40 Years Ago: John Lennon, Harry Nilsson Tossed From Troubadour for Heckling
by Nick DeRiso
March 12, 2014
The evening that drinking buddy Harry Nilsson introduced John Lennon to the brandy Alexander cocktail wouldn’t end well. On March 12, 1974, the rock stars would ultimately be escorted out of LA’s iconic Troubadour nightclub, ejected for relentlessly heckling the Smothers Brothers and, according to a member of the staff, assaulting a waitress.
“I got drunk and shouted,” Lennon later remembered. “It was my first night on Brandy Alexanders — that’s brandy and milk, folks. I was with Harry Nilsson, who didn’t get as much coverage as me, the bum. He encouraged me. I usually have someone there who says ‘Okay, Lennon. Shut up.’”
As things continued to escalate, club security attempted to remove the drunken and enraged Lennon, who lashed out, losing his trademark specs in the scuffle. He then, according to Tommy Smothers, kicked the valet. “My wife ended up with Lennon’s glasses because of the punches that were thrown,” Smothers said. Actress Pam Grier, who was nearby when the incident happened, got ejected from the club, too.
The Smothers Brothers, for their part, came to Lennon’s defense, offering that they’d incited Lennon by engaging with him while on stage. They also charged the media with blowing the incident out of proportion. “The heckling got so bad that our show was going downhill rapidly,” Smothers added. “No one cared, because it was just a happening anyway, but there was a scuffle going on and we stopped the show.”
Lennon and Nilsson reportedly had flowers delivered to the Smothers Brothers the next day. Lennon also wrote an apology letter to Grier. Meanwhile, the waitress who claimed that Lennon assaulted her had the charges dismissed. Lennon insisted it never happened at all, while Tommy Smothers added that Lennon, without his glasses, couldn’t tell that the figure he threw a punch toward was a woman.
“There was some girl who claimed that I hit her, but I didn’t hit her at all, you know,” Lennon said. “She just wanted some money and I had to pay her off, because I thought it would harm my immigration. So I was drunk. When it’s Errol Flynn, the showbiz writers say: ‘Those were the days, when men were men.’ When I do it, I’m a bum. So it was a mistake, but hell, I’m human.”
It wasn’t the first time, however, that Lennon raised a ruckus at the Troubadour. A month earlier, Rolling Stone reported that a similarly inebriated Lennon, at the club to see soul singer Ann Peebles, somehow ended up with a sanitary napkin attached to his forehead. “Do you know who I am?” Lennon said, when a waitress questioned why he wasn’t leaving a tip on the way out. “Yes,” the waitress reportedly shot back. “You’re some —hole with a Kotex on your head.”
Maureen Donaldson, Getty Images
Rolling Stone's account of the incident in the Troubadour