Skip to content

Lupus and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

What do the following have in common?

  1. Lupus
  2. A drawing by a 3-year-old
  3. Julian Lennon
  4. Flowers and gardening supplies
  5. Alice in Wonderland
  6. Pink Floyd

They all are woven into the story of the Beatles’ famous song: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Portrait of John Lennon
Drawing of John Lennon (source Pixabay)

3- year old Julian Lennon draws a picture of his friend Lucy

Many still incorrectly think the Beatles’ famous song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was about LSD. However, according to John Lennon, the song was not about drugs.

It was inspired by his son Julian’s childhood friend, Lucy O’Donnell, who eventually died from lupus.

John Lennon’s son, Julian, was only 3 years old, and his friend Lucy O’Donnell was 4. They both attended the Heath House nursery school in Weybridge, Surrey, England. According to Lucy, one day (between November 1966 and February 1967), they were painting and throwing paint at each other in their nursery school classroom. Julian had painted a picture of Lucy on a 5-inch by 7-inch piece of paper and took it into his house.

Origin of the title “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

Julian took the picture home to Kenwood (the name of their home) in St. George’s Hill in Weybridge, England. Ringo Starr, and Lennon’s childhood friend Pete Shotton were there when Julian gave it to his dad. It was a pastel drawing of Lucy surrounded by multicolored stars and diamonds.

Lennon asked, “Oh, what’s that?” Julian told him, “It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.”

Lennon thought, “That’s beautiful.”  Later that day, Paul McCartney arrived, and John showed him the drawing. Paul thought it looked like a Marc Chagall painting with Lucy floating in the sky with the stars.

Still from Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland floating: like Lucy floating among Julian’s stars and diamonds

Connection with “Alice in Wonderland”

Julian’s depiction of Lucy floating among the diamonds and stars reminded Lennon of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” He especially thought of the part where Alice floats in a “boat beneath a sunny sky.” Lennon and McCartney quickly went to work on the lyrics, deriving them in the style of Carroll’s famous fantastical story. They worked on the song for only four days, producing one of their most memorable songs.

Record player with album
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album featured “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on side 1

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles had already prepared several songs in preparation for their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Some songs were influenced by the band members experimenting with drugs such as LSD and marijuana. Just a few months after the band recorded “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” they released what is considered one of the best albums ever.

Though Lennon doesn’t deny the connection between drugs and many of the album’s songs, he and others (Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Cynthia Lennon, and Pete Shotton) agree that LSD was not the inspiration for “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Instead, it was the fantasy-inspiring, innocent drawing by Julian of his classmate, Lucy.

After Lennon divorced Julian’s mom, Cynthia Lennon, in 1968, Julian transferred out of Lucy’s school. They did not see each other again until they were adults.

In 1996, Lucy married her childhood sweetheart, Ross Vodden, becoming Lucy Vodden. She became a special-needs children’s teacher and had a nanny service.

In 2005, she became sick with systemic lupus erythematosus. Julian heard she was quite ill with lupus, and as many people feel when faced with sad news about loved ones, he was unsure how to approach her. Knowing she loved gardening, he sent her flowers and gardening supply vouchers so she could buy supplies and enjoy her garden – this brought her peace and joy.

Seeing her struggles opened Julian’s eyes to how devastating and burdensome lupus can be. He started researching and learning more about lupus, becoming a spokesperson for the St. Thomas Lupus Trust (now the Lupus Trust) in England.

The “Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes” died of lupus complications on September 22, 2009. She had developed an infection while on vacation. Her severely lupus-weakened immune system could not handle the infection. The “Girl with the Sun in Her Eyes” was only forty-six.

Adult Julian Lennon
Julian Lennon as an adult

Appropriately, Julian wrote in the sympathy card to her husband, “Shine on Lucy…

Julian Lennon Becomes an Advocator for Lupus

“It’s our responsibility to get involved and do whatever we can to help fight this unpredictable and misunderstood disease.”

Julian Lennon

Julian was working with James Scott Cook and Tod Meagher when he got the devastating news about Lucy. Cook’s 92-year-old grandma, Lucy,  also had lupus, and he had just written a song about her. They decided to record and perform the song “Lucy,” with parts of the proceeds going to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) in the US and to the Lupus Trust in England. Julian Lennon and James Scott Cook played “Lucy” at the 2010 LFA Gala in New York City, with Cook’s grandma, Lucy, in the audience.

So, where is Julian’s original drawing of Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds?

It is owned by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. You can see a copy of Julian’s original sketch and pictures of Lucy Vodden (nee O’Donnell) here. I am not including it in this blog post as I do not have copyrights to post it.

The Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic
The Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic

NOTE: The first image in this blog post is graffiti on the Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic (source: Shutter Stock)

Hope for today’s lupus patients

Today, I have one systemic lupus patient in her 90s and I have two more who will turn 90 this year. One of my patients is the first person in her family to live past the age of 60. She follows my “Lupus Secrets” to the core.

Today’s lupus medications, especially when taken with hydroxychloroquine, are so much better than ever in the past.

It is also important to abide by very important lifestyle changes such as eating an anti-inflammatory diet and by following my “Lupus Secrets.” If you do these things, you will be way ahead of the crowd and hopefully never follow Lucy’s footsteps. Thanks to lupus advocates such as Julian Lennon.

If you are newly diagnosed with lupus, or have had lupus for a long time and not sure if you are doing all the right things, read my “newly diagnosed lupus” recommendations page.

SHARE this with everyone who has lupus, so they may benefit.

What are your thoughts or comments?

Please post them under “comments”

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *