Stuart Fergusson Victor Sutcliffe was born on 23 June 1940 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother Martha (known as Millie) was a teacher at an infants’ school and his father Charles was a senior civil servant. The family moved to Liverpool in 1943 and Charles subsequently signed on as a ship’s engineer and was often at sea during his son’s early years.
After secondary school, Stuart attended the Liverpool College of Art and worked part-time as a bin man on the Liverpool Corporation’s waste collection trucks. While at the college, Stuart was introduced to John Lennon, who he helped to improve his artistic skills.
Lennon moved into a flat with Sutcliffe in early 1960. The flatmates painted the rooms yellow and black, which their landlady did not appreciate. On another occasion, needing to keep warm, they burned the flat’s furniture.
Lennon and Paul McCartney persuaded Sutcliffe to buy a Höfner bass guitar on hire-purchase from Frank Hessey’s Music Shop and, in May 1960, Stu joined Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison in a band they called The Silver Beatles.
Eventually changing their name, The Beatles began playing in Hamburg, Germany, but when the time came for the band to return to Liverpool, Sutcliffe decided to concentrate on being an artist rather than a musician and opted to stay in Hamburg, where he lived with his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr.
While in Germany, Sutcliffe began experiencing severe headaches (which sometimes left him temporarily blind) and acute sensitivity to light. In February 1962, Sutcliffe collapsed during an art class in Hamburg but doctors were unable to diagnose the exact cause of the headaches.
They suggested he go back to Britain and have himself checked into a hospital with better facilities, but, there, Sutcliffe was told nothing was wrong, so he returned to Hamburg.
He continued living with the Kirchherrs, but his condition soon worsened. Stuart died on 10 April 1962 from a brain haemorrhage – specifically a ruptured aneurysm resulting in cerebral paralysis, due to severe bleeding into the right ventricle of the brain – at the age of just 21.
The cause of Sutcliffe’s aneurysm is unknown, although it may have been due to an earlier head injury, as he was either kicked in the head or thrown headfirst against a brick wall during an attack outside Lathom Hall, Lancashire, after a performance in January 1961. Sutcliffe sustained a fractured skull in the fight and John Lennon’s little finger was broken. Sutcliffe refused medical attention at the time and failed to keep a subsequent X-ray appointment at Sefton General Hospital.