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On This Day In Chicago, 1966: John Lennon Apologized For 'Jesus' Comment

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity. -- John Lennon

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- When John Lennon first said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, nobody took any notice.

Lennon made those remarks to a British journalist in March, 1966.

It wasn't until five months later, when the interview was published in the U.S. magazine Datebook, that the commentary sparked protests in America.

Chicago played an important historical role in the controversy.

It was 48 years ago today that Lennon, joined by his band mates, held a news conference to apologize. The Beatles had arrived in America the day before for what turned out to be the band's final U.S. tour.

Lennon explained that while he wasn't a practicing Christian, he wasn't anti-Christ or anti-religion.

"I didn't mean it the way they said it," he said at the news conference held at the Astor Tower Hotel on Chicago's Gold Coast.

"It's amazing. It's just so complicated. It's got out of hand, you know. But I just meant it as that.

"I wasn't saying the Beatles are better than Jesus or God or Christianity. I was using the name Beatles because I can use them easier, 'cause I can talk about Beatles as a separate thing and use them as an example, especially to a close friend [the reporter of the original piece, published in the "Evening Standard]".

"But I could have said TV, or cinema, or anything else that's popular, or motorcars are bigger than Jesus. But I just said Beatles because, you know, that's the easiest one for me. I just never thought of repercussions. I never really thought of it.

"I wasn't even thinking, even though I knew she was interviewing me, you know, that it meant anything.

"I'm sorry I said it for the mess it's made, but I never meant it as an anti-religious thing, or anything. You know, I can't say anything more than that. There's nothing else to say, really, no more words."

Astor Tower
Astor Tower. (Credit: Bertrand Goldberg website)

The Astor Tower, 1300 North Astor Street, as since been converted to Gold Coast condos.

The building was designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the late 1950s, who also created the iconic corn-cob Marina Towers around the same time.

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