watch archival footage from 1980 of John and Yoko walking in Central Park. Hear John talk about the personal freedom he has found living New York City.
With the breakup of the Beatles in 1970 and the revelation of the tensions that had plagued the group in latter years, some of the spark seemed lost -- an era had ended. Though John and Yoko recorded seven albums, they withdrew for several years to virtual seclusion. Yoko managed the finances (Lennon was said by some to be worth up to $240 million), and John stayed home to raise son Sean.
His last album, "Double Fantasy" was Lennon's first in five years, and embodied a new optimism. In a radio interview a few days before his death he admitted it was aimed at the audience that knew him in the '60s.
"You have to give thanks to God or whatever it is up there for the fact that we all survived. We all survived Vietnam, Watergate -- the tremendous upheavals of the whole world.
We were the hip ones of the '60s, but the world is not like the '60s. It's a whole massive change, and we're going into an unknown future. But we're still all here. While there's life there's hope.
I hope the young kids will like it as well, but I'm really talking to the people who grew up with me. I'm saying here I am now. How are you? How's your relationship going? Did you get through it all? Wasn't the '70s a drag? You know, well here we are. Let's make the '80s good because it's still up to us to make what we can of it."
In 1980 when Double Fantasy was released, weeks before his murder Lennon was lambasted by critics for bland introspection:
The Washington Post's Richard Harrington mined a similar vein, writing that "$8.98 for a flaccid look at a family scrapbook is too much to ask," describing "(Just Like) Starting Over" as "an embarrassing pastiche of 50s and 60s influences." Harrington dismissed John's work as suffering from "a general lack of substance, lyrical directness, and undistinguished melodies.”
They missed the bigger point.
It seems that the lives of Curt Claudio and John Lennon ended with a paralleled irony.
While John Lennon was killed by a mentally unstable man, Curt's life was taken, many would argue, by a technically unstable machine.
Lennon found freedom in New York that he was pursuing on Dec 8th 1980, Curt found the same freedom in the microlight that he chose to fly on Dec 22rd 1981.
Both died instantly whilst experiencing this freedom.
Both found what they were searching for.
and in the end...
Curt Claudio was cremated, his ashes were scattered in the mountains of Sierra Nevada
(CHECK WITH MARTHA)
This should contain summaries of all commentators from answers to questions like:
What would Curt like to be remembered for?
How do you remember Curt?
Dayton Claudio- While there was a lot of chaos during that time in our family, and the world in general, Curt always reserved a special concern for my pursuit of art. During phone calls or in person he would ask about projects I was working on. He had a genuine concern and that gave me encouragement, especially with all the insecurities I was experiencing then. I felt he had my back. I miss him too.
CESARE CURTIS CLAUDIO
1948 - 1981
1952 - 1988
Thanks to these people, without their contributions, this project would not have been possible...
original music composer
Stuart is a songwriter and poet from the UK, he currently living in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and kids
researcher, writer, producer & editor
Gavin is a portrait painter and film maker from England. He now lives in Hangzhou, China with his wife and cats
Dayton is Curt's younger brother. He's a painter who creates artwork for public spaces. He now lives in Chico,CA with his wife and family
actor, director, producer, writer
Dan was John Lennon's assistant between 1968-1973, choreographed and starred in 2001- A Space Odessy. He lives in Sierra Nevada, CA
Ernie is Curt's older brother. He's a former court appointed special advocate, and elected official. He now lives in Fremont with his wife and family.
Curt's mother Martha was a celebrated music teacher and now lives in Chico, CA
From Chico to Fremont 'D' has some great memories of Curt.
We are respecting his request for anonymity
Linda still lives in California with her husband
Robert was a friend from Fremont.
We are respecting his request for anonymity
Sandy knew Curt throughout the 1970s
We are respecting her request for anonymity
Special Thanks to...
The John Lennon Estate, MPL productions, Linda McCartney Photgraphy, Mark Lewisohn, Antony Rotunno, Tray Webb, Ian MacDonald, Paul De Noyer, Hunter Davis, Sandra Cates, Chip Erwin, Robin Haynes, Julia Lennon, Klaus Voorman, Kieron 'Spud' Murphy, John Armstrong, Maurice Brown, Tim Hoerle, Ian Burns, Danie Reader, Sara Schmidt, Kyle Kresge
Many Years From Now by Barry Miles
Revolution in the Head by Ian Macdonald - Vintage Books
Imagine John and Yoko - Thames & Hudson
Lennon by John Robertson - Omnibus Press
We All Shine On by Paul Du Noyer - Carlton
The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner & Richard Alpert
Photo sources/video credits