Paul McCartney and John Lennon were hailed as The Beatles’ songwriting duo. George Harrison was dubbed “the quiet one.” And Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, according to many.
Together they worked as a whole to conquer the world and not only herald, but win the British Invasion. But while The Beatles were bowing to the crowd on stage, there was other key figures working for their success behind the scenes. A number of these have been dubbed “The Fifth Beatle.” Exactly whom that true Fifth Beatle was, however, is still up for debate (and it’s often a hot one). Here are just a few of the most notable “Fifth Beatles.” We invite your comments and opinions.
Stuart “Stu” Sutcliffe
Before their spectacular rise to fame, The Beatles legitimately consisted of five members. The Fifth Beatle in this instance was their original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. Before joining band he began his career as an artist and attended the Liverpool College of Art. He left the band in 1961 to pursue his art education and to continue painting. Early the next year he began complaining of headaches, and then tragically, on April 10, 1962, he died from a brain aneurysm.
Best known for his role as The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein is largely credited with discovering The Beatles. While Epstein’s management style drew some criticism and amidst the controversy of his personal life, he was instrumental in the band’s rise to fame. In 1997, Paul McCartney said, “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian Epstein.” Although he received McCartney’s “Fifth Beatle” endorsement years later, the jury has yet to reach a final decision. Quite a lot of controversy surrounds the motives and methods of Brian Epstein, but it is clear that without his influence in the early days we wouldn’t have gotten The Beatles as we know them.
Murray the K
Murray Kaufman, more commonly known as Murray the K, was an influential New York radio DJ during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was embedded in the trenches of the Beatlemania and often referred to himself as the Fifth Beatle. His popularity peaked during the mid-60s when he befriended the band as they began performing in the U.S. While there isn’t a general consensus of how the name was attributed to him, his radio station quickly picked up on it and billed him prominently as the Fifth Beatle. In a late 70s interview, Kaufman admitted, “I really didn’t like it very much, but that was it.”
Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer and artist, is most well known for her close association with The Beatles, which lends itself to her candidacy of being the Fifth Beatle. When she first met the band in 1960, she was dating Klaus Voormann, a German artist who created the album artwork for Revolver. She quickly became smitten with original Beatles bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe. Her best known photographic works are of The Beatles in their early days playing in Hamburg, Germany.
Another German artist and musician that joined the Beatles’ circle of friends was Klaus Voormann. Like his then-girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr, he met and became closely associated with the group in the early 1960s. During the band’s early days, Voormann lived in the Fab Four’s London flat. Shortly thereafter he designed the GRAMMY award winning cover artwork for the Beatles’ Revolver album. In the 1990s, he also designed the artwork for the Beatles Anthology albums. Much like Kirchherr, his close relationship with the band led some to speculate about his role as a Fifth Beatle.
This was Part 1 of Who Was The Fifth Beatle? – Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!
Enter Bob Bonis
While the Fifth Beatles seemingly came and went, Bob Bonis was playing his part as U.S. Tour Manager for The Beatles on all three U.S. tours between 1964 and 1966 (and for the Rolling Stones’ first five trips stateside as well). Undoubtedly, while the others squabbled over who was the true Fifth Beatle, Bonis was keeping his focus on the shutter of his Leica M3 camera.
With his camera always ready for action, he captured never before seen photos of the band in candid, intimate and historically important moments in the early days of The British Invasion.
These iconic photographs are available now for the first time as strictly limited edition, custom fine art prints from the Bob Bonis Archive. Each photograph is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE!